Elite Beat Agents is the most stressful game I own.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I play videogames to relax. I do enjoy games that are challenging, but, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less and less likely to learn a “new” challenging game. And it’s a really thin line that separates the games that I’ll try until the very end and games I’ll quit halfway through the tutorial. Dark Souls? Don’t care for it. Bloodborne? Much better. Maybe I just like tumbling around gothic towns? I don’t know, but the end result is that it is very unlikely that I will complete a challenging “new game”. Meanwhile, something like, say, Mega Man 9 might be challenging, but it’s a familiar kind of challenging, because I already spent seventy billion hours completing its prequels. So maybe it comes down to “fun” is “familiar” for me, and, again, I play videogames to have fun.
So, yes, I wind up playing a lot of familiar genres. It might take a lot of effort to properly “master” a new fighting game, but, guess what? I can probably conquer arcade mode (where available) through a solid combination of jump/sweep kicks. Maybe somewhere in there I’ll find my “new main”, but at the very least I’ll have a few afternoons of fun running through different characters (and, hey, maybe they’re attached to a whacky story mode). Similarly, I seem to gravitate toward rhythm games because, different interfaces aside, Gitaroo Man is not that different from the latest Vocaloid jaunt. Pick it up, have fun, maybe decide to master it, and then move along. It’s the videogame way.
Elite Beat Agents is a rhythm game. Elite Beat Agents is not relaxing.
EBA is, superficially, a fun game. It’s the story of the eponymous Elite Beat Agents, a trio of fine looking men who appear when people are in trouble and in desperate need of someone singing Madonna covers. The story of the game is told through fun little comic book panels and “skits” that portray stressed individuals eventually gaining the power to conquer their fears with the help of the spirit of David Bowie. As a side effect of this generally senseless plot, most of the stages place tongue firmly in cheek, and, while I don’t really believe a stage magician could thwart a casino robbery with magic doves and a pet lion, it is entertaining to play along. Couple this with some of the finest hits of the aughts (Avril Lavigne! Sum 41! Ashlee Simpson! … Hoobastank?), and Elite Beat Agents should be an all-around fun experience. Who doesn’t like tapping their DS along to Jamiroquai?
But there’s a bit of a catch…
EBA is a rhythm game, and, like a lot of rhythm games, it has fairly strict definitions for “on the beat”. Look, I get it, I was in both concert and rock bands, and nobody understands more than I that if you step on the wrong rest and blow your horn even one beat off, it makes everything worse. Conceptually, I understand that music is, at its core, a rigidly defined affair, and close only counts in horseshoes and Splatoon. But, even games I’ve been playing for years I don’t play perfect. To revisit Mega Man for a moment, part of the reason I’m even as good as I am at that franchise is because there’s an energy meter, and because I can dodge Wood Man’s leaf barrage “early” or “at the last second”, just so long as it’s within the proper leaf-dodging window. I don’t have to be perfect to beat Dr. Wily, and that’s why I can beat that nefarious scientist.
But Elite Beat Agents does have a “life bar”, and it’s not like one hit takes you out of the game. Heck, you can screw up quite a bit and still finish, so what’s the problem, Goggle Bob? Why you gots to hate on the poor agents?
Well, mysterious voice in my head, my problem is that there is an ever increasing combo count, and since it’s a score multiplier, the better I do, the more stressed out I get.
That silly little combo meter is a pretty normal part of rhythm games, but in Elite Beat Agents, your final score is based almost entirely on how long you can keep a combo going, and, more importantly, how high that combo multiplier is in time for the all-important finale. It’s an innovative way to make the typical “combo meter” important, and, yes, just for you, there’s a little combo count right there on the screen reminding you how far you’ve gone without a miss.
And it drives me insane.
Traditionally, in a rhythm game, I only care about all or nothing. If I break the “combo” on the first note or the last, whatever, it sucks, but it happens. In EBA, though, that constant… reminder… there… ticking up… oh God if I screw up I’m going to ruin a 100 note streak… 101… 102… 104… Oh God please stop! Is it the end of the song yet? Please just give me that final spinner bonus. Please! There it is! SPIN LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT!
… And that’s the story of why my original DS screen looks like it was used as a coaster.
And it’s not just the combo meter that drives me batty. Remember those “fun” stories mentioned earlier? Well, if you fail, people die. Babies are born in cabs, old sailormen go broke, and relationships are destroyed. Then you get to that one chapter…
The story of a daughter who lost her father, and wants to be reunited with his spirit for some manner of gift giving holiday. Here’s a fun fact: I have not progressed in the higher difficulty levels of EBA, because if I do, I might hit that level, lose, and find out what happens when you fail a little girl that just wants to experience joy in an uncaring world. I can’t take that! I’m getting stressed just thinking about that.
So I think I’ll be putting the ol’ Elite Beat Agents cartridge away for a little while, and maybe I’ll play some God of War in the meanwhile. Yes, God of War, just silly albino men and silly gods and maybe a puppy with too many heads. Go beat up some ancient monstrosities. Yes… that sounds like fun…
FGC #237 Elite Beat Agents
- System: Nintendo DS. Kind of surprised this didn’t wind up with any other releases, but, then again, the musical rights are probably a quagmire.
- Number of Players: Four player competition sounds even more stressful!
- Land of the Rising Fun: The “original” version of this game/franchise would be completely unrecognizable to American audiences. For instance, rather than “cool” agents dancing to random songs, Japan has got actual cheerleaders in Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan. Male cheerleaders. I can’t imagine why someone decided to change that for localization.
- Gone and maybe Forgotten: The Agents appeared as a trophy in Super Smash Bros Brawl… but not Smash 4. That makes me nervous (and maybe still stressed).
- Favorite Song: I just like being able to say that there’s a Nintendo game that prominently involves Avril Lavigne and Sk8er Boi, a song about a woman singing to another woman about banging her ex-boyfriend. Or ex-crush? Whatever. It’s stupid. It’s really really stupid. And catchy.
- Did you know? Livin’ La Vida Loca was apparently originally planned for the game, but did not make it in. Considering EBA managed to peg Village People’s YMCA on a song about a sailor man when In the Navy is right there, Livin’ La Vida Loca could have been applied to any stage.
- Would I play again: Probably, yes. It’s the most stressful game in my collection… but sometimes a little stress is good? And I really like those aesthetics…
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES! That would be the original Ultra/Konami jaunt, and not any of the later arcade (arcade-esque) versions. It’s the one with turtle power! Cowabunga! Please look forward to it!