Review by Shadow Edge
"Pata Pata Pata PWN!"
An original game with weird visuals, unorthodox gameplay and a mumbling music that doesn't solely cater to casuals, but actually has great appeal for the "hardcore" side of gamers? On the PSP, for only $19.99? A game that was actually critically acclaimed to be one of the best games for the PSP? Yep, it's Patapon alright.
The way the game works is quite unique. Though you can classify it as a rhythm game, it isn't a rhythm game in the sense of Dance Dance Revolution. It sort of mixes several genres: rhythm, strategy and RPG.
You play as a Kami ("God") for the Patapons, and it's your task to lead them to their former glory and help them find "IT", which they say grants eternal contentment. You do this by pressing the PSP's face buttons to beat drums and issue commands to your army. For example, the Pata drum is assigned to the Square button and the Pon drum is assigned to the Circle button. Issuing commands is just a simple matter. To make your Patapons march forward, you have to beat "Pata Pata Pata Pon!" (Square Square Square Circle) in rhythm, and your Patapons will sing it while they march forward. Chant "Pon Pon Pata Pon", your Patapons will start fighting by throwing spears, hurling arrows or whacking the enemies senseless with axes and swords.
You can't simply just mash the combinations, because there's a rhythm to it. The game plays a beat in the background while the screen flashes a white border, which is your cue for the beats. Don't follow the beat, and your Patapons will just stand because they don't know what to do. Keep up with the rhythm, however, will activate "Fever Mode". While this is activated, your Patapons will go into a frenzy and start singing louder. This greatly improves how your Patapon fight well. For example, your Yaripons (archers) will fire three arrows in rapid succession, while your Tatepons' shields will grow really big with the Chaka song and gains a huge boost in defense.
The game also incorporates RPG elements into it. You can create Patapons by using two specific items and ka-chings (the game's monetary unit), but if you use rarer items, you'll get Rarepons, which are powered up versions of regular white Patapons and sport their own strengths. You can also arm your Patapons with better weapons, shields, helmets and so on, which are dropped by enemies and bosses that are usually at ten times bigger than you. This gives the game just the right amount of depth for a handheld game: not ridiculously deep, but not too shallow.
Patapon also features a good deal of mini-games, which generally involves rhythms. Beat a mini-game, and you may get items from them, which you can use to create better Patapons. You unlock more mini-games as you progress through the game.
SCE successfully struck a great balance with the difficulty. The game isn't frustratingly difficult like Ninja Gaiden, nor is it a pushover like some random licensed game crap. At first, the game forgives you a bit as you try to get over the learning curve, then the game ramps up the difficulty moderately as it introduces many new gameplay and combat elements.
The longevity of the game is also present. You can continue and make more powerful armies by fighting bosses even after you've beat the game. If you defeat a boss, their level goes up, which makes them more powerful, but also makes it more like for them to drop better items. Since the game is features a LOT of bosses, you'll be spending a good amount of time with this game.
The game is not without its faults, though there are only really few. One of the most glaring thing is the lack of a pause button. It baffles me, that a handheld game doesn't even have one! Sure, you can use your PSP's sleep mode, but that will get you out of Fever like 100% of the time. It sort of contradicts its being a portable game.
Another thing: even if the bosses have become extremely powerful after you've fought them a lot of times, their pattern doesn't change a whole lot; just slightly, so you'll be striving to not get your flag-bearing Patapon hit and get killed instantly. The game also has *very minor* issues with the flow of the story. There are few points where you might get stuck, not knowing what to do. Turns out that you had to play some mission to get a combat or story item so you can beat the mission you got stuck in.
One more problem is the distribution of item drops. Since there are no shops in the game, your only source of equipment are the story missions or by beating up bosses. The trouble is that the drops won't favor a certain type of Patapon. For a while, I had to use Kibapons because the game only gave me two (outdated) weapons for my Tatepons. I didn't start getting the good ones until the last 15% of the game. Some people got a lot of good weapons, some don't.
The game sports a unique visual design, courtesy of Rolito, a popular French artist. Look at pictures, and you'll see the game is rendered in cute 2D. The style is quite reminiscent of Loco Roco -- simple and clean, which adds to the game's unique feel. It's really a good sight to see your Patapons march while turning around or flipping their weapons in the air. Much better can be told during combat, since as you progress through the game, the battles get more and more hectic as arrows and spears fly on the screen, hitting and knocking out these cuddly little spear-toting eyeballs. If you hit or get hit with fire, the Patapon even catch fire! He'll go running around, yelping "Hot! Hot! Hot!". It's just darn cute (and funny!).
Patapon is pretty well animated as well. Dinosaur bosses come alive as your Patapons march towards it, moving around, breathing fire or rolling its tail. It's really fascinating to watch as your Patapons wreck the enemy castle by raining it with spears and arrows, which makes it crumble to pieces.
As for the music and sounds, well, what can you expect from the people who made Loco Roco? The game is full of really catchy tunes that really stick to your head. Spend enough time with the game, and you'll find yourself "singing" some tunes from the game. "Singing", because the lyrics are just random and incomprehensible voices, just like Loco Roco. That doesn't make it bad in any way, though.
Let's get it straight: This game is only US$20 (or more, if you live in other places). For that amount, you get a game with great visuals, addicting gameplay with more than 30 missions, catchy music and and a great deal of replayability. I beat the game with around 11 hours clocked in, and I haven't even bothered with the sweet extras yet. The game can last at least 20 hours if you're the type who loves to make the most out of a game.
+ Cuddly, fascinating visuals
+ Unique gameplay that sucks you in
+ Addictive music
+ Greatly balanced difficulty
+ Good amount of depth and sidequests
+ Interesting mini-games
- Lack of pause button
- Starts to feel repetitive a while after you beat the game
- Item drops can get erratic; a certain Patapon type might have to deal with outdated equipment for a while
Unless you're absolutely terrible at rhythms, you really can't go wrong with this game. Great game for a great price!
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 03/06/08
Game Release: Patapon (EU, 02/22/08)
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