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Ontamarama (DS) artwork

Ontamarama (DS) review


"With a look reminiscent of a kid's anime, Ontamarama sets the cuteness factor to high. Just check out the protagonists. Beat is an energetic boy with spiky blue cowlicks who perpetually wears inline skates. Rest is a thoughtful girl with red pigtails, and her footwear is of the goody-two-shoes variety. Both children are studying to become Ontamaestros in order to spread the beauty of music. To accomplish that goal, they need the help of the Ontama, magical spirits that look like joyf..."



With a look reminiscent of a kid's anime, Ontamarama sets the cuteness factor to high. Just check out the protagonists. Beat is an energetic boy with spiky blue cowlicks who perpetually wears inline skates. Rest is a thoughtful girl with red pigtails, and her footwear is of the goody-two-shoes variety. Both children are studying to become Ontamaestros in order to spread the beauty of music. To accomplish that goal, they need the help of the Ontama, magical spirits that look like joyful sourdough rolls with wings. Unfortunately, an evil mastermind is abducting all the Ontama, and you have to take your chosen hero through the wilds of Onpu Island to defeat the villain and his henchmen. It won't be done with physical force. Instead, you fight in Ontamabattles, and unique combination of timing and coordination.

Ontamabattles actually have two components. The rhythmic portions work like many other music games. Notes scroll slowly across the top of the screen; there are four different colors. When it reaches its destination, you hit the d-pad arrow (or face button, for lefties) that corresponds with the color. However, each note must be activated before it can be played. This is where the Ontama figure into the mix. The cuddly creatures appear in certain formations on the touch screen, and they're the same four shades as the notes. Simply tap on the Ontama that is the hue of the next note you need to play, and it's ready for action.

The division of attention that results provides an interesting challenge. Each of your hands has a completely different responsibility, and your eyes basically have to look in two places at the same time. Ontamarama does everything it can to distract you from the performance. Adding to the difficulty, there are two special types of Ontama. White ones boost your score, but blend into the background. Black ones deduct from your score – if it gets too low the game is over – and since they're easy to see, they're more tempting to hit. These good and evil forces also dance around on the top screen, battling for supremacy based on your execution. Just another entertaining thing to catch your eye.

It only gets more complicated as you progress, and longer notes that require more than one Ontama to activate are introduced. You'll gain the capability to circle groups of like-colored spirits to clear many at once. To achieve an even higher score, you can even draw multiple circles, corralling different flocks of the cuddly creatures. Unfortunately, this function stumbles when the game occasionally fails to detect the circle you've drawn on the touch screen.

The title falters in a more fundamental respect as well. A rhythm game needs to create synergy between the music and the player, and here the split gameplay detracts from that. The stylus hand isn't going to be in sync at all; that's the whole idea. To balance the action, the rhythm hand might only have to cover one or two notes per measure, with frequent breaks to boot. That's not enough to engage you in the melody.

It doesn't help that the music is generic. The game does try to explore different genres, based on the theme of the opponent. There's hypno-tronic death for Elegy, the android catgirl. A jazzy tropical tune for Poco, the jungle boy. A cute cabaret number for Suite, the pink-haired assistant to the ultimate villain. All the original songs have a perky vibe, but most don't have vocals. It's like instantly forgettable elevator music.

A relatively short length stands as an issue, too. The main story mode only has twelve different stages, and there aren't any multiplayer options. Yes, several difficulty levels exist, along with a free play mode, but that's still a tiny amount of musical ground to cover. Ontamarama has more than enough appeal to charm those who love cute Japanese things. With the gameplay twists on the traditional confines of its supposed genre, though, it will quickly turn off those looking for a pure rhythmic fix.

Rating: 4/10

woodhouse's avatar
Community review by woodhouse (March 29, 2009)

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