Music. It's there to soothe, it's there to inspire, it's there to motivate. So, too, are the Elite Beat Agents, governmental Men in Black who will dance your troubles away, their rhythmical moves turning whatever frowns you have upside-down and much more besides.
It's perhaps not the kind of backstory you expected for a rhythm game, but I for one am glad that there is at least something going on here other than my lack of musical talent. Everyone ready?
I'm emulating Elite Beat Agents, a Nintendo DS rhythm game where your stylus will be doing all the work. There are a couple of difficulty levels available to me, and for whatever reason, I chose the difficult one to start with. I must be overconfident in my abilities today.
Elite Beat Agents isn't about the track selection, like the vast majority of rhythm games are. Instead, you're a trio of agents sent out to tricky situations to inspire those involved to overcome their troubles. You are, essentially, cheerleaders, only with much greater stakes than a football match.
In this first level, for example, Jane was looking to spend an evening with her crush Don, but an unexpected drop-off at the door lands her with a bunch of kids to babysit. The situation is dire. The situation calls for the Elite Beat Agents.
Gameplay consists of two inputs - pretty much the only inputs a stylus can do, come to think of it. Circles shrink down to a number on the screen, and at their smallest, you tap the number on the beat to score points and keep your meter at the positive end.
Sometimes you'll be prompted to slide the stylus along a line or spin it in a circle as fast as you can, but those two things are Elite Beat Agents in a nutshell - tap to the beat.
That means you are focused on the bottom screen of the DS, and while there are moments where prompts stop so that you can watch a cutscene above, for the most part, you won't have a clue what's going on, and that's a shame because these sequences are rather well done.
Don is such a(n American) footballer that he can only solve problems if he converts them into football terms. Baby needing a change of diaper? Baby is a football, footballs poop in the toilet, touchdown!
If you miss the beat below or string together a good performance, the scene above will change to reflect that, if your briefest of glimpses will allow you to take it all in.
Further Fun Times
After three or four little sequences, the song is wrapped up and the day has been saved, thanks to the support of the Elite Beat Agents.
Not saved very well, apparently. Rank D? Seems like there's an awful lot of room for improvement. There is, of course. Using an actual stylus would be better. You'd think a mouse would work fine, but not with these settings. Need to tweak the sensitivity or something. I'm in no rush though.
We've unlocked a few song choices for our next outing, but there's only one that I recognise, and therefore only one that I want to choose.
Taxi driver Jack is off the clock - or was until Linda jumped in the back, right as she's having a baby. He needs to speed to hospital, but he's just been caught speeding. Can't be doing that twice in a day. He needs the help of the Elite Beat Agents, bopping along to the tune of Sk8er Boi.
Not sung by Ms Levigne herself, by the sounds of it, but it is still noticeably Sk8er Boi, and I should know how that sounds by now. Can my stylus keep with the beat?
No, no it cannot. Out of nowhere came a string of five or so beats, and if you mess one up, the rest seem that much harder to hit. You overcorrect your error, which introduces more. Your stylus goes wild, and wide of the mark again. The Elite meter drops, and drops, and drops, and poor Jack is arrested (and presumably has to clean the back of his taxi).
But we get to go again, and even have the option of reviewing our final moments so that we can get a better sense of where it all went wrong.
The review didn't help. I am not cut out to be an Elite Beat Agent. Sadly, if I wanted to drop the difficulty, it looks like I'd have to babysit all over again, and I don't care about Elite Beat Agents enough to do that.
And therein lies the problem with Elite Beat Agents. If you don't care, what does it have to convince you otherwise? A silly storyline of sorts? Yes, it does, and that's one reason for keeping my spirits higher than usual for a game like this.
At the end of the day, though, it is still a musical rhythm game, and it's one you can't always watch to get the very most out of it.
Yet it looks great. The comic book visuals aren't a unique style, but they seem to be used well here. Having only a line here or there voiced is a bit weird, but this is a game about government agents dancing to inspire success, so it can be as weird as it wants.
If you've been put off by rhythm games because of what they are, I think you should try Elite Beat Agents. Even if you don't get very far through it, you can at least see what rhythm games could be like. They could be fun, and different. They could be something more than music. They could be engaging even to people who don't like the genre.
Having said that, I'm probably not likely to play much more of Elite Beat Agents, but I'm certainly not opposed to it. It's just not high on the list.
The original Japanese release featured actual cheerleaders but was deemed too Japanese to bring to the West, even with high import figures showing a demand for the game. A switch first to members of the Village People, and then to government agents, along with some popular tracks from the West was all it took to turn Elite Beat Agents into another success.
Elite Beat Agents, developed by iNiS, first released in 2006.
Version played: Nintendo DS, 2007, via emulation.