EBA And Ouendan
Image: Lowell Bell / Nintendo Life

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've got on their minds. Today, Lowell makes amends for a poor life choice and finally gets down with that funky, funky beat...

Rewind with me all the way back to mid-July 2007. Pokemon Diamond and Pearl were mere weeks away. New Super Mario Bros. and Wii Sports spun endlessly that summer inside my Nintendo Wii, and I couldn’t wait for the seventh and final Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows, to debut. Among all this madness, a little rhythm game about secret agents helping out those in need launched on 13th July in the EU: Elite Beat Agents. For me, this cult classic got lost in that hectic midsummer shuffle.

Now – on (well, around) the game’s 15th anniversary in the Europe – I’ve finally set this egregious error right.

Elite Beat Agents released as the international equivalent of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! and the second in a trio of rhythm games developed by iNiS and designed by Keiichi Yano. However, the localisation process resulted in two very distinct games with a strong familial connection, rather than the same gameplay with translated text.

I found myself huffing air out my nose in amusement so often my screen fogged up.

Despite living in the Land of the Rhythm Games, it turned out to be quite difficult to get my hands on a copy of Elite Beat Agents as it was never released in Japan. Online, I could find plenty of South Korean copies, but as Nintendo had some archaic region locking practices back in those days, I couldn’t play that version on any of my 3DS family of consoles.

So, I decided to go cave-diving in Japanese used electronics stores for a copy of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! instead, which also proved fruitless. So fruitless in fact that I managed to find a copy of the sequel, Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii: Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2, buried in a veritable wall of used DS games for the tremendous price of ¥270 (about £1.60).

But not the original. Dejected, I searched online for Ouendan 1, and as if by providence there it was in the More Items To Explore section – a compatible copy of Elite Beat Agents. And it arrived in pristine condition two days later.

EBA Search
Image: Lowell Bell / Nintendo Life

A dozen hours of Elite Beat Agenting later, and I can’t think of a more pleasantly absurd game. Split into two screens, the top half depicts people in dire and humorous circumstances, calling out for help as if for the Ghostbusters. Whether a story about a painter named Leo trying to convince a woman named Mona to become his muse, or the Captain of a ship searching for treasure after his crew mutinied, the Elite Beat Agents arrive to cheer them on by dancing to covers of early-2000s pop-rock on the DS’s touch screen, though many tracks, such as David Bowie’s Let's Dance, were pulled from decades prior.

there’s a disconnect created through adapting the original game for a non-Japanese audience because in Japan, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan somewhat makes sense

I am no stranger to rhythm games – I managed to clear most Guitar Hero 2 songs on Expert back in the day – yet still struggled with Elite Beat Agents on the Crusin’ (normal) difficulty. Once I nailed the rhythm of tapping the circles with the stylus in their numbered sequence as the outer circle overlapped, however, I could nab a B ranking and even a few A rankings, being more than happy to go back and play some of my favourites – particularly Sum 41’s Makes No Difference – over again for a higher score.

If I hadn’t lived in Japan, I may never have understood why the Agents cheer these people on through their problems, instead accepting the absurdity of the three Men In Black-inspired protagonists as they leap from a convertible to dance to Sk8er Boi by Avril Lavigne. Indeed, there’s a disconnect created through adapting the original game for a non-Japanese audience because in Japan, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan somewhat makes sense.

The scenarios are reminiscent of a comedic manga. Rhythm games were and still are quite popular in both arcades and on smartphones here. And ouendan – or cheering squads – make appearances in almost all real-life sporting events. I’ve personally seen several ouendan performances at Japanese high schools during sports festivals, for example, and their less-traditional counterparts during Renofa Yamaguchi FC football matches.

While I’m sure these nuances weren’t lost on a large portion of Elite Beat Agents’ audience, its distance from the Japanese source material makes it all the more special. No ouendan culture in Europe and North America, you say? Okay, make them special agents grooving to Highway Star by Deep Purple so Sam the miniature pug can find his way home – why not? I can’t get over it. I found myself huffing air out my nose in amusement so often my screen fogged up.

Undoubtedly, if I played Elite Beat Agents 15 years ago, it would’ve been one of my favourite DS games of all time. I came away with only two minor criticisms: my dominant hand hurt after tapping away for more than 30 minutes at a time, and I desperately wanted to look at the top screen to watch a meteorologist summon fighter jets to clear a cloudy sky but doing so caused me to miss a beat or two. Even then, I could easily consider both points as praise; I didn’t want to put the game down nor did I want to miss any tiny scene from each narrative.

Image: Nintendo

Luckily, I still have a lot to play. Once I nab some higher scores on the Crusin’ difficulty, move onto Sweatin’, and eventually unlock the Elite Beat Divas, I will continue my hunt for a copy of Ouendan 1 to play before Ouendan 2. I’ve heard that fans of the series – and I now count myself among them – consider the Japanese counterparts superior, and I cannot wait to find out why.

So, if you also skipped Elite Beat Agents, which was critically acclaimed but did not sell enough to warrant a sequel all those years ago, do yourself a favour and correct that egregious mistake along with me. Better yet, help me hunt down Keiichi Yano and force him to make us an Elite Beat Agents 2. Back when Switch was still called NX, he once said he'd love to make a sequel.

Where's a Kickstarter when you need one?

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