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Apple and Agents (of the Elite Beat variety)

posted on June 6th, 2008 by christian

The Apple/Nintendo rumor mill has existed for a few years now, usually popping up quarterly or biannually with either a rumor about the two companies, or simple posturing about them. This leads to armies of geeks believing a merger is imminent, even though there is no proof or even any grumblings from either company about it. People simply look at how similar the two companies are, and somehow put two and two together (even if there is nothing to put together).

But maybe we are getting smarter about this inane trend. This time around, Forbes looks at how the iPhone might kill the Nintendo DS. The article cites the iPhone’s touch screen and accelerometer abilities as combining the features of the Wii and the DS. It also claims that the ability to quickly and easily download software wirelessly will make gaming simple and painless. Fair points to be sure, but it fails to address several massive advantages that the DS has, as well as some simple facts from the past. I may be treading very old ground with some of these, but let’s collect them all together:

– Apple has never widely supported gaming, and as long as they have final approval for what apps make it to the service, lord knows how many quality games will make it out. Or we may see only a few good titles, while a lot of diamonds in the rough fail to make it off the cutting room floor.

– Price. The DS is cheap as hell, and durable to boot. Even after price drops the iPhone is in 360 and almost PS3 price territory. Add in a near $100 a month phone plan, and it becomes a prohibitively costly device for kids, teens, and all but the most tech savvy/spoiled college kids. That is quite a limited market compared to the DS. Apple fanboys are quick to point out that a $200 iPod Touch would soil Nintendo in a hurry. Too bad that the lowly iPod Nano is in that price territory, still years after its introduction. There is no proof Apple would make such a drastic price cut to the Touch just to get into the gaming market, but years of history have shown how little they care about gaming. The land of “if”‘s is a finicky one, especially in the games biz.

– EA and Sega are touted as major weapons in the iPhone’s arsenal. The writer unfortunately doesn’t know enough about the industry to understand that Sega will put Super Monkey Ball on anything, and EA will publish on anything, including the NGage and the Gizmondo.

– No one can stress enough the fact that the DS is built for games. Its hardware is meant for developing games, and good tools already exist to make them. The handheld is able to use its touch capabilities while retaining excellent battery life. If you want to see what could happen with Apple, look at the PSP. When it was touted as a multimedia device, no one cared, and the miserable battery life was a problem. Since then, Sony has abandoned the UMD movie market, made a better battery, added game related features like Remote Play and PSN downloads, and emphasized the gaming capabilities almost exclusively. The music, movie, and internet features still remain, but they are less a focus and more a set of nice extra features. Sony may not catch up with Nintendo, but the PSP is finding its own success after bringing the games to the forefront. There is no chance that games will be brought to the forefront of Apple’s touch devices, and unless that happens there is no way it will even challenge the PSP as a portable game device.

– The final trump card that a fanboy may claim is that the iPod name alone is sure to attract its army of fans to Apple gaming. I have also seen claims that teens will abandon the kid friendly DS. I’m glad Apple can grab a piece of the market. Any gamer who knows the DS’s consumer base globally knows that any notion that it is solely played by children is a flat out lie. Everyone played the DS, and most continue to after all these years.

Hell, let’s just look at the numbers. Since 2001, Apple has sold 150 million iPods. That’s the entire iPod family over seven years. The DS, with just one revision (same hardware), has sold half of that in almost half the time. 70 million consoles. The Forbes article states that “The Nintendo DS has had a good run,” which is the understatement of the year.

And so to wrap it up, we have Apple’s half-assed gaming support against Nintendo’s decades long ability to print money with their handhelds. Nothing more needs to be said.

(PS – this is my own personal opinion, but the fact that the DS has two screens is a big reason for its success, at least when it comes to games that use the touch screen abilities. You can have a bullshit interface on the bottom screen, while the top screen contains all the action. A chubby set of fingers all over an iPhone screen may work for typing letters, but will surely get in the way of the action on screen in a game).

