Even if you had an original DS back in the day, chances are Elite Beat Agents slipped under your radar. The game was met with critical acclaim when it was released back in 2006 but ended up selling much less than iNiS and Nintendo (who published the game) had anticipated. It’s a shame, because those few who did snag a copy–or who played a friend’s–were met with an absolute treat of a rhythm game.
The concept behind EBA isn’t all that different from other rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero in that the gameplay largely consists of hitting icons in time with music. Unlike DDR and Guitar Hero, however, the icons players have to tap appear in different places around the screen throughout the duration of the song. In this way, EBA differentiates itself from other rhythm games by emphasizing visual focus in addition to auditory focus.
EBA also sets itself apart with its extremely wacky, feel-good premise: A group of secret agents who go around assisting people with a variety of problems through the power of song. Throughout the game these agents sing and dance to help lovestruck teenagers babysit, a bankrupt oil tycoon win back his riches, and even assist a meteorologist in changing the weather for her son. The situations are often ridiculous, but the game takes all of its wild scenarios in stride, resulting in a game that’s just goofy fun to kick back and enjoy for a few spare moments.
Now picture this: Your parents bought you the game, and you’re enjoying it. You’ve just finished about 15 different missions, each more difficult than the last. In fact, you’re feeling pretty confident in your rhythm gaming skills at this point. The Agents have traveled around the world delivering music-fueled justice by your hand. Then, out of nowhere, a menacing race of aliens called the Rhombulans invade Earth and start turning all of the musicians to stone. Music is suddenly outlawed, and everyone you’ve helped since the beginning is thrown into a music-less prison.
The boss battles in Elite Beat Agents are memorable for a number of reasons. Aside from the pure randomness of their premise, the actual skill required to conquer the boss battles is a significant leap from the rest of the game. The last two songs, “Without a Fight” by Hoobastank and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by The Rolling Stones, both leave little room for error and crank the level of concentration needed to the highest in the game. I specifically recall “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” kicking my butt multiple times as a young teen before I finally prevailed–on Easy mode. Even now, while I didn’t have quite as much trouble, the final songs still offered a stiff challenge.
But the difficulty of the boss battles isn’t what make them truly special–it’s the feeling behind it all. All of the characters from the game come together to stand up to the forces of evil in a somewhat surreal, undeniably exciting culmination of everything you’ve worked towards for the past however many hours. Sure, the “power of song” trope is a bit tired, but that doesn’t stop you from feeling like an absolute legend as you ride out the most intense song in the game in a final burst of glory. iNiS couldn’t have chosen a better song to convey all of this emotion.
The one flaw of the final battles–and one that persists throughout the game–is the only portion of the gameplay that isn’t rhythm-based: the spinning segments. In these head-scratching deviations that almost always bookend rhythm segments, the player is tasked with spinning a pinwheel with the stylus as fast as possible to rack up bonus points. The pinwheel only awards points past a certain number of spins, however, and even as a kid I felt terrified pressing the screen so hard in an effort to get those points before the time was up. This is especially annoying in “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” where the game hardly gives you a second between finishing the spinning and getting back to the precise rhythm tapping action. The result is what feels like several uncontrollable mistakes, especially on higher difficulty levels.
Despite all of this, it’s hard to understate just how much fun EBA‘s final moments are. They’re a series of boss battles that have rarely been eclipsed since my playing them over ten years ago now. They just work. For all the game’s simplicity it truly shines with its aesthetic and gameplay experience, and it’s firing on all cylinders until the very end. It truly feels like the perfect way to end the game.