The key to EBA’s success isn’t just that it has all the foundations of an excellent rhythm action game – the sort of game where you compulsively repeat missions just to get each beat perfect and chain together every sequence with precision – but the brilliant way in which it ties each song together with a story. Before the song starts you get a storming dual-screen, comic-book cut-scene explaining the dilemma, and as the song progresses the game breaks off to show you how your team’s inspirational dancing is affecting things. Groove with real flair through a section and you’ll see your protagonists triumph. Scrape through, and you’ll see them suffer for your mistakes. The final outcome, too, depends on your display of skill throughout the mission. Make enough mistakes, and your men collapse and you’ll have to do the whole level from scratch, but it’s quite possible to just about complete a mission only to see a tragic-comic ending.
Now, the songs give you a pretty good line-up, ranging from the punky US rock of Sum41 to Madonna’s Material Girl, Earth, Wind & Fire’s September and Jamiroquai’s funky Canned Heat. They’re all cover versions, but all played well enough that you’re not horribly distracted by the odd difference. The stars, however, are the stories. Frankly, whoever came up with them and their different permutations is something of a whacked-out genius. They start weird and keep getting weirder. One minute you’re helping a Hollywood director through a potentially career-ending project, the next you’re helping the spoilt heir of a Japanese car corporation turn ninja and retrieve secret plans for a hot new model from a rival company’s HQ. You could also be helping a struggling babysitter go steady with her dumb jock boyfriend, a magician and his assistant foil a casino robbery, or a broken Texan billionaire regain his wealth.
There are too many riches here to count, but two stand out for me. In one of the most unhinged game missions known to man, you’re expected to reunite a small girl and her mother with the spirit of their dead father. It’s played out to the aforementioned Chicago track, and somehow manages to wring every scrap of pathos out of the wretched Peter Cetera lyric. On one level it’s utterly horrifying, yet on another strangely touching. After that, you’re only too ready to re-assert your masculinity (or just come to your senses if you’re a woman) and storm through Deep Purple’s Highway Star. This time, you’re aiding a small pug-dog who has been separated from his owners. Rocking out as he races down the road, grabbing lifts and doing good turns, only you can ensure they’re reunited. This might just be the finest joining of game and hard rock outside of a Guitar Hero game. Go on, lil’ doggy, I’m there with you. “I love it…” bam “and I need it..” bam “I bleed it” bam, bam, bam, bam. “Yeah, it’s a wild hurricane/Alright, hold tight/ I’m a highway starrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!”