Pon-pon-patta-pon…the addictive beat of this new rhythm-based game for the PSP has been rattling around our house for the past week or so, as both me and my partner keep picking up this hugely addictive game for just ‘one more little go’.
Similar in vein to the classic Parappa the Rapper, this side scrolling adventure does away with the usual point and shoot mechanic,and instead adds a whole new dimension to this genre. That means that not only do you have to move your characters around the screen and make then do things, you also have to do it all in time.
Mixing in the game Lemmings and the classic cartoon Samurai Jack, Patapon has you controlling a cute set of characters that resemble a mix of machinery cogs and tribal natives, if you can imagine such a thing. Living in a two dimensional side-scrolling land filled with exotic flora and fauna, the Patapons worship the great Patapon (the player) and will obey your every command.
However, rather than just pointing and clicking them to do your bidding, you have to instead move them using the Pata-drum and get them moving in rhythm to perform actions. This can be achieved by the pressing the buttons on your PSP in different sequences. So if you want them to move forward it’s two circle keys, one triangle and one circle. Or if you want to fire arrows it’s one triangle, two circle, one triangle and so on, while all the time keeping up with the beat . For somebody like myself who has little or no natural rhythm this at first was exceedingly difficult (yup, the girlfriend picked it up straight away), but once you get the beat in your head and are comfortable with the thumb tapping of the control buttons, you ease into the game. And like riding a bike, the whole thing becomes second nature you after a hour or so.
Once you have a handle of the beat, things then get a little trickier as you see the Patapons cannot really do anything without you or indeed the beat of the Pata-drum. As they become more needy, from initially wanting feeding to then desiring advanced technology and to fight off the opposition, the combos you need become more difficult. The need to keep in time becomes more demanding, and if you miss the right combo, the entire tribe grind to a halt, leaving them open to attack, or to the whims of one of the superbly designed creatures that roam the landscape.
Initially, the game seems very limited to just keeping in time, however as you progress you find that there is real need for strategy. Building up essential skills is important, as too is making sure you have enough Patapons to do the right jobs. With practice, and trial and error, you begin to find what is needed from subtle clues that dot the previous levels (in the shape of symbols, signs and decision making).
Visually, the graphics are superb. While there is no depth or 3D in the Patapon world, the unique design is reminiscent of Poco-Loco and the aforementioned Samurai Jack, with some superb character and environmental designs. The monotone Patapons are always silhouetted in front of any number of exotic tropical colours, that give an impression of verdant jungles or harsh rocky terrains with only the use of colour and shape.
This eye for design makes Patapon one of the most visually appealing PSP games to come out for a long time, and while not yet up in the leagues of the level unique and addictive gameplay that some DS titles offer, this is a PSP highlight. It’s as if Sony had sat down and looked at what kind of gaming was missing from the PSP, and instead of putting graphics first, this seems to be a title that was built with the gameplay itself at the heart of everything. And it’s damn good fun.
As a friend of mine said, the PSP has the ‘Jurassic Park Effect’… which is to say that just because we can do something, should we? And while this is evident in a lot of PSP titles it is the exact opposite for this game, which has a refreshing uniqueness to it that does not rely on the use of the technical prowess of the PSP to sell it. But instead the focus is purely on this well designed, alarmingly addictive, unique and visually solid release.