Part rhythm game, god game, RPG and action game, Patapon is one of the most refreshingly unique titles to ever grace the PSP.
Over the years, the PlayStation Brand has seen the release of some charmingly distinctive rhythm titles such as PaRappa the Rapper, Vib Ribbon, Frequency, Amplitude and later on the Guitar Hero franchise. Sony’s portable consoles, on the other hand, haven’t received many titles from the genre, but thankfully, those with a copy Patapon don’t need any other rhythm game. Part rhythm game, god game, RPG and action game, Patapon is one of the most refreshingly unique titles to have ever graced the PSP.
In Patapon you assume the role of a mighty deity owner of a mythical item known as the holy drum. This item allows you to control an army of warriors known as Patapon, but in order to guide these creatures to victory you must keep a four beat rhythm using a specific combination of tactical commands. To do so you use the face buttons on the PSP, each representing a different drumming sound. For example, square, square, square circle translates into the “Pata Pata Pata Pon” chant, allowing your army to move forward. Similar commands may be used to attack, defend, escape, charge or perform powerful miracles.
As you input these commands, your Patapon army starts singing and the result is one of the most mesmerizing and hypnotic soundtracks ever created. Keeping the rhythm is really daunting at first, but different visual clues (like the pulsating border) definitely help. Furthermore, rudimentary strategies like murmuring the chants or even tapping your foot are also effective.
Memorizing the different commands is challenging, especially taking into account that there are several of them and if you make a mistake, you lose momentum. Eventually though, inputting the different combination of buttons becomes so natural that you’ll do it in a very mechanical way. As you keep drumming and maintaining this momentum, you’ll reach a climax that sends your army of Patapon into fever mode. This basically means that they make much more damage and shoot more projectiles to nearby enemies.
As you fight enemies, you acquire loot which includes axes, shields, spears, clubs and many others that can be equipped to members of your tribe. You also find Kaching (the currency and supposed life force of Patapon) and several types of materials such as meat, wood, stones and alloys. The higher the level of these materials, the more powerful the Patapon you can create with them. Some Patapon are more powerful, some have a natural resistance to fire, some others are quicker and so on and so forth.
Naturally, the best equipment and materials are usually found on the multiple boss fights. Each boss is pretty distinctive and acts differently than the others. Furthermore, paying particular attention to their behavior, movements and body language is very important as these encounters are plagued with subtle visual clues that allow you to foresee their upcoming moves. For example, sometimes a boss raises its head to charge a fire attack or sometimes it lowers its head to eat one of your Patapon. Not only is this helpful to protect from incoming attacks, but also to avoid losing precious members of your party.
When allies are defeated, they leave a crest behind that may be retrieved to revive that particular unit at the tree of life. But if you fail to retrieve a given cap or if certain bosses eat one of your Patapon, that unit is lost forever. In addition, when a given boss is beaten, you may come back to it as many times as you want, but keep in mind that every time it’s defeated, the boss becomes much stronger.
Apart from regular missions and boss fights there is another type of quest: hunt missions where you kill wandering creatures in order to obtain special classes of meat, wood, stone and alloys, get better equipment or even to unlock special mini games. By completing certain sidequests, special caps can be retrieved. These caps become special characters from Patapolis (the main city where items can be managed and missions selected) that allow you to undertake various mini games. In these charmingly distinctive mini games, where maintaining rhythm is paramount, you play drums on the toes of a playful mountain, you chop food to make a delicious stew and you play a cheerful song on your trumpet to please a happy tree. Some materials can only be obtained in these delightful mini games.
As previously mentioned, at the Legendary Memory tree items can be combined to make new Patapon. There is a wide variety of these creatures such as Yaripon, Tatepon, Yumipon, Dakepon and so on. Each one of them has its advantages and disadvantages that have to be taken into account before accepting a given mission. Archers, for example, are the best unit for hunting, but taking cavalry units for those missions would be a mistake as wild creatures can smell the stench of incoming horses. Subtle details like these definitely add a unique strategic element to the game.
Regrettably, Patapon isn’t without its flaws. First of all, the game can’t be paused. Thus, any distraction in the real world (somebody trying to talk to you, a sudden phone call) can cause you to lose rhythm. The problem is that in certain missions, losing rhythm means an instant game over. A rudimentary solution to pause the game would be to put the PSP to sleep, but that doesn’t really solve anything. Thankfully, most missions are quite short and can be finished in 10 minutes or less. Nonetheless, it’s pretty frustrating to be about to defeat a powerful boss and be distracted by something (or someone) and have to retry the whole mission all over again.
Another problem with Patapon is that it’s really difficult to play without headphones. Any environmental noise can easily distract you, so unless you’re playing on a really quite room, forget about playing with the PSP’s speakers. Another issue with the game is that it eventually becomes extremely difficult. Of course, this encourages you to backtrack, defeat a few bosses and hunt to get better equipment, but this process may become overly repetitive soon. Finally, the recipes for creating Patapon are never overtly stated, so trial and error becomes a common practice. The problem is that if you make a mistake and you haven’t previously saved, you’re stuck with a useless Patapon. Moreover, once the main party is full, members of your army can’t be replaced by better ones so the only solution is to get them killed on purpose without retrieving their caps. Not only is this frustrating, but also woefully inadequate.
In the end, Patapon is a superb combination of various dissimilar genres and the result is one of the best games to have ever graced the PSP. Its refreshingly unique gameplay, stirring soundtrack, minimalist visuals and creative mini games make this one of the best rhythm experiences the portable system has ever seen.