Review by 9NineBreaker9

"Behold, the God of the Patapons - You"

I'll be the first to admit it; I'm a sucker for odd games. Katamari, Trauma Center, Final Fantasy spinoffs…all of these games tend to get me more excited than typical “Budget = 458 human souls” games, such as Army of Two or Halo 3. As a general rule, odd games tend to be far more experimental in their gameplay and often feature charming stories, unique gameplay and many other elements that are just not found in your normal FPS. So, the moment that I laid eyes upon this weird game, I knew that I simply had to have it. It…was destiny…!

Firstly, the look of the game: wow! The unique and striking graphics are very well done; the variety between unit types, locations and even weapons is refreshing, as is the crisp color pallet and creative creature design. However, these graphics are only meant to be viewed at one size – should the camera, which normally works fine, zoom in on the Patapons are not zoom out for bosses, you'll be disappointed to find that the detail does not resize accordingly. It's a minute complaint, but worth a statement.

The game starts out with a unique opening cinematic that basically says this; the Patapon, a once great and mighty race, has now fallen out of power. They hunger and are weak, searching for Earthend, so they may find eternal contentment by laying eyes on “IT”. Looking for a guide, a group of the most elite of the Patapon is sent out, only to be decimated by the toll of the wild. Then you, the Mighty Patapon, happen upon your people. They give unto you a war drum so as to lead them on. And thus starts the wild adventure known as Patapon.

I'm surprised to find that the story is actually quite charming, albeit completely invisible for almost two thirds of the entire game. The little moments of exposition that you do see, such as the opening and your various run-ins with a general for the opposing tribe, the Zigatons, are well done and may catch you thinking about the events and your quest. It's a shame to state that the mission format of the game limits the overall bearing of the encompassing story, but, for the rare glimpses into what does exist, you'll find a little light - if only this could have been built upon.

Perhaps one of the greatest difficulties in Patapon is correctly defining the genre of the game, as, much like its company's previous game, LocoRoco, this title blends together various other game mechanics into a surprisingly good combination. In this title, you will find primarily rhythm elements, but you will also find RPG, Action, as well as a little Minigame flavor, as well. While this sounds like another Kingdom Hearts at first glance, all of these elements blend together for a enjoyable romp. However, as all things in life, this romp is not without its problems.

For every mission, you can bring in a squad of three Patapon types from a total of six squads. In battle, however, you are introduced to a cosmic beat and, in order to make your Patapons budge, must beat out commands on the PSP face buttons via the various drums you obtain. For example; in order to advance your troops, you beat out, in a four part rhythm in four/fourths time, “[ ], [ ], [ ], O”. By doing so, you intact a certain song and your party moves forward for four beats. Over the course of the game, you obtain four other songs for a total of five.

To play these music, you must keep in with the beat. Thankfully, the vibrant soundtrack will help you do this. There are a variety of tracks that play for certain locals, and each one has a wonderful vibe to it; the sound design is perhaps the greatest feature of the game. And, by staying in beat, you can form a combo, and, should you do commands perfectly in sync with the beat or reach a combo of ten, you'll enter Fever, a state wherein your Patapons battle more effectively and a number of events occur. Kibapons charge through foes, Yumipons shoot more arrows, you can perform miracles, and the soundtrack becomes even more lively.

At this level, the gameplay is magnificent, once you get used to it. It is a very original element, and watching your Patapons react your divine will is very fun. Once you obtain all drums, songs and unit types, the game becomes very strategic as well, as you will sometimes have to think almost two steps ahead of your opposition to ensure that you defend or retreat at just the right moment to ensure your survival. It is most definitely a game that requires a good level of concentration. However…

…this may perhaps be one of the greatest downfalls of the game. On the PSP, one would expect this game to be portable. This is not the case. Being a music game, you must pay attention to the beat of the song; while the border flashes to remind you of the beat, playing off of this is extremely awkward. Most games, should someone walk in on you playing them, open up a conversation on the game. Again, this is not the case. Pausing the game only opens up an option to quit…meaning that the game is still running, leaving you to get molested by opposing forces and leaving you to swear out your friend and slam the door. Okay, this is perhaps a minor gripe, as most will admit that they play these games at home anyways. Still, the lack of a “real life” support system is somewhat annoying when you want to play a game whilst still remaining somewhat connected to the real world.

Another complaint is how the inventory system works. In missions, enemies will drop random goodies as in all games. However, you get no equipment otherwise, save for a minigame found towards the end of the game, meaning that you may be stuck replaying a level over and over simply to get some decent equipment. AND, only boss battles and hunts are replayable, with boss battles only giving you any equipment. The lack of a shop system or some type of early-on forging system wherein you can create ANY sort of item would greatly increase the entertainment. While you can still get on with this, it's a very obvious problem that could have been fixed.

Yet another complaint is how the Rarepon system is used. Once you get the ability to make more units, you can swap out materials with higher grade ones, as well as an increased price tag, to obtain a more powerful version of your Patapon unit. At first, the only change is the color scheme and the inability to wear hats, but, after examining the unit for a very long time, I found my attack to be increased by five and my health by ten. Wow, that's brilliant. Excluding the last two, perhaps three, Rarepons, these are fairly pointless additions to your group, as the bonuses of the Rapepons or the abilities don't really amount to the added cost (which adds the base cost of the unit for each increase in item grade) and the loss of materials. Cool for a moment, but poorly executed and only really useful for the latter third of the game or replaying bosses.

Other issues of the game are, thankfully, minor. The “Don” drum has one and only use, and the miracles or JuJu that come from the Don drum range from single use affairs to very limited. The lack of variety in the mission types will be quickly noticed; three types are all there really are with little to no variation between them. Replaying the hunt missions for a pittance grows very stale after only a few quests. Minigames, while unique and charming, all come down to timing the press of circle correctly. The difficulty curve is wonky/ridiculous, ranging from easy to difficult, from obvious to baffling, and from aggravating to *snaps PSP*. And, once again, the story, which I found quite charming, is almost nonexistent until the latter third of the game.

All in all, the game is a gem, to say the least; from the amazing art design to the perfect sound design, this a unique experience to say the least. Gameplay is highly original and addictive, as is the blend of multiple genres. However, a number of somewhat minor complaints and several gameplay mechanics, while functioning and satisfying, that could have been designed to be little more user-friendly or less annoying exist. I would still recommend this game to those looking for a unique adventure; just be wary that you may find the issues I found minor to be ungodly aggravating, as was the case with one of my friends.

Pon-Pon-Pata-Pon. Spank their bottoms~!


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/09/08

Game Release: Patapon (US, 02/26/08)


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