Let’s talk about a Nintendo-published rhythm game that made a name for itself on the Nintendo DS and deserves a modern revival. You’re probably thinking Elite Beat Agents, but that’s actually not the focus of today’s discussion. However, it’s important to our story, so let’s start there.
Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan is one of the more surprising successes of a console that was a gold mine for underrated and unique creative experiences. The game’s wacky premise of a cheer squad helping aliens and battling aliens in a rhythm game played using the touchscreen has won viral success as import websites and magazines extolled the wonders of this strange curiosity developed by iNiS. Fast forward a few years and Nintendo has finally rewarded eager fans with a localized release, replacing the songs with western hits and the cheer squad with spies. To this day, Elite Beat Agents remains one of the company’s most bizarre published efforts in the past 20 years.
Still, that wasn’t even Nintendo’s only success in rhythm games on the Nintendo DS. As Elite Beat Agents grew in popularity, Daigasso! Band Brothers has also gained notoriety online as Japan’s exclusive import gem. Unlike the wildness of Osu, however, it was a much more grounded and complex musical experience. Rather than goofy hijinks, it was all about you and the performance.
Band Brothers aimed to recreate the challenge of perfecting a real instrument. The d-pad and face buttons were used to represent the eight notes of an octave from AG, with the L and R buttons being used to indicate pitch and octave. The paintings you interpreted were scores, reproducing the act of playing a guitar or a keyboard or whatever instrument you thought appropriate. There were even special modes to reproduce the use of drum kits.
Think of it like a rock band. Just as a bassist, guitarist, drums, and vocals play together to create a complete song, so do the various instruments in Band Brothers. It’s a departure from typical rhythm games like Groove Coaster, where players perform a chart inspired by the collective sound of a song, but playing a single instrument is effective in making you feel like you’re performing on stage.
The game also features a complex creator mode that allows players to recreate popular songs or produce their own music. These could then be shared via wireless connections with friends. Band Brothers on DS essentially functioned as an in-depth suite of music creation tools with free play bringing it to life, rather than something like Guitar Hero where all semblance of guitar playing is sketchy.
Talk of this Japanese-only rhythm game duo has dominated DS import lists, so it’s perhaps no surprise that reception of Elite Beat Agents convinced Nintendo to locate Band Brothers as Jam. With The Band, based on the enhanced DX sequel released in 2008. Even with this online interest, however, the game’s utilitarian approach compared to Elite Beat or Rhythm Heaven was always going to make it a harder sell. Jam With The Band sank without a trace, being sold out in clearance sections within months.
Outside of Japan, the story of Jam With The Band and Elite Beat Agents ends here. Despite being popular, the sequel to Elite Beat was not localized without other sequels being put into production, and people lost interest in Jam With The Band. Yet back in Japan, the franchise has moved in an interesting new direction.
Nintendo used Band Brothers as the company’s first major experiment in the world of live services. Daigasso! Band Brothers P was a primarily online sequel for Nintendo 3DS. The ability to create popular or original songs remained, but rather than offering a pre-installed list of songs, Band Brothers P only included four original songs at launch. Instead, a code to redeem 100 tomatoes (in-game currency) replaced the pre-installed song list, which could then be used to purchase new songs or Vocaloid voicebanks (you can create your own Vocaloid, but additional voicebanks including GUMI were later released for 15 tomatoes each).
This online service gave Band Brothers the personalized character that the franchise once lacked. Along with an online store came an in-game radio network named All Night Suppon (a parody of the Japanese radio network All Night Nippon) which played downloadable songs with an auto-generated intro. Nintendo even recorded radio shows hosted by real people, not just robots, creating their own virtual mascot years before the current boom of online VTubers. Between the game’s launch in 2013 and 2017, Ayasaki Yu hosted dozens of episodes, sometimes with special guests. Additional special episodes were hosted in-game by popular Japanese celebrities such as idol group Momoiro Clover Z.
There was an ulterior motive: these radio shows were another method besides in-game search and web databases to purchase new songs. If players were engaged enough, they might even buy Akasaki Yu merchandise (or even buy his CD), or attend official real-world meetups for the game.
Still, what makes this online store interesting is that most of the songs were created by other gamers, not by Nintendo. While Nintendo uploaded some official creations, through a partnership with Japanese music licensing body JASRAC, players could freely recreate and upload songs for others to download. If popular, Nintendo would reward those players with free tomatoes. Thanks to this, Band Brothers P has offered a song list spanning thousands, the largest officially licensed library of any rhythm game. Some original songs and remixes have also been offered or encouraged through contests, and even though online services have been discontinued, these original songs are (thankfully) archived on the All Night Suppon YouTube channel, showing a creative impressive.
With the ability to create music and share it online, Band Brothers has transformed the series into an online community based on the act of creating and sharing music. Yet Nintendo’s experimentation with live services didn’t stop there. Band Brothers P was later reworked into a 200 yen trial and later a free title, giving players a version of the game without the song creator which could then be expanded with tomatoes.
Much of Nintendo’s modern online strategy roots can be traced back to Band Brothers P. Their experience with a regular, free post-launch in the form of limited free and paid DLC packs and radio support has been replicated by titles like Splatoon, Mario Maker (where Ayasaki Yu made an appearance) and, more recently, Mario Tennis and Mario Golf. Along with its trial version, it was also one of Nintendo’s first experiments with free version templates, preceding their leap into mobile gaming.
Still, prior to the game’s discontinuation last year, no attempt was made to localize the title, and so far no sequel has been released on Nintendo’s latest console.
Certainly, even without a new Band Brothers, the Switch is hardly lacking for rhythm games. Since launching the console with RayArk’s VOEZ, the system has become home to Taiko no Tatsujin, Groove Coaster, Harmonix’s Fuser, Hatsune Miku and many more. While the competition is fierce, Band Brothers stands out on DS for its hardcore offerings amid a whimsical sea of competitors, and no Switch rhythm game offers the same creative tools. Using Band Brothers P’s online services, a global revival would stand out from the competition as a unique addition to the Switch library.
Still, that’s easier said than done. Band Brothers P’s extensive library existed thanks to its generous licensing agreement, and an international release that allowed players to download popular songs would require a similar agreement in the much more fragmented world of international music licensing. If even TikTok may struggle to satisfy record labels, how can Nintendo hope to do the same?
Yet these are obstacles worth overcoming. There’s no rhythm game like Band Brothers, while in-person jam sessions with friends look like something straight out of a Nintendo Switch promotional video! While it might seem unlikely, I can’t think of a system more suited to a Band Brothers comeback (and a second boost to international success) than Nintendo’s hybrid console.