Genre: Music
Year: 2006
Developed by: iNiS
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: DS
Feeling Like: Tone Deaf

A theater friend and fellow actor emailed me recently.

“Did you get this audition notice? They are looking for singing actors between the ages of 30 and 40.”

My response.
“I didn’t thanks R! Will pass – cant sing a note!”

Ever since Sean asked me what was up with my voice in Grade 4 during choir practice, I’ve known I can’t sing. Ever since the 6th grade, when I blew incorrectly into the clarinet, I’ve known I can’t play a the clarinet. Ever since my parents got one of our tenants to teach me piano, I’ve known that I’m not musically inclined. I’m just not, and it’s OK. I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m just trying to let you know why it took 153 entries to finally see the first Music/Rhythm game on the list. I can’t even SPELL the word “r-h-y-t-h-m” on the first try, ever.

To be fair, it’s not exactly an old genre. Before PaRappa the Rapper blew open the noise gates in 1996, the idea of properly incorporating music into gameplay wasn’t really considered. It certainly wasn’t mainstream, and it’s not like video game music was revered on its own. To this day, it still strives for respect compared to “real” music.

Was it my suspicion that I wouldn’t be good at them? Or the fact that I’m not a “music guy?” Forget playing and signing myself, I only seriously started listening to mainstream music when Napster emerged and I could finally listen to Real Life’s “Send Me an Angel”, my favorite montage song. Naturally, it was featured in a movie about video games. 

If anybody can get me to enjoy music, it’s these three lads.

After seeing rave reviews for Elite Beat Agents, an entirely quirky, entirely enjoyable game for the Nintendo DS, I figured why not? I had a ton of time to kill on my family vacation to England and…I mean I *liked* music, right? I was always humming something, mostly from a Final Fantasy soundtrack. So surely, there must be something there for me to like.

There was.

Elite Beat Agents is so wonderfully ridiculous and easy to learn that I was immediately hooked and played through the entire story in one sitting. The gameplay is deceptively simple, but ties into the music perfectly that barely any tutorial is needed. All you do is simply tap when the enclosing circles are perfectly around the circles. Numbers are given to show you which order to tap-tap-tap in. Sometimes you’ll have to drag, or perform other dexterous challenges, but it never feels like a chore.

In another game, this scenario might seem weird.

On the contrary, getting perfect streaks going is a cinch if you can keep the beat of the song in mind. It definitely helps if you’re musically inclined, but even for a tone deaf fella like myself, I never felt handicapped.

If anything, the story beats on the top screen of the DS presented the biggest obstacle. The accompanying story scenarios are so funny and over the top that they constantly shifted my eyes to where they shouldn’t be. As you progress through the song, the person you’re trying to help does better and better, and managing both my interest in the goofy animations AND the ongoing numbers on the bottom screen was entirely a game within a game. That’s hardly a complaint, as each level/song is never overly long and resetting doesn’t feel like too much of a punishment.

The design is forgiving; in theory, you can still beat a level easily with the sound off entirely. Will you find it as endearing as I did? I suppose it depends on how much you like the songs – all  of them are covers, but I wasn’t familiar with many of the originals. They’re all quite poppy and bouncy, like a pack of bubble gum that’s been marinated in Red Bull. If that sounds like too much diabetes, you’ll probably want to steer clear. It’s hardly on the level of Rock Band, but it’s also not trying to be.

I’d have a hard time not recommending Elite Beat Agents. It’s a zany, basic premise wrapped in outrageous comic-book style vignettes, foot-tapping songs and an easy gameplay method that ramps up in difficulty at just the right pace.  What a great little game.

Still, don’t get me to try and sing. I might belt a tune out after 4 or 5 drinks, but I’ll still sound like Fozzie.

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