The B[ack]log: Elite Beat Addict

Alex Ward isn't going to appreciate me saying this, but I recently beat Elite Beat Agents. In one sitting, I might add. If you've ever read one, you'd know that a typical video game manual generally frowns upon such protracted play sessions, urging you to take a break every hour and go stare at something that isn't comprised of polygons. That seemed like terrible advice at the time, and for two very good reasons.

The first, being the one most concerned with my personal health, was that severing the connection and stepping outside would result in a sudden depressurization and my intimate inspection of a churning jet engine. Perhaps this would have been the superior option had I packed Lost in Blue for the 5-hour flight from New York to Los Angeles, but I wisely went with Nintendo's music-and-rhythmer instead. The second reason then, was that I found myself far too enthralled to even consider giving up for a moment -- not even when I was losing.

I don't recall exactly how many attempts it took to defeat the final level, but I'm fairly certain I'd be unable to count them on my fingers. I'd have to be exposed to all manner of radiation and mysterious mutagens before the number of appendages could even approximate the numerous failures I faced, but by then I'd probably be better equipped to deal with the insidiously arranged numbers and panic-inducing spinners the game throws at you in its last scenario. It feels overwhelming at times, even ridiculous, but never unfair.


Quite possibly the least comfortable environment to play Elite Beat Agents in.

That's a tricky balance to maintain, one that forces the game's designers to decide when they're going to gently hold your hand and when they're going to stick it in a beehive. The one extreme leaves you with boredom and a limp wrist, the other inflicts pain and a strong urge to pull out and flee in the opposite direction. To strike the perfect balance is to capture that "just one more go" feeling and leave you with the sense that you can overcome the challenge if you just try a little bit harder for a little bit longer.

Though I still prefer Elite Beat Agent's Japanese sibling Osu Tatakae Ouendan for its peppy music, bold art and considerably more entertaining name, I found the Western version's steeper difficulty (at least in my mind) far more engaging. It riled me up. It made me angry. There was a seething vendetta between me and that apocalyptic music finale, a tug of war with the Game Over screen stuck firmly in the middle. I was going to stab at your numeric weak points, Jumpin' Jack Flash!

And once I did, the satisfaction and relief I felt made it all worth it. Feelings of frustration are surprisingly effervescent, and I wonder if game developers are a little too eager to destroy any and all sources of it in their finely tuned and focus-tested endeavors. Obviously, becoming frustrated for the wrong reasons (i.e. tough, but not fair) is something none of us need, but in the right amount it can function as an emotional link between the player and the game, motivating the button pusher (or stylus wielder, in this case) to defeat his digital foe and feel cause to celebrate afterwards.

Overcoming the challenge through persistence, musical memorization and good 'ole hand-eye coordination isn't the only source of satisfaction in Elite Beat Agents (the game's relentlessly charming, by the way), but it does suggest that failure and frustration need not always sour your game experience. Get mad at your games! You'll feel better when you beat them.

WE LOVE KATAMARI (PS2)
TOMB RAIDER: ANNIVERSARY (PS2, PC)
ELITE BEAT AGENTS (DS)


The B[ack]log chronicles Ludwig Kietzmann's fight against that seemingly insurmountable and entirely self-inflicted obstacle, the ever-sprawling backlog of games that are either unfinished, unplayed or unloved. Every week, Ludwig hopes to subtract at least one and ramble on about it for a few paragraphs... if you don't mind.
If you do, let him know:

This article was originally published on Joystiq.