Elite Beat Agents has been available in the US for months now and before that in Japan as the even crazier Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!. But now it's available in Europe and could well be a game you'll love despite not having the slightest of interest in rhythm-based titles.
The Elite Beat Agents are a group of suit-wearing special agents who work for an ageing army general. Nothing overly bizarre about that, but their technique for solving problems is a little out of left field. Instead of using skills in negotiating, combat or espionage, these guys use the power of dance; more precisely, the power of meticulously planned dance routines performed to a number of classic tunes.
Each level starts off with a beautifully drawn anime scene in which someone has a severe problem, usually with a comical twist. The army general sends the agents on their way and soon you're dancing along to the likes of Sk8ter Boi by Avril Lavigne (albeit a cover version), solving problems as you move your body to the music. It's all good fun and the selection of music is excellent, combing relatively modern tracks with some real old classics.
Excellent presentation can only do so much to game's appeal, so thankfully the core gameplay mechanics are among the best found in any DS title. It's really very simple, but becomes incredibly difficult during the hardest stages. The idea is to tap circles that appear on the screen, in their numbered order and in time with the music. A larger circle is seen around each, decreasing in size until it overlaps the main circle, indicating the time you need to tap.
Depending on the song you'll get various other on-screen items, such as numerous overlapping circles, a ball that must be tracked with your stylus and a spinning disc that you need to rotate. All the time a meter tracks your performance, with every bad move causing it to fall quite drastically. Unless you're blessed with the musical talent of Michael Jackson you'll be replaying songs numerous times before you crack them, but this never becomes tedious. Only on the hardest difficulty setting (which needs unlocking) will you start to feel the heat is a little too much to take.
Elite Beat Agents will soon have you sucked in, tackling songs in some kind of trance-like state, oblivious to what's going on around you - even more so if you wear headphones. The single-player game will take a good while to master and there are a couple of multiplayer modes to play with friends either through single-card game sharing or multiple game cards. Game sharing limits the number of songs you have (and takes an age to download to the other handhelds), but playing competitively against other players is great fun.
For a DS title Elite Beat Agents looks and sounds great. The agents are animated brilliantly (although you might not notice their dance moves due to your level of concentration) and the cutscenes are often hilarious. Even though the tunes included are covers, they sound great, especially through headphones. Owners of the DS rumble pack will also be pleased to hear that the game makes good use of the rumble, vibrating the system ever so slightly when you hit the circles.
If you own a DS there's absolutely no question that you should own Elite Beat Agents. It's a game that anyone with a sense of rhythm can enjoy and will keep you entertained for short bursts or more lengthy hardcore sessions.