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Nintendo DS Review: Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! (JP)

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While writing for Blogcritics is a ton of fun, there are times where I sit down to write articles and just don’t have any motivation or desire to put my fingers to work. It’s times like this that I need my own personal ouendan.

Such is the concept of iNis’ chart-topping game Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! which has had its place at the top of frequently imported Nintendo DS games. Given the critical (not financial) success the company had with Gitaroo Man, iNis’ lends its charm to the rhythm genre once again and strays from the beaten path.

Players take the commanding role of Ouendan (“ouen-dan” – Japanese basically meaning “cheer – squad”), a group of black trench coat-sporting motivational supporters. The city is bustling with people tackling everyday duties but when the stress of their situation becomes too much to bare, Ouendan is in the wings and waiting to motivate the citizen in distress. The squad will help a variety of people throughout the game from helping a student crank out better homework and test scores to going back in time to help ancient Egypt.

The game features 15 stages of playing, each featuring covers of licensed J-pop tunes. Songs from notable artists such as Orange Range, Asian Kung-Fu Generation and L’arc~en~ciel make the cut in title and ring out in surprisingly fantastic quality during game play. With four different difficulty settings and different rankings obtained through accumulating high scores, players will have to up their game in order to take on all the challenges in the game.

The control is perfect as the touch screen puts you in full control of tapping on timing circles that pop up in time to the music currently playing. Ouendan also makes further use of the touch screen’s capabilities by introducing commands that require players to slide indicators along set paths and spinning the stylus in circles in order to fill a meter. All the controls mesh together very well with the timing of the songs and bring variety to the game play.

Graphically, iNiS strikes again with well-crafted and interesting characters that come alive in a manga-like presentation. The storyboards come alive with wild and exaggerated expressions and during game play, the characters’ actions reflect on how well you perform. The expressions and actions really add to the humor and absurdity of what’s going on and really give Ouendan an identity of its own.

While the ouendan does its cheering in the background of the play area, it doesn’t hinder the visibility of the command markers. Furthermore, most of the action on the top screen isn’t too distracting from the game play since the parts that advance the storyboard occur during breaks in the action. However, when a song requires a player to hit the same spot in rapid-fire succession, the timing rings tend to bunch together a little too close, making it hard to get the timing right on.

Since the music is the heart of the game, extra care was taken to ensure the music in the game sounded as perfect as it could on a handheld system. While the songs are covered, they sound as close to the originals as possible from the vocals to the instrumentation. In order to cheer on the people in distress, the ouendan chime in with whistles and vocal encouragement. With all the sound in the game, a lot is going on audibly, but nothing gets overpowered and as long as you enjoy J-pop, the game is extremely pleasing to the ear.

The major drawback to the game is the fact that it isn’t for everybody. The game is strictly rhythm-based and will probably only appeal to a niche domestic market in the same vein that explains the poor U.S. sales of Gitaroo Man. As fantastic as Ouendan is, many people stateside would probably dismiss the quirky aesthetics and the strict Japanese culture of the game. However, if you’re importing games to begin with, games like Ouendan are probably right up your alley.

Luckily, iNiS is bringing the game stateside as Elite Beat Agents with a complete U.S. makeover – not just the songs but also the story, characters and more. While players won’t get the original version of the game, so many things are being changed, you’d swear Elite Beat Agents was a sequel.

Overall, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! should be at the top of anyone’s Nintendo DS import list. The game takes full advantage of the hardware both visually and audibly and creates the best music game available on the system so far. With four different difficulties, players will not only have reasons to play the game multiple times, but the game does prove to be a challenge in the higher levels. Co-op and versus multiplayer options are present, the game play extends a little more, but are bare-bones minimum along the lines of Um Jammer Lammy.

In November we’ll see how well Elite Beat Agents can stand on its own, but until then, Ouendan! remains the king of the domain of DS rhythm games.

Language Barrier
While the game is entirely in Japanese, most U.S. gamers should be able to manage Ouendan just fine. All of the storyboards are in Japanese text, but by watching what is going on, you can still understand what each dilemma is and how the story is unfolding. Even if there is something in the game that stumps the player, there are a number of online fan sites and online translations to aid those with those burning Ouendan questions.

Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! is an import title and is not rated by the ESRB. The CERO rating is A (All ages).

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