Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan
A catchy rhythm-based music game for the DS has us grooving to its beat.
In what can only be described as a divine epiphany, I've come to the conclusion that I don't want a guardian angel or lady luck on my side. What I truly need are three male Japanese cheerleaders, and while I'm fully aware that what I just said doesn't exactly sound right allow me to explain. I'm not talking about anything freaky perverted (and shame on you and your slimy brain for even thinking such a thing) but rather three super intense dudes who'll appear out of nowhere whenever I call for them, sort of like Batman whenever Gotham City blasts his signal into the night sky but a hell of a lot cooler. Yes, my burning desire is in fact nothing more than a pipe dream, but at the very least I have the next best thing, that being developer Inis and Nintendo's remarkable rhythm title Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! In case you've never heard of it I advise you to take note, as it is without question the DS' greatest game and killer app.
Ouendan, which was actually developed by the same team that created the overlooked Koei title Gitaroo Man, is a music-based and Japan-only videogame where you must assist three male cheerleaders with the task of helping someone with a serious problem. The game actually takes place in a city that's represented as giant map on the DS' bottom screen, and various people with serious issues are scattered about it. One man is a failed chef who's fallen on hard times and another is a young man who's trying to make the grade in spite of his family's rude behavior. A lot of these situations are actually quite realistic, though there are the bizarre and impossible scenarios, the guy battling the gigantic Godzilla-sized mouse being one of them, but no matter how ridiculous things become all of these poor souls lack the motivation to solve their own problems. It's not that they need someone to physically aid them on their quests, but they require that extra boost, some oomph, some "where's my motivation", some blue Gatorade, if you will, and the only way they can get that super jolt of adrenaline is to dig deep into their hearts, suck all of the air into their guts and forcefully scream OUENDAN!!!
Each and every cry attracts the attention of the cheerleaders who have a delightful habit of making extremely dramatic entrances. In the first level, for example, they just fling a guy's sliding door open and burst into his living room. This pageantry is quite over the top, so at first I found them to be quite ridiculous but after a few moments of play they grew on me. Inis has made these guys into a lot more than just comic relief. They're also undeniably cool; three bad ass dudes who will do everything in their power to ensure the safety and happiness of every man, women, child, and animal on the entire planet. I don't want to mock these guys. I want to cosplay as them.
As soon as they hit the scene the music kicks in, 15 phenomenal songs that comprise one of the most aurally impressive videogame soundtracks you will ever hear. It's all Japanese music and chances are importers won't understand a word of it but that won't diminish this title's quality. I sure as hell don't know what these people are singing about but I do know that it all sounds pretty damn good, and to top it off the beats are just amazing. It's a shame that the DS' speakers make things sound like the music is being expelled through an old radio, but headphones or third party speakers easily alleviate this problem.
Since this is a rhythm-based game you're going to be doing a lot more than just groovin' to the music, and while the gameplay mechanics are simplistic on paper Inis has made sure that Ouendan will beat you up like a 400 pound line backer. It starts out easy enough, as numbered and different colored circles appear on the touch screen (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) and large rings materialize around each one. As the rings get smaller and smaller, the idea is to tap the circle when it and the ring overlap, and doing this correctly will produce in most cases a drum sound. As things become more advanced these circles will be placed on top of one another, so instead of just tapping the number 1 and waiting for the number 2 to appear, something like 1, 2, 3, 4 will pop up on the screen and you'll have to tap them all in rapid succession but with the beat.
As you progress new gameplay features get tossed into the mix including line tracing (a ball moves back and forth and you must follow it with your stylus) that is arranged in all sorts of funky shapes and a disc that you must rapidly spin within a certain amount of time. Again, this stuff seemed easy when I first started but the developers really kick things up several notches on the later levels.