Now on to the next topic. I have a DS, and one of my first games is Elite Beat Agents. The game has got me by the balls, like any good rhythm game does. It is just the right mix of challenge, tunes and Blues Brothers style. What I want to talk about however, is the once large group of dissenters that surrounded EBA. The story isn’t anything unique; essentially a bunch of Japanophiles refused to play it over Ouendan (the Japanese game that EBA is based on), insisting that the J-pop in the original game is much preferred over the pop that sometimes populates EBA.

Suffice to say that their argument defies all logic. They don’t like American pop because it is trash. Fair enough, but what is J-Pop other than Japanese trash? In fact, when it comes to Japanese idols, J-Pop is an even more extreme example of wrapping a starlet in a prepackaged image with accompanying music. It is still crap, just in a language you can’t understand. Is it really more palatable when you don’t know the words? Maybe, but that is offset by anything with a squeaky voiced Japanese singer. In the end, it is all a wash.

And so the fact that these people feel an entire island nation’s worth of sugary music is better than the equivalent in the States is a tough pill to swallow. No matter how much of a defense is mounted, it screams of elitism and typical otaku culture. EBA sold far less than expected, and I wonder how much better it might have done if some fans weren’t insist ant on importing Ouendan without giving both games a shot. Shame on them.

Maybe its just me, but listening to a cover of an Avril Lavigne or Sum 41 song seems strangely appropriate in this game. They have their hooks and a whole lot of cheeriness, and that’s what really matters. Besides, a cover of Sk8ter Boi sounds a lot more like a palatable, cheezy piece of fluff than it did when Avril was pretending she was a punk.

I know it is a late calling, but if you’ve still missed out, I urge you to give EBA a shot. Otherwise you may be too much of a music snob.

12 Comments

  1. Bruce said on June 7, 2008:

    Agreed. I never understood all the hate for EBA, excellent excellent game. I normally avoid rhythm games but the presentation of that game helped make it an absolute blast to play. It was campy, it knew it, it celebrated it with style, and it invited you along for the ride. What your analysis seems to indicate is that some otaku aren’t in it for the games, they’re in it purely to effect a carefully postured style. A fact Square finally exploited with The World Ends With You it would appear. Anyone who dismissed EBA just because it wasn’t stuffed full of J-Pop and thus prevented me from getting EBA 2 needs to have some sense slapped into them.

    And the iPhone taking away the DS’ handheld crown? Did somebody actually get paid to write that crap? Let’s see, a four hundred dollar device with an exorbitant monthly fee which if used extensively for gaming will leave you without a phone because you ran the battery down. Yeah, that’s a perfect replacement for all those kids’ DSes out there.

    Speaking of the DS, I’m enjoying Wordjong here lately. A simple bit of fluff, but good for a few minutes of word puzzle fix at the end of my day.

  2. Christian said on June 7, 2008:

    Glad you agree Bruce. I can’t say for sure if EBA sold worse off because of certain gamers’ refusal to buy it, but when you look at the numbers of Ouendan imports, the game might have done better if the importers jumped for EBA and its fresh content.

    As a point of reference, I have listened to my share of J-Pop and J-Rock through anime and some games (like DDR). I honestly feel that most of it is another nation’s silly fluff, only I can’t understand the lyrics and the singer may be squeaky as hell. It isn’t bad, but even if I listen to the melody and rhythm I can always find a western equivalent. The idea of someone exalting L’arc En Ciel for a big, bombastic song but condemning My Chemical Romance for doing the same seems silly to me, but I’m positive you can find such a comparison somewhere out there. Otaku can be the most finicky and elitist nerds on the internet, which is strange when you consider that what they consider rare and special is common stuff in Japan.

  3. chris said on June 8, 2008:

    I think the appeal of J-Pop and such is mostly in that it’s not popular over here. Some people will like things more the less people have heard about it; they then feel that they’ve found something special, experienced something few have, and that they’re therefore part of an elite. Hell, I’m the same way with video games a lot of the time :)

    I’m not going to argue it makes any rational sense, but it’s one of those crazy things people do. Considering how long the US’s pop culture stuff has been on a pedestal in Japan, it’s funny to see the reverse happen (albeit on a smaller scale).

