Developer Interlink has assembled a cult following among PSP owners that purchased a copy of LocoRoco two years ago. Since then, many of us have wondered what new wacky game the studio would have in store for us. Patapon is that game, and after spending an extensive amount of time with it, we strongly believe that Sony has got yet another spectacular third party developer under its sleeves. Patapon is arguably this generation's Parappa the Rapper, a game that will be remembered for years to come, and go down as the most innovative take the rhythm genre has seen, thus far.
Patapon follows a rather basic formula, albeit one that seems confusing when being explained, but I'll try anyways. The Patapon are an ancient tribe of eye-ball creatures, and believe it or not, they're rather cute. Their simplicity makes up for their cuteness, as Patapons are made up of an eye with legs and arms. Just take a look at the screenshots, and you'll see what I mean. Controlling the Patapons is done unconventionally, as you'll have to enter timed drum beats, all of which feature their own command. So for instance, if you want your Patapon army to move forward, you enter a specific rhythmic command; if you want to attack, you enter another command; if you want to move back, there's a command for that too, and so on.
As you move through the missions, you'll pick up spoils of war, such as weapons, shields, materials, and key items. Equipping your Patapon army with the latest hardware will be a necessity, and the game has an optimize option handy for immediacy. You'll be able to equip your hardware before each mission, as well as set up your Army formation and their position. To diversify the game, different Patapons have different skills, some are archers (long-distance), some throw and jab with spears (mid-range), while others wield axes (close-combat), and so on. Furthermore, throughout your campaign, you'll run into a host of legendary warriors that'll lend a hand to you. These Patapons are long gone, but their spirits have returned to help you. After fighting alongside one of these Patapons, you'll be able to revive them by visiting the game's Tree of Life.
Patapon doesn't really fit into any specific genre, so it's hard to pick one for it. The game is wonderful mix of rhythm, action, and even role playing. The story of Patapon revolves around the group of warriors, as they struggle to regain their honor and continue to lead lives without violent interference from enemy warriors. The Patapon army has grown weak, and they're losing their morale. That is where you come in, the All Mighty Patapon Kami and your war drum, and lead the Patapon army to victory. Think of it this way, your role in Patapon is the role of the Patapon God.
It's a little tough to describe Patapon's gameplay, but it's extremely easy to say that this is an absolutely fantastic game. You'll move through 30 missions, all the while putting together a Patapon army, and collect over 100 weapons and items to use. Patapon is the type of game that'll make even the worst day imaginable feel much brighter. It's a very uplifting title that puts a smile on your face every time you play it, largely thanks to its charming characters, and rhythmic gameplay.
Artistically, Patapon could be one of the most beautiful games put together for the PSP. It isn't a technical powerhouse like God of War, or Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core - but rather a marvel of simplicity and artistry. The game works on a two-dimensional plane, with characters in the foreground, and scenic details in the background. The Patapons are made up of black bodies, with white eyes. Meanwhile enemies are black, with red-eyes. The bosses are also well drawn, and aren't quite as simplistic as the Patapons are - so they feature a few intricacies. Patapon isn't the type of game where you have to worry about framerates, jaggies, and screen-tearing; it's simplicity ensures that it runs flawlessly at all times, and its artistry demands your attention.
As far as the audio goes, Patapon features a tribal soundtrack when you're navigating the game's HUB, menus, and especially during the missions. With that in mind, if you have a PSP Slim, I suggest you plug it into your HDTV and listen to the game a bit louder. I really enjoyed playing Patapon through a nice set of speakers, as I was able to hear the soundtrack with more clarity. The audio is yet another enjoyable aspect of the game.
Patapon marks the beginning of a terrific 2008 for the PlayStation Portable. It is one of the most refreshing titles available for the little unit, and I highly urge everyone to give it a shot. At a mere $20, it won't break anybody's bank, and it'll certainly open your mind up to a world of gaming that you may have never considered before. On top of that, Patapon makes for a terrific handheld title, exactly what you'd want to be playing when you're on a road trip, airplane, or subway. And who knows, perhaps Patapon will emerge as your catalyst for kooky adventure games.
2/20/2008 Arnold Katayev