Confession corner. Last night I listened to Chicago’s sickly-sweet ‘You’re the Inspiration’ seven times in a row.
No, I wasn’t being tortured. I haven’t been arrested and taken off to Guantanamo Bay. I did it of my own free will, and I found the experience compulsive, energising – even oddly moving. This, my friends, is the magic of Elite Beat Agents.
Here’s the utterly bizarre setup of Nintendo’s latest DS masterstroke (well, not that ‘latest’ if you imported the original Japanese version, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, or the US version last year). Somewhere in the world, there’s a global task force designed to support folks in need of help. Despatched by Command Kahn, the Elite Beat Agents are a three-strong squad on a morale-boosting mission. Through the medium of dance, they inspire those in a dilemma to do their utmost, and get through whatever situation they find themselves in. If their performance is of Jackson/Timberlake proportions, no problem is unconquerable. If, however, it’s more along the lines of your dad, slightly drunk, at the disco, then the helpees whole life is basically doomed.
How can you help? Well, the top screen of the DS is used to show simple comic-book style animations of the unfolding story, while the bottom screen shows your agent’s smooth (or otherwise) moves. Each mission is set to a particular song, and as the song plays numbered spots appear in time with the major beats. You click on the spot at the appropriate moment – there’s a handy shrinking ring around it to help you with your timing – and then move onto the next. However, EBA goes beyond normal rhythm action game conventions by introducing a second mechanism, the Phrase Marker, where you click on the spot then trace the movement of a rolling ball across a path to the next one, and sometimes back again. Stay on the ball and time it right, and your guys pull off a dazzling move in style. Take the stylus off the ball, and they fluff it and fall flat on their faces. Finally, there’s the Spin Marker. When the spinning wheel appears, you rub the stylus round in circles as if you’re on a mission to wear away the touchscreen in the hope of gaining vital bonus points.