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Nintendo DS Video Game Review: ONTAMARAMA (おんたま♪おんぷ島へん)

“A fun and very Japanese rhythm game that quickly gets frustrating as you progress.”

TITLE: ONTAMARAMA (Japanese title: おんたま♪おんぷ島へん/Ontama Onputouhen)

DEVELOPER: Noise Factory

PUBLISHED BY: ATLUS

CONSOLE: Nintendo DS

RATING: E for EVERYONE – Cartoon Violence

OFFICIAL WEBSITE

Ontama, Onpu Island’s musical spirits, are being captured! It’s up to you to top, circle and blow enemies away! Can you master the beats and return music to the island?

Groove to rock, hip-hop, jazz and more!

Unlock new songs, new items and new ontama!

Challenge yourself with 3 play modes and multiple difficulty levels!

“Ontamarama” (or Ontama Onputouhen) was released in the US in the Summer of 2007. As interest for past ATLUS games are at an all time high and knowing that print runs are often low for ATLUS games, “Ontamarama” was a game that was immediately in my video game hunt list.

I’ve had my share of purchasing rhythm games in Japan and I learned that when it comes to rhythm games you either play it for the enjoyment, the party game to share with friends and enjoy the music and there are those who just love the sheer challenge because many rhythm games feature ridiculously difficult levels.

“ONTAMARAMA” is a game that features manga-cute characters, voice acting and schlocky music (not licensed songs or J-Pop either) in which someone is capturing “Ontama”, these puffy, almost ghost looking musical spirits. You manage to find one Ontama and as you try to help it and make your way through the island, you come across a variety of challenges from those who want your ontama.

Each of these people you challenged are brainwashed or forced to work for the main bad guy of the game but challenge them and beat them, you get through the map to the next level. If you don’t, you lose.

GAMEPLAY:

The gameplay during competition against rivals features your ontama and your opponents ontama (or musical notes) on the top. On the top is a bar where you see different colored ontamas sliding to the left. On the main screen is you will see ontamas show up primarily in blue, green or orange colors. And you use the directional pad or buttons) to sync to the top sliding bar (the clef) when the otama reaches this big ball.

See a lot of ontamas show up with the same color, you use the stylus to draw a circle around the group.

When there are too many ontamas, during battle, you get to use a blow command that eliminates the ontama. Of course, these are quite limited.

The challenge is to watch the screen and click or circle the ontama or group of ontamas while using your directional pad to sync and play a note.

The difficulty is that too many ontamas can show up on screen (especially if they are different colors and next to other different colored otamas) and you can easily get a screen filled with ontamas and lose a battle.

There are a variety of modes:

STORY: This is the main game where you can play the character of the boy named BEAT or the girl named REST. Advacing through story mode will add new modes and items to the store. And if you clear story mode once, new things happen in the background if you play in hard mode.

After beating a rival/challenge, like most rhythm games, you are given a letter grade and of course, you want the better score for points to use at the shop or if you just love the challenge and enjoy achieving the best score.

TUTORIAL: Standard tutorial on how to play the game.

FREE PLAY: Pick and play songs you cleared in story mode.

CHALLENGE: Play 4 preset songs in a row

SHOP: Buy songs and items with points acquired during the game

CONTROLS:

After you click on the ontama, with your stylus on screen Look at the top bar and when the ontama slides to this ball, you use your direction pad. If it’s a green note you hit right; blue note, you hit down; red note, you hit up and orange note, you hit left.

You can also use the A/B/X/Y buttons instead of the directional pad.

GRAPHICS:

The character designs are anime or manga-like. Cute characters. Colorful setting and since it’s a rhythm game, graphics don’t really come to full play. If anything, your eyes are on the screen busily trying to convert ontamas to musical notes.

AUDIO:

The music is standard synth or guitar music. There are variety of music that you compete in but the only stage where I found the music to be cool is the goth mode but everything else was ok. No vocals. No J-Pop or licensed music.

Overall, for me, any rhythm game from Japan that is quirky is appealing. I expected rhythm games to be difficult and “ONTAMARAMA” is very difficult and challenging as your progress through the game.

There is an easy level mode that removes a lot of the major challenges of the game and people can easily breeze by and win items and points but those who love rhythm game challenges and the difficulty of it, and like quirky Japanese rhythm games are the ones who will dig it the most.

Especially those who want to receive every item and get perfect rankings.

Otherwise casual gamers who don’t play as much rhythm-based games will probably yank their hair out as they try to play hard mode.

I’ve beaten the normal mode for both characters but once playing hard mode, things get insanely difficult and with so many ontamas thrown into the screen, I swear I think my eye and hand coordination must be off because I’m losing all the time.

I know there are those who thrive on these difficult challenges and this game may be your cup of tea.

In terms of replay value, With so many items that can assist you during your challenges, it definitely helps. Items available at the shop such as increasing the breath command to easily wipe out otamas, increase of performance gauge, stylus line increase, less damage/guard. There are other items that you can purchase that eliminate notes as they approach the clef. By playing a lot and getting the points, it will definitely help you in your quest in beating those difficult levels.

But all in all, to me, the music is not great but as a rhythm game, it is challenging and it is fun. Average game at best for me. Again, it’s very difficult in hard mode but if you are looking for a rhythm game on your Nintendo DS that is challenging and fun, you may want to give “ONTAMARAMA” a try.

+ Enjoyable and very fun to play

+ Interesting concept and utilization of the Nintendo DS via the stylus and breath command.

+ For those looking for a challenging and difficult rhythm game on the Nintendo DS, this game is for you!

+ Replay value. Once beaten in normal mode, for those that want the better score or to get 100% items, you can do that.

– Difficult. Hair-pulling, piss you off, throw your Nintendo DS on the ground difficult in hard mode.

– Music is not that great.

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