  4. Christian said on June 8, 2008:

    Folks, I may be wrong about the cheap iPhone being an impossibility.
    http://gizmodo.com/5014252/financial-times-iphone-2-to-be-sold-at-significantly-lower-prices

    Though it looks like it may be subsidized by AT&T, not Apple, in order to get as many people roped into a pricey contract before they lost exclusive rights to the phone.

  5. Golden Jew said on June 9, 2008:

    Agree with Bruce’s top issue of battery life. I’ve ruined my battery life just surfing the internet. Add gaming and I’m just ruined.

  6. Christian said on June 9, 2008:

    GJ how is iPhone porn?

  7. TrueTallus said on June 10, 2008:

    There is something particularly immersive about a rythm game thats every element is foreign and fantastical (my lack of experience with electronic music greatly contributed to how mind blowing I found Frequency for example). I can see why people who loved the experience of something wondrous and indecipherable when they played the songs in Ouendan were frustrated by the suddenly recognizable tunes paired up with EBA. For a game so heartfeltly bizarre to concede normalcy on music selection might be a disappointment too hard to bear for those coming to the experience for the gaming equivalent of an out of body experience. If that’s the case, I think we can go a little easier on the people who whined about EBA’s music being lame- they aren’t elitists, they’re just frustrated burnouts:)

  8. Christian said on June 10, 2008:

    Interesting point TT, but Frequency is a game that is all about the construction of the music based on your actions. In that regard, not knowing the music allowed you to dive deeper into its construction without preconceived ideas of its nature and structure. There was also some really quality electronica by great artists.

    EBA and Ouendan is pop, nothing more. It is also a matter of hitting notes to the beat, like most music games. I think they compare to DDR and Guitar Hero more than to Frequency and Amplitude.

  9. pat said on June 10, 2008:

    i agree with TT, but can not be nearly as eloquent in my reasoning. i was disappointed they used american music in EBA, since i had already heard most of the american pop used in EBA (some of it was even used in other video games i believe) and it mostly sucks. the j pop in ouendan may also suck, but at least its novel.

  10. Christian said on June 10, 2008:

    We’ll have to agree to disagree Pat, but if the same logic was used to select songs in Guitar Hero, no one would give a crap. I never saw the game as novelty, but to offer something people were familiar with.

    No j-pop song is worth losing out on Earth Wind and Fire :)

  11. pat said on June 10, 2008:

    the logic used to select tracks for the GH games seems to have been to choose “good” songs, whereas the logic for selecting tracks in EBA was to choose “crappy” (mostly, i know there are a few good ones on there) songs. seriously, sk8ter boi and walkie talkie man? a car accident makes better music.

    edit: i just realized i never made clear that i bought (and really enjoyed) this new when it first came out. just saying.

  12. TrueTallus said on June 11, 2008:

    You’re certainly right that Frequency did more than EBA ever even tried to do, Christian, but I do think a bit of the music construction recipe from Harminix’s classic got passed on to Inis’ creation. The little audible percussion noises and various crazed hollerings from the agents when you successfully tap a note added a unique layer of (admittedly on-rails) user created input that makes the real songs sound somehow hollow when I hear them on the radio. “You’re the Inspiration” doesn’t feel nearly as heartfelt without organ solos or Christmas bells, and trying to recapture the crap-this-is-the-end-but-screw-them-we-can-do-it feel of “Jumping Jack Flash” without extra drum beats and an oddball chorus screaming in the background is nearly impossible. It’s obviously not as involving and amazing as laying down a song instrument by instrument and then adding an on the fly custom axe effect, but it still smacks of the same sort of wonder that comes from personalization.

    If you couldn’t tell, my blissful ignorance of musical standards in general led me personally to have a great time with EBA regardless of its apparent musical lameness (I hope “Survivor” isn’t a bad song because I was humming that one for weeks after unlocking it). While it sounds like the music really was an understandable stumbling block for you, Pat, I’m glad you were still able to enjoy it. Sometimes the music selection itself isn’t nearly the most important part of a music game, right?

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