OSU! TATAKAE! OUENDAN / Nintendo + iNiS / Nintendo DS
Elite Beat Agents was the first game of this type from iNiS to be released in the West, but it is actually predated by this Japanese release that uses the same gameplay engine, but stars a group of cheerleaders who patrol a Japanese city helping folks who are in need.
Your first mission is to help Kim Jong-Il with his homework.
The song selection of course is made up of Japanese pop music. For those, like me, who cringe at the term 'J-Pop', you'll be relieved to hear that the music here is actually mostly tolerable. There's not too much in the way of sugary little girl anthems or cockrub anime introductory theme songs with lyrics like " FIGHTING THROUGH TO MY HEART / I'M HOLDING INSIDE A FEELING THAT CANNOT BE KNOWN" that usually accompany a dramatic zoom-in on a character while mysterious wind from nowhere blows his hair and clothes around (though apparently the game's final theme was used in Bleach or Full Metal Wanker or one of those shows that teenage girls stay up late on Saturdays to watch on Cartoon Network). Anyway, there's actually some decent tunes here. I liked Linda Linda by The Blue Hearts, who it turned out were a semi-punk band in the 80s and 90s that liked to cuss and act all cracked out on stage and spit on cameras and stuff. So it's not entirely lame. And like with Elite Beat Agents, even when the songs are kinda lame, the humor and energy of the game make it easy to overlook anyway.
The gameplay is tougher than that of EBA, though I have to say I actually liked it better. Though I can't understand the lyrics, the music seems 'themed' better to the levels than in EBA, where songs were kind of just randomly matched up with stories for the most part. The life meter depletes much faster here when idle, and you gain less life back for successful hits - in EBA, at least on the lower difficulties, even if you made a bunch of mistakes and dropped into the danger zone, you were virtually guaranteed to stay afloat if you kept going without further screwups. Here, if you hit a small patch of trouble, but then recover and keep hitting beats successfully, you can still fail simply through entropy if the beats don't come fast enough. This, and the increased difficulty of the spinners (which were kind of a pain already in EBA), make this the toughest of the three games in this family by far, so it's probably better to start out with one of the others if you are completely new. If you're a vet already, however, you'll probably find the challenge to be welcome more often than it is frustrating.
This game is also missing some of the features of EBA (which was, after all, the second game). The art generally isn't quite as sharp (though not bad), and certain bonus features such as recording 'ghosts' of your playthroughs and having a multi-player mode that could be used from only one cartridge (this one is 4-player, but you need a cart for each player) are not present here. Personally, I never used any of the features this one lacks, so I could care less. YMMV.
* Cleofatra Gone Wrong