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Ossu! Tatakae! Ouendan! (DS) artwork

Ossu! Tatakae! Ouendan! (DS) review

"Ossu! Tatake! Ouendan is as weird a game as you could envisage, but after you’ve experienced its tense, chaotic action and warmed to its eccentric cast you’ll keep coming back to improve your score and relive the artistic comic book plots. Few hand-held games have exacted this kind of hold on me, but then few games ask you to tap circles to the beat so three cheerleaders -- male cheerleaders -- can inspire people to succeed. "

Hunched over a tiny desk with books stacked either side of him, a small Japanese boy scribbles frantically on a piece of paper in his family’s one-room apartment. It doesn't take much to figure out that this kid is stressed -- after all, this isn’t the best environment in which to revise for your exams. It doesn’t help that this boy has to contend with the commotion behind him: the TV is blaring, his parents, for some reason, are laughing like frenzied hyenas and a child is bounding around waving a model plane above his head. However, instead of merely asking his family to be quiet, the boy shakes with comic RAGE! and his expression turns to a suitably furious scowl.

At this point three male cheerleaders emerge triumphantly from a cupboard.

Riiiiiight. Not knowing a word of Japanese, it took me a while to understand what on Earth was happening in Ossu! Tatake! Ouendan. I was alright up until the three cheerleaders, but after that Ouendan threw up a bizarre sequence of numbered circles that trailed across the touch screen. Around the circle marked with a one was a ring that moved inwards, until it vanished leaving a rather alarming red cross.

It took me a lot longer than it should have to realise that you have to use the stylus to play Ouendan, but I haven’t played many games that force you to use the touch-screen. New Super Mario Bros. has been Nintendo’s most impressive effort so far, and that consigned the second screen to a redundant “map screen” role. Ouendan, though, is one of the few, if only, DS games that excels because of the stylus.

This is a energetic rhythm action title that has you use the stylus to tap the numbered circles before the ring orbiting them disappears. While a hyper-active j-pop tune wails, twangs and shrieks over the unusual sight of three male cheerleaders dancing, you must try to follow the urgent sequence of beats. Unless you own Guitar Hero, most Western rhythm action games focus exclusively on button presses, but here you’re actually performing with an instrument (well, almost). Nintendo’s latest direction is all about giving you things to hold and in most cases (Cooking Mama), this is just an excuse for some novelty titles. Music games are perhaps the only genre where this kind of involvement makes complete sense, though. In Ouendan what would have been a routine button-pressing game has been transformed into an innovative test of timing and reflexes.

Each song has its own repeating patterns, so the sequences match the tempo of the track. Timing your actions is a fiendish challenge, as you have to wait right until the exact moment when the ring converges on the circle, and then judge the interval between the next circle. All this is done in the blink of an eye, with circles cropping up all over the touch-screen as an energy bar gradually depletes. You don’t just lose energy when you hit a dreaded red cross -- you lose energy all the time! Each successful circle holds back the bar slightly, but completing the whole song is the only way to alleviate the tension and ensure your survival.

In this colourful ultra-high-pressure environment you start to feel like the small Japanese boy who just wants to revise! Missing one circle can throw your timing, as the whole sequence falls apart in a flurry of red crosses. Succed, though, and you’ll not only win, you’ll also get to see the boy overcome his stress and pass his exams. The short, lively narratives that accompany Ouendan’s rhythm action are a huge part of the game’s charm. Even if you don’t speak Japanese, the surreal plots are easy to discern from the comic book presentation. One minute you’re watching policemen eat donuts, then the next you’re watching UFOs unleash an evil robot army on the world. This is where the three male cheerleaders come in! Through some rhythmic stylus taps and an aggressive, punk-pop tune you can inspire the cops to overthrow the robots!

This combination of rapid-fire stylus tapping, lightning fast j-pop and colourful story-telling makes Ouendan a rounded experience. For a game revolving around music, the appeal of the songs is always going to be the most important factor, though. Ouendan keeps things fresh with slight alterations to its overriding “loud, fast punk-pop” theme. Fast-slow sections that recall The Pixies provide a testing turn of pace, as do resonant guitar solos that require you to hit the circle then drag the stylus across a small bar (move out of the bar and you lose). Not everything is mind-blowing and it’s for the best that you can’t understand the lyrics if one of the few English phrases is anything to go by (the BABY BABY BABY BABY song). However, Ouendan recovers its style and proves it can do touching as well as all-out-crazy with the mournful soul-pop that follows a ghost as he struggles to contact his living girlfriend.

You certainly couldn’t call Ouendan tedious, as the few poorer songs are soon upstaged by memorable characters, imaginative stories and music which wrings every last bit of sound from the audio processor of the DS. You never think that this is obviously handheld audio quality, because it never sounds like handheld audio quality! At first, Ossu! Tatake! Ouendan is as weird a game as you could envisage, but after you’ve experienced its tense, chaotic action and warmed to its eccentric cast you’ll keep coming back to improve your score and relive the artistic comic book plots. Few handheld games have exacted this kind of hold on me, but then few games ask you to tap circles to the beat so three cheerleaders -- male cheerleaders -- can inspire people to succeed.

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Staff review by Freelance Writer (August 27, 2006)

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