I have been playing a lot of Elite Beat Agents lately. Or, rather, I was playing a lot of Elite Beat Agents a couple of weeks ago, when I was averaging about 10-12 hours per day on it; I've fallen off quite a bit since school started again.

Elite Beat Agents is a rhythm game for the Nintendo DS. It's a cheerleading game. You play as the members of an elite government task force of men who cheer for ordinary people in their times of need, thereby inspiring them to success.

The gameplay mostly consists of poking the DS's touch screen in time to various songs. Bubbles show up on the bottom screen along with a circle that slowly shrinks around the bubble. You have to poke the bubble at the moment when the circle overlaps with its outer edge.

The game will also throw sliders at you; these you have to poke in a manner similar to the bubbles, but after you do so you keep your stylus on the screen. A ball appears at the end that you poked and moves to the other end of the slider; you have to keep your stylus on the ball until it reaches the end.

Finally, the game sometimes drops everything and shows a giant wheel. These are spinners. When these show up, you have to touch your stylus to the screen and spin like mad to fill up a gauge in the background.

While all of this is going on you have to deal with the Elite Meter at the top of the screen. This starts full and steadily drains as you play. Every time you successfully poke a bubble it recharges a little; the closer you poke the bubble to the exact moment when the circle and bubble overlap, the more the meter refills. If your meter drops below the half-way point the Agents, who heretofore have been dancing in the background on the touch screen, bend over, exhausted, to catch their breaths until you can get the meter back over half full. If the meter ever empties, you immediately lose and have to start the song over.

This might not sound super-compelling, but believe me that it is. With the exception of the early introductory levels the poking of bubbles corresponds to either the beat of the song or the lyrics being sung, and the better you know the song in question the better you'll do. The game does a good job of very slowly ramping up the difficulty. The first song, played on easy, is very easy. The last song, played on Extra Hard, is unbelievably hard. Each song in the middle is a gradual step up, which means you're never at a point where the game suddenly goes from fun to frustrating.

Each song is accompanied by a story of some person in need whom the agents are cheering to victory. This ranges from a babysitter attempting to impress her football-player boyfriend to a washed-up baseball star, now working as a janitor at an amusement park, who has to defeat a giant fire-breathing golem who begins rampaging through the park. The stories are hilarious and at certain points in each song the action pauses and you get a cut-scene of the person's progress, which will be positive if you end the section in the top half of the Elite Meter and negative if you end it in the bottom half.

The oft-commented-upon weakness of the game is that the soundtrack may leave something to be desired. The songs were chosen with the goal of collecting music that most people would be familiar enough to that they could tap out the beat without much difficulty. This means that about half of the songs are recent top-40 hits and the other half are ear worms that you probably wish you weren't as familiar with as you are.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. There's a certain stockholm syndrome that sets in as you play the game. On the more challenging levels you will find yourself having to replay songs dozens of times to successfully clear them. While you can get through on simple memorization of where the bubbles show up and when to hit them, that tends to be a brute-force struggle. The easiest way to do it is to get into the music, to know where the beats come in the song, and, yes, to sing along when necessary. The true path to EBA victory is not just to know the songs, but to love them.

The downside to all of this is that now, two weeks after I mostly put the game down, the songs still periodically find their way into my brain. I actually enjoy them now. I'm thinking of buying some, maybe all, of them on iTunes.

Here's an example of the gameplay from a video on YouTube. This is La La by Ashlee Simpson, played on Hard mode. The opening story is not included, sadly, because it's a replay. Ordinarily in the game you would actually be poking those bubbles with the stylus to make them explode.

So now, thanks to Elite Beat Agents, I'm seriously considering purchasing the following songs:

Walkie Talkie Man - Steriogram
Makes No Difference - Sum 41
Sk8erboi - Avril Lavigne
I Was Born to Love You - Queen
Rock This Town - Stray Cats
Highway Star - Deep Purple
Y.M.C.A. - The Village People
September - Earth, Wind and Fire
Canned Heat - Jamiroquai
Material Girl - Madonna
La La - Ashlee Simpson
You're the Inspiration - Chicago
Let's Dance! - David Bowie
The Anthem - Good Charlotte
Without a Fight - Hoobastank
Jumpin' Jack Flash - The Rolling Stones

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on January 18, 2007 10:53 PM.

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