Review by Suprak the Stud
When one sets out to make a good game, there are a variety of paths you can take in order to make your work stand out above others. Some games tell epic stories filled with memorable characters and imbued with enough atmosphere and charm to keep you playing just so you can find out what happens next. Some games feature immersive and intuitive gameplay that draws you in and can leave you playing all hours of the night. Other games feature remarkable graphics or musical scores that help further the whole games are art debate and prove that pixels can be as powerful as the paintbrush. Some rare games combine all of the aforementioned aspects and enshrine themselves in the Hall of Fame for good game design, earning their developers critical acclaim the world over. And then some games are like PaRappa the Rapper, and leave you wondering if there is any good left in the world and, if there was, how could a game like this be released. Nearly every single aspect of PaRappa the Rapper is flawed, and at times I began to wonder if they were intentionally trying to make a bad game to profit from the downfall of the studio in a real life version of The Producers. There was no time during the entirety of the game that I felt like I was having fun, and it is the kind of game that I can't recommend to anyone.
I'm going to try and give you a summary of the story in the game, but if I happen to break off mid-sentence, it is because my fingers became too embarrassed at what they were typing and refused to touch the keyboard any further. You play as Parappa, a dog that looks like he's about eight and has dreams of becoming a rapper (because it worked so well for Lil Bow Wow). But Parappa has dreams beyond just being a rapper, as he is in love with flower named Sunny Funny or something equally stupid. While dogs and flowers aren't the most typical couple, Sunny is a biped that looks more like a little girl with some sort of disfiguring facial disease than an actual flower. However, there appears to be a little competition for Sunny's affection, as the awfully named Joe Chin vies for it as well. He serves as the antagonist of the game, and looks like he's twenty six and has enough money to make all of Parappa's attempts at wooing Sunny seem quaint by comparison. Parappa encounters a variety of obstacles in his efforts to woo Sunny, from obtaining a driver's license to baking a cake for her birthday, and he must overcome each of them.
By believing in himself.
And if that summary seems like one of the dumbest things you've ever heard, rest assured you're not alone. But hold on, let me back up a bit. Remember when I said that Parappa and Sunny both look like they're little kids? And Joe Chin looks like he's twenty six? While the developers of the game might not have seen anything wrong with this, both myself and the FBI probably have a decidedly different take on the manner. While Sunny seems mostly uninterested in him, he is obviously up to something more devious and you have to watch throughout the entire game while he makes sweet treats for Sunny and tries to lure her inside of his car. You think somewhere along the way, someone on the development staff might have suggested they at least make Parappa's rival in love at least look roughly around his age, but whoever did this was most likely kicked off the programming team and out of the white windowless van they were most likely working out of.
Ignoring the unintentional humor caused by the questionable understanding of American penal codes, the cutscenes featured in the game are almost painfully embarrassing. Not just for the design team, who need to be so embarrassed by this offering that they should be forced to wear masks out in public, but for me as well because I don't like being this close in proximity to terribleness. There are some attempts at humor here, but they all miss so badly that that by the end of the game I was literally scowling. I never even smiled, and that is typically a bad sign for a game that's trying to be funny. The story scenes serve primarily as a means to link the songs together in a way that is mostly cohesive, but they are just always so terribly done and so embarrassingly stupid that I would have rather just had the songs without any sort of lead. I might have been confused as to why I was rapping about baking a cake, but that would still be preferable as to understanding the story and wishing I didn't.
Normally, a story this bad would leave me rushing to get to the gameplay segments, but these are also so awful that I dreaded them as well. The game features a total of six songs, which is pretty bad for a game that has nothing more to it than the songs. Each one is no longer than five minutes, so the game itself shouldn't take much more than an hour or so to complete, even taking failures into account. While I would typically make a comment about this being unforgivably brief, for this game it is better expressed as mercifully short. See, in PaRappa the Rapper you have six songs to play through, and they are all original and typically relate to some fairly mundane task like waiting in line to go to the bathroom (because whenever I need to take a nice bowel movement, I feel the urge to rap). To be fair, about half of the songs fall in the average category. The parts that the teachers rap in these songs are fairly catchy, and the first three songs in the game were at least bearable. However, the final three range the gamut for bad to I now understand why the parents in the movie Footloose had banned music from playing in their town as it would at least shield their children from having to hear stuff like this. Even the first half isn't particularly great, and while you might find yourself humming parts for a while after playing the game, there are some fundamental problems with they way even these were executed.
One of the main problems with all of the songs is that they feature a teacher whose lyrics you follow and ape back at them after they rap it. Think about your favorite songs. Now, think about how many of those feature individuals repeating every single line throughout the entirety of the song. If your answer is anything more than zero, then congratulations on still being five but having the foresight to read reviews for games before you buy them. For anyone else, you can see why this might be annoying. Songs don't sound good when someone is just aping back lyrics throughout the entirety of it, and Parappa's voice doesn't help much. He's cued to rap only when you press the corresponding buttons, but even if you do everything right, Parappa still sounds like a robot that just had some pretty severe surgery and is on some sort of unusually strong medication. He delivers the lines like William Shatner where all of the pauses seem unnatural. And even if these things were fixed, it doesn't help the fact that the songs themselves are just awful. Here are some actual lyrics from one of the songs:
I am a chicken/
From the kitchen/
And I ain't kidding/
Although nothing is written
You might notice that none of those lines rhyme. You might also notice that none of those lines make any sense. Which is pretty embarrassing, considering if you aren't going to make your lines rhyme you have so excuse if they turn out incoherent. The game effortlessly floats between lines that are either bland or nonsensical. Songs are entirely forgettable and typically very annoying, which is kind of a problem in a game that uses the uniqueness of the songs as a selling point.
