Gaming to Go: Elite Beat Agents

Agents are ... go!

Elite Beat Agents built a reputation on many things: colorful characters, marvelous music, and, on later difficulties, the combination of soul-crushing challenge and those godforsaken spin markers. But look beyond that shiny veneer and you'll see above all an incredibly unique game, one that takes advantage of the DS's touch-screen capabilities arguably better than any other title on the system.

And it's a hell of a lot of fun. Give the game a spin for just a few minutes and you'll see what I mean, as part of Elite Beat Agents's charm is its bite-sized gameplay. Take one of the many songs for a ride and you'll get a glimpse of nearly everything the game has to offer, with the frantic tapping, circling, and groovy beats the title is known for. It's okay to dance with your DS. I don't judge.

Can you feel the music? Come along with this week's edition of Gaming to Go and see why exuberant dancing can solve all of the world's problems.

Describing the core gameplay of Elite Beat Agents isn't nearly as entertaining as partaking in it, so I'll make this short and sweet for those sad few among us who haven't played the game. You play as three sharply-dressed agents out to save the world, part of an entirely fictional yet entirely awesome government agency that solves personal crises through the power of music. Distress calls can come from any time and place -- the Agents will be there, shaking their hips in the name of peace and love and phenomenal hilarity.

If the premise isn't absurd enough for you, the unique problems the Agents tackle will fill the bill quite nicely. Throughout the course of the game you'll aid a variety of curious characters: one determined dog covering 400 miles to get home, one sexy friendly nurse battling devious disease, and so on. The stories are illogical at worst but utterly hilarious at best, so you shouldn't need much convincing to try that last song just one more time. Those replays will come up pretty often, so brace yourself.

Players do their part to help the agents by tapping along with the music, trying to stay on beat and hit small circles that pop up on screen to rack up a high score. Do poorly and both the agents and the victim start to suffer, the three men wearing expressions of great anguish as everything goes to hell. It's pretty dramatic, yeah, but also pretty entertaining at times, as some of the songs are worth failing just to see how the story's ending plays out.

But don't fail Inspiration. Consider this a friendly warning, if nothing else. I'm looking out for you, guys, and I don't think you're ready for that.

The core gameplay is mixed up a bit with the aforementioned spinners and other nifty stylus tricks, though the basic premise remains the same: enjoy the music, enjoy the humor, and rack up as many points as you can. You'll receive a letter ranking depending on how well you do, and the only way to unlock some of the bonus songs and progress throughout the game is to keep working on the songs until you can achieve a good ranking.

The need to replay is partially what makes Elite Beat Agents so ideal for gaming on the go. All but rhythm masters will utterly fail their first time through, as even on its easiest difficulty the game can be punishing for newcomers. It's a simple matter to dive right back in and start grooving, however, and before long you'll be accustomed to the challenge and scoring S ranks left and right.

And then you'll unlock the next difficulty level, which will take all of those skills you just cultivated and slam them repeatedly in your face. Let it not be said that Elite Beat Agents goes easy on us simple gamers. Still, it's the best kind of challenge, as even when you miss a beat midway through a song and watch -- tears streaming down your face -- as the agents curl up and die, you'll immediately jump back in for a second chance. You might be a little more reluctant to play through Sk8r Boi again, sure, but the allure of the gameplay will win out. Probably.

The track list is one of the few points of contention about the game, though it should still be enjoyable enough for anyone with a passing interest in mainstream music. And the majority of the songs coincide well with their respective stories, so some of the more questionable choices -- Ashlee Simpson? -- are easily forgiven. You might still feel a bit silly playing Elite Beat Agents in a public place, admittedly, but just be sure to pack headphones and nobody will have to know you're secretly grooving out to Avril Lavigne.

Those who stick it through will be rewarded with a fantastic experience for a gamer on the go. Each song is short, enjoyable, and poses just the right amount of challenge, so it's hard to sing anything but praise for the title. It's also pretty cheap now, two years after its release, so if you haven't picked it up, what are you waiting for?

Tap along with the stats!

Sleep time: Elite Beat Agents doesn't pause when you close the lid, so consider yourself warned. Having to pause the game mid-song can be particularly disastrous, so try to avoid it if you can.

Load time: About 40 seconds to jump into a song, provided you skip the plot sequences. Those sequences are half the fun, however, so skipping them should be avoided if possible.

Play time: That depends on the length of the song, of course, and how well you perform. Suck like I do and each song might go by much quicker.

Tick tock of the clock ringing in your ears? Tell your timepiece to shove it! We live busy lives, but remember this: there's always time to game. Check back with Gaming to Go every week for the latest and greatest titles you should spend your precious few minutes with.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.