Import: Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan
Certain days just begin perfectly. Those are the days when you jump out of bed, put on some coffee and dance around your living room to the tunes of Dexy's Midnight Runners' "Seven Days Too Long". Nothing can go wrong, nothing or no one can break your spirits. Those days might be rare, precious gems but you can live off them for a long time afterward - they are pure magic in a dull, grey and otherwise quite depressing world.
Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan is like one of those days.
The story of the game is as brilliant as it is simple - you're the leader of a cheerleading squad and it is your job to help people by...well, dancing. The members of your troupe might be male and look more like Gestapo agents - dressed up in black leather trenchcoats and sporting red armbands - than the cheerleaders we've all ogled in "Bring it On", but they sure know how to move. And when someone in need cries out for help - or Ouendan, as the male cheerleading phenomenon is known as in Japan, according to my sources - then you and your mates come to the rescue and cheer him or her on.
Every level is a story in itself. Whether you are helping a secretary to get a date with her handsome boss or a race horse to stop a robbery (!), each of these little stories is told through really high quality manga/anime-styled comic frames. The characters are wonderfully drawn and their individual problems are so basic and universal that, even though the whole game is in Japanese - it hasn't been, and probably never will be, translated - there is no question about what is going on and what your objectives are. And in case you still don't understand what is going on, the rest of the game is good enough to still warrant your undying attention.
Just like the game's plot line, the gameplay is both brilliant and simple. Music game designers seem to have a fascination for coloured circles, and Ouendan is not an exception to that rule - when these circles appear on your touchscreen you are supposed to hit them with the stylus at the right moment, or follow them around as they roll across the screen. It sounds simple enough, but as anyone remotely familiar with music games know, you have to do it all on cue, timing your hits with the music. If you do well, the person you are helping will succeed - the race horse will stop the robber from escaping or the two policemen will win their battle against the marauding robots, for example - if you do poorly, your dancers fall over and you'll have to start over again. Nothing more, nothing less.
The music is the third ingredient to the formula that helps make Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan the great game that it is - it's wonderful, charming, chewing gum j-pop makes Bazooka feel like heavy metal and the soundtrack is just as much a must-own as the OST for Katamari Damacy. Together with the almost hypnotic gameplay it is hard not to be completely immersed in it, singing along in mangled Japanese and doing your own small dances whenever there is a break in the story. In all, when you get your groove on, the game creates the illusion that you are actually performing yourself - or at least banging away on a small, DS-shaped drum.
Its almost magical. When the cheerleaders dance everyone's worries away, my heart dances with them.
But that's just half the truth.
Because for every good morning you have, you have at least 10 bad ones. As well as being magical and hypnotic, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan can be mindboggingly hard. At times it feels like one of those mornings where you start your day by stepping on a nail, then stubbing one of your toes on the kitchen table before eventually getting run over by a bus on the way to work. And it gets hard fast - already on normal mode it is quite a feat to finish some of the stories. You really have to play them over and over to learn the right moves, which means that after a while you have no one to blame your failures on but yourself. Not a lousy camera or worthless controls, just you and your stupidity for doing the same mistakes over and over again. That is almost the worst part, but if it had been any different the game would probably have been completely unplayable.
Then again, the game is so addictive that you will find yourself trying the same story countless times. And when you finally do succeed, the sun breaks through the thunder clouds and the birds start to sing beautiful songs in your honour.