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Trivia question: what game was named the Best DS Game of 2006 by both IGN.com and Nintendo Power magazine? Was it the excellent platform revival New Super Mario Bros.? Was it the outstanding puzzler Tetris DS, the popular online multiplayer FPS Metroid Prime: Hunters, or Square Enix's classic RPG Final Fantasy III? Nope, it wasn't any of those, nor was it the classic gaming compilation Clubhouse Games, or the incredible action title Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. No, believe it or not, the woefully overlooked title that brought home those honors was none other than Nintendo's comic rhythm game Elite Beat Agents, and for good reason too. It's fantastic.
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The stars of this game are the Elite Beat Agents themselves, suit-and-sunglass clad individuals reminiscent of the characters portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in the movie Men in Black. They go around helping people solve a variety of problems, often comical but sometimes surprisingly poignant, and eventually need to help save humanity by fighting off an invasion attempt by rhythm-hating aliens. The writing in the game is exceptionally strong and features that special kind of Katamari Damacy style wackiness that is easy to love and all but impossible to resist. It will definitely keep you entertained from start to finish.
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The concept behind Elite Beat Agents is quite simple. Players need to help out the aforementioned agents by using the stylus to perform different musically-related tasks. There are different types of symbols, each of which are cues to perform different tasks. When a Hit Marker appears, you need to tap it. When a Phrase Marker appears, you click and hold the stylus to a ball as it travels back and forth along a preset path. When a Spin Marker appears, you need to take the stylus and spin around the on-screen disc as fast as possible. You'll be graded based upon your performance, and the story scenes play out a little differently based upon how well or poorly you do. If it sounds pretty straightforward, well, that's because it is. It isn't easy to do, however, and in fact it can get quite difficult in later stages. Fortunately, the game also includes selectable difficulty levels, which is most welcome.
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Graphics and Sound
Obviously, music is a key component to this game. All of the performances are by cover artists, who do a remarkably decent job mimicking the distinctive sound of the original artists. While there are a good variety of different songs here, the soundtrack did feel a little weak in my opinion. While you have tunes originally done by such noteworthy performers as Chicago, The Stray Cats, David Bowie and The Rolling Stones, you also have tripe from the likes of Ashlee Simpson and the absolutely hideous "Sk8er Boi" by Avril Lavigne. The sound quality is good technically speaking, though, and the limited voice acting included is impressive as well. Visually speaking, the game uses a distinctive graphical style, which isn't half bad, as well as impressive animated comic-book style scenes to help advance the story. All told, there's more good than bad to be found here.
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Despite the critical acclaim this game received (according to GameRankings.com, it is the second highest rated Nintendo DS game of 2006) and the numerous awards it won, the game as reportedly sold fewer than 150,000 copies to date in North America. Which begs the question, "Why? Why, in a world where Rock Band and Guitar Hero games ship millions of units every year, haven't more people bought this unique and enjoyable music rhythm title?" Perhaps it was the unrecognizable name, perhaps it was the poor marketing by Nintendo, or perhaps it was some combination of those and possibly other factors. We may never know. The fact is though that this is an excellent, albeit short and sometimes quite challenging, game, and at this point it should be available for between $10-15 dollars at most locations (less if you happen to find a used or clearance copy). This is definitely a game worth playing and, at that discount price, purchasing. I have no doubt you'll enjoy it.