Elite Beat Agents shows all the signs of becoming one of those underappreciated genius games that most people never try. It's in a niche genre, it can't easily be explained, and at a time when all the cool kids want "cool" games, it is gloriously goofy. Since you're reading this, however, there's still hope that at least one more gamer will find out why this cheesy, over-the-top, music/rhythm game is one of the year's very best for the DS.
The premise is as nutty as it is unique: as a member of an elite three-man dance squad - the Elite Beat Agents - you rush to the aid of anyone who is in desperate need of inspiration and encouragement. By bustin' out dance moves to rockin' tunes, you give them the lift they need to overcome whatever obstacles are in their way. Their stories unfold on the DS's top screen in animated comic book panels, and - depending on how well you play - will take turns for the better or worse. From helping a lost dog find his way back home, to fighting off a giant monster using baseball skills, no need is too small or silly.
Right about now, you're either thinking "that's so ridiculous that it's awesome!," or, "that's so ridiculous that it's stupid." If you're the latter, then fine, go play your bald-space-marine games. If, however, you can appreciate a game that doesn't take itself too seriously, then read on.
The gameplay - while simple - can be tough to wrap your head around at first. Basically, you use the stylus to tap small, circular markers as they appear across the bottom screen. The catch is that you must do this in the order they are numbered and, most importantly, along with the music. Sometimes you're tapping to the beat, and sometimes it's to the vocals or a specific instrument.
While it can be frustrating to fail at first, the game is incredibly fun when it finally "clicks" for you. The tactile feel of tapping the screen along to the music - spiced up with satisfying drum-kit audio hits and celebratory "whoo!"s after particularly difficult chains - give you the exhilaration of jamming with the band. And since the key story scenes take place between verses, when tapping takes a break, you never have to choose between focusing on gameplay or story. It's all very polished and works very well.
This is the rare games that can challenge the hardest of the hardcore while still appealing to their casual gamer friends. Players with a good ear won't spend long blasting through the game, but tougher modes can be unlocked which offer some of the most rewardingly grueling gameplay you'll find anywhere. Throw in some two- to four-player multiplayer modes, and Elite Beat Agents definitely gives you your $30 worth.
There are some rough spots. The wide variety of music ("Sk8er Boi," "Rock This Town," "The Anthem," "ABC," etc) means that everyone should find some tunes they dig, but also a few they really don't like. But when paired with snappy gameplay and funny story scenes, even eye-rolling, worn-out tunes like "YMCA" are surprisingly fun.
Elite Beat Agents captures that rare quality, that pure joy, that makes Nintendo's own games special. It just makes you feel good with its sing-along songs, memorable characters and laugh-out-loud story. This is a terrific example of what the DS can offer - an amazingly fun, addictive experience that's perfect for on-the-go gaming.