Like titles Samba de Amigo and Gitaroo Man, Ouendan is just as much fun to play as it is to watch. Inis elected to portray the various scenarios using story boards which play out like partly animated slide shows, but what really makes them fantastic, aside from them being excellently drawn, is the fact that they're dynamic. You see, each song is divided into three or four parts that you need to get past, and if you succeed you're awarded with an O and if you fail you receive an X. Depending on whether you get an O or an X, the scene will change. Take the mouse versus man level, for example. If you get past the first section he'll punch the rodent in the face, but if you $#^% up the mouse will just step on his head several times. Some of these scenes are so hilarious that it's worth losing just to see how things play out.
What I also love about this title's presentation is its sense of community. Characters from previous levels will constantly reappear in other peoples' scenarios and it's just really cool seeing them all interact. This is another situation where losing on purpose can be cool.
Unfortunately, the game seriously punishes you for failure because tapping circles and tracing lines are actually the least of your worries. At the top of the touch screen is an energy bar of sorts that's always running out. You can't stop it, but you can push it back up by performing well, so not only do you have to worry about hitting all of your notes but doing so with style. Simply doing Ok isn't enough.
It's also important to note what else is happening on the touch screen. The cheerleaders had to go someplace, so while you're striking those circles they're in the background going through choreographed maneuvers. It's actually quite funny yet it's extremely impressive because their movements are so fluid. They're not the stereotypical "rah, rah, rah" cheerleaders that populate American football games. These guys have got some moves as well as machismo. It's like I want to laugh to at them for being male cheerleaders, but at the same time they're so undeniably cool that I myself want to become a male cheerleader. In other words, they smash through the American stereotypes even though they're not even a part of our culture.
As I previously mentioned, Ouendan becomes difficult in a hurry. When you first start there's two modes, Easy and Normal, and if you manage to get past Normal you unlock Hard, and if you can somehow beat that you'll be rewarded with super crazy insane hard more. On the positive side the last mode allows you to play alongside female cheerleaders. On the negative side...well...you probably won't last 1.5 seconds.
If you're wary of importing Ouendan rest assured that you don't need to know any Japanese in order to enjoy it. The story boards are so detailed that you'll be able to figure out what's going on, and not being able to read the language doesn't cause the game to lose much of its charm. Sure, you won't be getting the full experience, but like most exceptional videogames, Ouendan transcends cultural barriers, so it's actually quite import friendly.
Providing that you're still not sure whether you want to purchase this game, you also need to take into account the chances of it coming to the U.S, which is no chance. Even if it did make it over here, the music would probably be ripped out and replaced with some American pop culture garbage. It'd still be worth owning, but playing along with something like Love Shack would make Ouendan less cool.
Lastly, the game does include a multiplayer mode for up to four people, but I unfortunately haven't been able to check it out because I've yet to run into someone else with the game. Yes, everyone needs a copy in order to play it so that kind of sucks, especially since other titles such as Meteos and Bomberman have single cart play. However, from what I've heard the four player battles can get fairly intense. Everyone decides on a single song, and the goal is to just complete it perfectly before your opponents do. What's also neat is each song has different images that cannot be seen in the single player game, so there's definitely some incentive to checking out its multiplayer component. However, even if the multiplayer's horrendous, which I seriously doubt, the game still receives a perfect score.
The saddest thing about this title is not enough consumers will buy it. It certainly won't aid the DS in combating the PSP in terms of units sold, and you'll probably not understand its value until Nintendo discontinues it and eBayers are selling it for over $100 several years from now. Of course, this is why you should make one of the best shopping decisions of your life and immediately import Ouendan, not just because it's the best game on the DS, but also because it just so happens to be one of greatest videogames ever made. Unlike thousands of titles before it, this game is all about having fun in its purest form. It always brings a smile to my face, and damnit, I just cannot say the same thing about 90% of the videogames that are released on a weekly basis. Charming, wickedly amazing, and a game of the year candidate, Ouendan is one of the primary reasons why the DS will become a classic system.
What's Hot: That I own this game.
What's Not: No single cart multiplayer.