The game quickly goes from being dumb to nearly unplayable when you actually try to go through the raps themselves. There is a bar that scrolls along at the top and indicates which time you are supposed to press the corresponding button. This concept seems simple enough, but PaRappa the Rapper takes an innovative approach to the idea by making the button presses correspond to nothing. Press everything like you're told, and you're almost certain to fail a song, which is every bit as frustrating and dumb as it sounds. It would be like taking a test, getting all the questions right, but still failing because your teacher had taken points off for not answering the invisible pretend questions that were all in his or her head. Some defenders of the game will point out that you need to press the buttons in time with the rhythm and ignore the bar, which is better for a rhythm game. And I would point out that this is an incredibly dumb point, because then they should have either abandoned the bar or, and I might be asking for too much here, fix the stupid bar so that the prompts correspond to when you're supposed to press it in the first place. I know this would require the programmers to actually do their jobs, but in a rhythm game you need to make these kinds of things readily apparent. Guitar Hero doesn't force you to strum when there is no prompt and sometimes take off points just because it feels like it, and that is because Guitar Hero is a good game. PaRappa the Rapper relies more on random guessing than anything else, and sometimes just mashing buttons at random would have a much better effect than rapping as the game indicates I should. The game calls this freestlying but I think it would be better termed lazy and incredibly dumb programming.
The game also looks awful, although I guess I should give it a bit of leeway considering when it was released. However, games with significantly better visuals were released when the original game came out (and even before). Everything is done in this sort of flat, 2D style that has all the sophistication of a MS Paint file. The visuals look like they are cutouts of construction paper made by a five year old without any working fingers. I don't know how to describe it other than just plain bad, but I guess it was nice that they made the art style fit the rest of the game so well.
The rotten cherry on this sundae of garbage is that the game goes out of its way to be as annoying as it possibly can be at every stop. During the loading screens between each little scene (because it takes a while for the PSP to load garbage of this magnitude), the game utilizes some of the most annoying sound effects to ever be featured in a videogame. Well, technically it is just one sound effect repeated endlessly, and it most closely resembles the noises you'd hear if someone mistook a duck for a bagpipe and tried to play it. I can't imagine how anyone would hear this noise, and then think to themselves, yeah, I'd like that repeatedly endlessly through all of the unskippable loading scenes unless they happened to be deaf in at least one ear, and if that was the case they probably shouldn't be making any sort of executive decisions on what kinds of noises should be used in game. How they rank you is also something that is not really explained, and if I was being generous I would describe it as arbitrary, while if I was being honest I would describe it as incredibly stupid. You might be doing fine for most of the song, consistently getting good rankings, and one mistake (which typically isn't really a mistake but the game going back into its old ways of going rogue and ignoring when it actually indicates it wants you to push the buttons) will send you down to poor and cause you to fail the level. Going up a rank seems much more difficult to do than going down one, and the frustration is compounded by the arbitrary nature of the button presses.
There are a couple of things that are meant to enhance the replay value, including multiplayer and PSP exclusive new arrangements of some of the tracks. There is even a seventh song for those out there dedicated enough to get the highest score on the first six, something that I can only imagine was added to satisfy the coveted masochist demographic. Typically I am a completionist, and will play through a game to uncover every last secret and get the maximum content out of a game. This is something I do even for bad games, and I haven't figured out why this is. And I guess I can thank PaRappa the Rapper from curing my neurosis if nothing else, because after beating the normal story songs, I tried to go back and get an excellent score on all the songs before coming to my senses, safely filing the game away in my collection for the rest of eternity, and doing something more enjoyable with my life (like throwing myself down the stairs). I found the game itself so taxing, so dull, and just so void of fun that I literally broke the tradition I've had for playing games since I started playing games when I was a kid. Why would I care about extra songs, new arrangements, or a multiplayer mode if the game itself is utterly awful? If the steak you just served me is rotten, I'm not going to care about what you garnish it with.
So there you have it, PaRappa the Rapper is one of the worst games you can find for your PSP. It is a rhythm game that didn't bother to align the button presses with the rhythm and punishes you for it. It is a musical game that doesn't have any worthwhile songs in it. For musical or rhythm games, these are pretty huge problems. Those alone would be enough to sink it, but combine it with an awful, cheesy story featuring bland and obnoxious characters and cram it so full of other annoyances and I just can't fathom how this game was ever as well received as it once was. There are a couple catchy parts in a couple of songs, and I guess if that is all you're looking for and want to waste $30, then PaRappa the Rapper might be right up your alley, which is perfect because down some dark grimy alley in a trash bin full of medical waste is exactly where this game deserves to be.
Ice T (THE GOOD):
+A couple of the songs are somewhat catchy
+Comes in a case that makes a very nice paperweight
Ice Cube (THE BAD):
-Too many of the songs are terribly written and sound awful
-Button pushes were not timed out correctly, leaving a lot of guess work
-Game encourages free styling but gives no indication as to what it might want
-Embarrassingly childish story and characters
-Bad, bad, bad visuals that wouldn't look impressive on any system
-Scoring system is wacky, and game goes out of its way to be as annoying as possible
Vanilla Ice (THE UGLY): In the original version of the game, the characters order chocolate frosties from a restaurant, and apparently this time around Wendy's wanted no part of copywrite infringement occurring in such a terrible game. Rather than change the word to shake or drink or something that would have taken a modicum of effort, they just blank out the word entirely. Yep, that's right, the word is now censored like a swear word, so it sounds like the characters are ordering large chocolate poops. I guess the developers figured they were shoveling so much poop at us already, we wouldn't notice a bit more.
THE VERDICT: 1.75/10.00
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 09/03/10
Game Release: PaRappa the Rapper (US, 07/17/07)
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