A few romantics still believe that the world's ills can be cured with song and dance. Elite Beat Agents proves that at least a couple of them are gainfully employed by the gaming industry. The game's titular team is a squad of troubleshooters who avert minor catastrophes with the inspirational power of boogie. When two Hollywood starlets become trapped on a desert island, the troupe descends to perform a rousing rendition of "Material Girl," helping the Olsen-twin look-alikes make the best of their exile.
Players determine just how smooth the agents move by tapping and tracing targets on the Nintendo DS touch-screen. Footwork is abstracted to an ingenious series of rhythmic patterns and dizzying dramatic swoops that make your stylus move like Patrick Swayze. Stories can morph mid-song, depending on musical timing. Too many left feet trigger failure animations that add drama and hilarity to the mission. These tales of dance-floor redemption are told in a frenetic manga style via comic-book panels gussied up with animation and sound effects. A couple of the songs stink with a vengeance, but the game's up-with-people attitude provides a heartbeat that even Good Charlotte's crap-pop can't smother.
Beyond the game: The Japanese incarnation of the game, called Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, stars a breed of uniformed male cheerleaders unique to their country. This import, compatible with U.S. handhelds, contains completely different songs and story.
Worth playing for: No game makes more creative use of the Nintendo DS touch-screen. Where many milk the technology for gimmicky distractions or Palm Pilot-style input, Elite Beat Agents bets the farm on precision touch-screen play, and wins big.
Frustration sets in when: Some tracks take dozens of attempts to master. When that song is by Hoobastank, it's easy to get the impression that God hates you.
Final judgment: Frequently funny and innovative in the extreme, Elite Beat Agents cuts a rug unlike any other music game out there.