Stuck in a rut? Life lost its fizz? Or perhaps you have a more specific problem, such as a dirty monkey and no spa bath to clean him in. Fear not, troubled soul, because Ouendan is just a despairing wail away. Ouendan - Elite Beat Agents here in the States - is the name of the cheerleading squad that turns up whenever a situation turns bad enough to require the kind of fixing that only three guys in trenchcoats, a cheerfully bouncy piece of Japanese pop and some synchronized dance moves can do.
Retaining almost exactly the same gameplay and the maddening difficulty level of the original, Ouendan 2 doesn’t mess with the formula that made it a cult favorite. An introductory cutscene - skippable - sets the scene in surreal manga style, and the despairing cry of “Ouendan!” summons the cheerleading trio who’ll make everything okay.
The story then continues up on the top screen, with animated comic panels popping up at key moments - but the player’s attention will have to be focused totally on the touch screen action.
Basically, it’s about tapping numbered circles in the correct order and in time with the music. Hitting them perfectly awards you a higher score, which is needed to keep a constantly depleting energy bar topped up. Messing it up for even a couple of seconds on some of the songs is enough to bring the music grinding to a halt and force a restart, so it’s all about using your memory and concentration.
Some of the circles need to be held and dragged across the screen at a precise speed. Others require multiple taps or back-and-forth bounces. At the end of certain passages of music there’s a spinner that can be used to recharge the energy bar. This usually marks the start of an instrumental break and an opportunity to see whether your efforts resulted in a pass or fail for the preceding 30 or 40 seconds of action.
The more sections passed, the better the ending to the story, although the appearance of more people in distress doesn’t seem to depend on whether or not there was a 100% satisfactory resolution to the problem. They just pop up on the 3D city map, running around and yelling for help, until you touch them and spread a little more musical happiness. There are 19 songs in all.
Hardcore Ouendan masters might find the songs a little simple to begin with, since so little has changed since the original. But there’s a challenging difficulty level in which the beat markers disappear shortly before they’re activated. It’s stupidly tough.
Not being particularly masochistic when it comes to rhythm games, we found the standard setting more than adequate. The Easy mode, however, goes too far the other way - it throws up only one or two beats per second, and even then a little hand floats around the screen, showing where you should be looking next. There’s nothing in between, so memorizing the songs is the only way to get past the later levels. Because just a handful of missed beats will result in failure, tricky sections toward the end of a song will require countless attempts, by which time the first verses will be hardwired into your brain in a nightmarish fashion. Playing before bedtime is not advised.
In the interest of getting a perfect score, an instant replay is available after every song. Should you prefer not to have to listen to it immediately after playing, up to 10 can be saved on the game cartridge. There’s also a graph that shows how you did for accuracy over the course of the song, and a final rating that accumulates to unlock the harder levels and different cheerleading squads.
The best thing about Ouendan 2 is the way the music, comic strips and beat choreography all tie together so perfectly. Change any one part of it and you’d have a less successful game, as demonstrated by the lukewarm reception received here by Elite Beat Agents and its soundtrack of Avril Lavigne and Madonna covers. It somehow doesn’t seem right without the J-pop, and whether or not this is the kind of thing you’d listen to normally, it’s exactly what’s required in the game.
Replay value may be limited for anyone who isn’t obsessive enough to try to max out the score charts. It’s entirely a personal decision, but none of us could muster the enthusiasm to go for the hardest difficulty level. There’s a point beyond which Ouendan 2 becomes a feat of endurance rather than a bit of fun. But even though it lacks the variety that makes Rhythm Tengoku our favorite of all Nintendo beat games, it’s a fine follow-up to a great original. One more thing: since the original Ouendan and Elite Beat Agents had completely different soundtracks, you shouldn’t feel bad about importing Ouendan 2, since we’re sure Elite Beat 2 won’t keep the original tracks.