• Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan review - Nintendo DS

    Take control of a team of male cheerleaders as you endeavour to help people with their day-to-day problems through the medium of rhythm and song. A tagline like that isn't really going to win many impulse buyers over, but there's really no other way to describe it. It's another case of Japanese craziness that has to be experienced to be appreciated. It was later released in the West as "Elite Beat Agents".
    For this little gem, Nintendo turned to Inis for development. It's not a name that stirs emotion like the Treasures and Rockstars of this world, and would basically be unheard of were it not for a certain Gitaroo Man, a game which in itself failed to earn the recognition it deserved. The small studio certainly knows how to get things done when it comes to rhythm-action games though, and this time they've upped the ante again and leave themselves a heady reputation to live up to in future games.
    Upon first playing the game, many players are left somewhat bemused. The mixture of bright, vivid, manga-styled graphics, the J-rock/pop tracks blaring out through the DS's tinny speakers and the mess of circles and tracks on the lower screen. With five minutes' perseverence though, the player's patience is rewarded with one of the most novel and well-produced games for a long time. As mentioned earlier, the premise of the game is to aid the Ouendan - or cheer squad - of the title as they appear when the good people of the city get to breaking point and need a boost. These vary from helping a violinist with a bad case of the squits to make it through a subway journey or helping in the epic battle of Salaryman vs Giant Blue Rat, to helping the ghost of a young man visit his girlfriend and let her know he's alright, in one of the most emotional pieces of handheld gaming ever. Despite the stories being told in Kanji and Kana, the game remains remarkably barrier-free in terms of language. As mentioned previously, there are stories to each level, but they are easily understood thanks to the colourful drawings and animations. There are a couple of simple menus, the first asking for single- or multiplayer, the second choosing a difficulty level.
    The gameplay is simple and intuitive (if initially confusing), and revolves around three seperate basic motions: a tap of the stylus, a drag or a circular spinning motion. After a gorgeously rendered manga introduction showing how the protagonist of each piece came to be in their respective predicaments, the music begins and you're thrust into the action. As one would expect it starts easy and gets increasingly difficult as the game goes on, simple 4-bar beat hits are replaced with off-beats and sixteenths and the sheer number of hits needed increases exponentially. There is also selection of Normal or Easy (initially, Hard and Extra Hard are unlocked later) from the main menu,which gives rhythm newcomers a chance to get to grips with the basics without throwing them in at the deep end. Numbered discs appear on the lower screen, which is where all of the gameplay takes place, and a thin circle appears around the outside of each disc, slowly shrinking in size. The discs need to be tapped at exactly the same time as the circle reaches the disc. This starts off slowly, one disc at a time and is fairly easy to follow, but it soon gets going and the aim is to hit the series of discs in numbered order in time with the music. There are also targets which have a path onscreen, and once tapped a ball appears in it, the aim here is to drag the stylus over the ball and follow the path for the duration of its movement. The third and final target type is a large coloured wheel covering the bottom screen, which needs to be 'spun' with the stylus to build a bar up before a circle shrinks to the middle of the screen. And that's it - the whole game is built around these simple motions and is all the better for it, it quickly becomes second nature. The ways in which the music is followed are very intuitive also, not only are the shrinking circles easy enough to follow but the distance beween each target indicates the tempo and rhythm too.

    The music is a real treat, J-pop songs from artists such as Asian Kung-Fu Generation, L'arc~en~Ciel, The Blue Hearts and Nobody Knows (not original artists, but very, very good covers). They may not be household names in the West, but there're some new and classic pieces here and they fit the mood and style of the game perfectly. Unfortunately for those without a nice set of headphones this can show up one of the DS's only weaknesses - the underpowered speakers. This really is a small blemish though, and as mentioned before some good headphones quickly overcome it (and spare the sanity of your nearest and dearest as you start a tricky song for the twentieth time). The cymbal splashes, whistles and - in some cases - haunting bleeps and bloops fit in well with the tunes, and the quality of the music itself (which has presumably been compressed) is very high.

    The game is just fun to play, genuine, wholesome, good old-fashioned fun. It has so much 'one more go' packed into it it's awonder where they found room to cram in the music. The unlockable difficulty levels (easily identifiable by the change of lead cheer member) add a great deal of longevity, and become a real test of hand-eye co-ordination, as well as sanity. Once cleared, the game still has plenty to offer in the form of the grading system it uses to score your performances. Anyone familiar with the Dance Dance Revolution series knows the desire to work your grades up to the hallowed heights of 'S' level. The wireless multiplayer works very well, either in a co-op fashion where players take turns to tap away, or as a battle mode.The battle mode plays out new stories, around themes such as races or fights on an arcade machine, and is as good as any multiplayer vs game around at present. Unfortunately it needs two copies of the game; there is download play available but only the tutorial level.

    It's hard to think of a better example of a game which couldn't be done on any system other than Nintendo's little box of wonders. It works perfectly and the combination of polished, slick visuals and a wide range of great Japanese tunes is more reminiscent of the second or third game in a series, not a debut. Inis have worked wonders, and while there are definite nods towards Gitaroo Man in terms of the gameplay, it feels totally fresh and unique. It's a long-lasting, pretty and at times moving piece of software and testament to what can really be accomplished with the DS. As the chaps themselves might say: 'Ouen! Dai-Sei-Kou!'.
    Score: 9/10

    Text by Adam Richards
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. jim g's Avatar
      jim g -
      the best DS game ever, and it has to be played in Japanese only.
    1. Nu-Eclipse's Avatar
      Nu-Eclipse -
      Quote Originally Posted by jim g View Post
      the best DS game ever, and it has to be played in Japanese only.
      There's always Elite Beat Agents.

      Better than Ouendan 1 and arguably as good as Ouendan 2 (Ouendan 2 takes MANY of EBA's in-game features), despite the propaganda that the JPN fanboys on here would like to have you believe.
    1. charlesr's Avatar
      charlesr -
      Why? Better tunes or? (I've only played Ouendan)
    1. Brad's Avatar
      Brad -
      Ouendan is much better than EBA. The timing seemed off in EBA to me. Could never get on with it.
    1. Nu-Eclipse's Avatar
      Nu-Eclipse -
      Quote Originally Posted by charlesr View Post
      Why? Better tunes or? (I've only played Ouendan)
      Better artwork than Ouendan 1 mainly (same guy who did it) and nice little in-game touches like ghost data, intro skips and playbacks of recorded levels.

      Music wise, it is much of a muchness between the cheesy western pop of EBA and the super-kitsch J-Pop of Ouendan. Personally, all of 'em are corny! But all three games are worth playing IMHO.

      Quote Originally Posted by Brad View Post
      Ouendan is much better than EBA. The timing seemed off in EBA to me. Could never get on with it.
      Simply not the case.

      EBA is more challenging. As fine as the Ouendan games are, they're p1ss-easy to master.
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