Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!
There was a time when music-rhythm games were everywhere, and then they died out slightly, but now they’re back. The same reasons why they were once and are now popular still apply; the’re fun, sociable games, that everyone (and I mean every last one of you) could play without the need of ‘Fingers of Dexterity'(tm). Okay, granted, there were still some that used the joypad and its buttons, but it moved to the dance mat and now Guitar Hero is apparently one of the best rhythm games (if not the best) out there.
Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! (OTO) doesn’t have any fancy peripherals – it’s just the NDS, the stylus and the rhythm in your bones. This was the first Japanese game that I was more than happy to play without understanding any of it. This truely is something not to be missed.
As with every other music game, you select a song and you do something in time with the music and the corresponding buttons/directions/etc. OTO has around about 14 songs which isn’t very many, but they are all of very high quality and, remember, it’s on a cartridge. Each song has a story that is told through pictures and speech-bubble captions. I should mention that you’ll need a good pair of headphones/earbuds as the NDS speakers are crap for this sort of thing – there is a huge difference, enough to make you not purchase the game if you heard it through the speakers.
There is only one way of interacting and that is via the touchscreen. As the tune churns out the beat, circles with incremental numbers appear onscreen. Each circle as a larger but shrinking outer ring and when this outer meets the circle, it’s time to tap that circle. You do this to all the circles onscreen going up the numbers from 1 to 9. There’s more than 9 circles per song, and they will reset to number 1 with a different colour circle to let you know that it’s a new set of numbers to tap. The sole variety is the ‘dragging ball’ circle that requires you to tap and drab the circle/ball along a displayed path, and sometimes require you to reverse the direction without lifting the stylus off the screen.
It doesn’t sound like much to do, but that is really all that is needed to make this game great and flowing. Obviously, the thing that makes a music game great is that it is smooth in the way it makes you interact, but also providing some interesting off-beats to challenge you. I’m a musician and I thought it wouldn’t be too hard for me to get through it but even the first was slightly tricky, and I applaud OTO for it. If it can’t challenge those musically inclined then what’s the point. Luckily, for those not so gifted, there is an Easy level (as well as the Normal) available from the start to get them going. Completing Normal gives you Hard, and finishing Hard gives you the ‘insane-no-time-to-think’ Expert level. I know I shouldn’t have but I gave up on the second song of the Expert difficulty, but given the fact that I played Normal, Easy, and then Hard, one after the other, I’m sure you’ll allow me at least a short break before I go back to it.
Songs open up as you progress through the game, there aren’t any hidden songs (not that I know if anyway), and they get more challenging each time. There are some great songs in there (most have Japanese vocals) with my favourite being the one with the story about a lost love who comes back to say a final goodbye. The music, the off-beats, the flow and the way you add extra instrumental to it build into something fantastic.
If the songs and the game’s challenging nature doesn’t get you returning to OSO, then the fact that a score and grade is given after every performance will. It harks back to the old-school of ‘beat my top score’. Although there isn’t actually a scoreboard there other than listing the best score per song per difficulty level, it still allows you to see which songs you could improve on. Also, as you tally up your points you are given an overall skill title, albeit in Japanese, and you can see that after a while a couple of songs could push you up to the next grade. There isn’t any other reward other than pride, but that’s what gaming is about and the Japanese with OTO have done it perfectly.
When PapaRappa came out on the PlayStation, I was intrigued though I never got the chance to play it. I had a dabble on a housemate’s dance mat and got a grade B or some such. I never really fancied a music game all that much, nothing really caught my attention. Now it’s quite the opposite, and it’s going to be really interesting if anything can get my attention after the joy of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!