Review by falsehead
"Like the Onion head of Kung Fu Master Chop Chop, this game has many layers."
Parappa the Rapper is a much-misunderstood game. On the surface it seems to be a simple and short-lived music game. You take control of a young teenaged dog called Parappa. The cartoon like graphics are a very effective mix of 3D backdrops and ''paper'' 2D animations. The gameplay is much like the old 1980's game ''Simon''. This was a machine that flashed a pattern of light and sound, which you then had to match perfectly. In Parappa you're asked to use the four control buttons and the left and right back buttons to match your characters rapping to that of the people you meet through the game. It's all jolly good fun and most people will complete it in an afternoon and forget about it. Just another example of Japanese gaming oddness.
Well you would be wrong to discard it so unthinkingly. For actually Parappa the Rapper has many lessons to teach us about life, the universe and everything. Like the music of ABBA, it hides is depth under a façade of bubble gum pop and gaudy visuals, yet a deeper probing uncovers a far darker and philosophical heart to this game.
To begin with Parappa can be seen as an almost post-modernist game. That is a media text that understands the power of the media and plays with the idea of ''unreality''. Where many games strive to create a kind of inner-life, a world that is understood to have rules even within a fantasy context, Parappa binds a coherent storyline to the wilder surrealism of an electronic world that needs no rules.
Above all though Parappa is a game that reinforces the notion that self-belief and faith are the guiding principles in our lives. For Parappa, the world might be an awkward or difficult place some times, but with his own personal mantra ''I gotta believe'', he can take on any situation and win though.
In the beginning, Parappa and his friend are watching a film. In it a super-hero comes flying to the rescue. Discussing the film afterwards, Parappa makes it clear he wishes to become a hero in the same way. Parappa is a naive dog at this point, he equates being a hero with having super-powers. That violence can solve problems. When some thugs begin to harass his girlfriend, it is time for Parappa to become a hero. But Parappa is to learn along with us that true heroism is not something that comes with super-powers, but it is a state of mind. With that he is transported to the Dojo of Chop Chop Master Onion Head the rapping Kung Fu teacher.
It is in this Dojo that Parappa learns his first lessons in self-confidence. But it is up to you to help him through it. As Master Onion head takes you though the basics of his martial arts craft, it is not only Parappa who is learning a lesson. As we control him, it is also up to us to ''believe''. In our selves, in our timing as we strive to keep Parappa rapping ''good''. As Master Onion Head takes him through the moves, we understand that it is not the ability to defend himself physically that Parappa is learning here, but also the building blocks of strong and spiritual personality. But all to soon his first lesson is over. Master Onion Head has started him off on the road to self knowledge, where will the next guru take him?
We return to the diner. The flash older dog that Parappa looks up to has shown he is all mouth and no action. Although it will take sometime for Parappa to realise that material things do not make a cool person we have made some progress. Young Parappa is like us, we value surface over substances, we are dazzled by money, looks, power and often brush over humour, intellect and philosophical depth. In many ways Parappa is a victim of the same misunderstandings that his own videogame suffered from on its first release.
So onward he goes. Feeling that Sunny Funny (his flower girlfriend) will not respect him until he can drive he signs up to Inspector Mooselini's driving school. Although Mooselini is named after the infamous Italian dictator of the 1930's, she is a prime example of how Parappa's world takes the negative and spins it into a positive. Mooseline may be bossy and a bit dictatorial, but she does it for Parappa's best interests. And ours to. By the end of her song, Parappa achieves another goal and learns to drive. It is thanks to our careful control that he can do this, we did ''believe''.
Alas, disaster strikes Parappa. Perhaps too caught up with material obsession he crashes the car. It's not even his car, and so he must make amends and pay his father back. It is a valuable lesson for a young pup to learn. As we grow older, we can no longer escape the consequences of our actions. Parappa has to graft hard now to make the money back. Luckily his next guru, Master Flea Swallow the market trader takes Parappa under his wing. Flea Swallow teaches Parappa perhaps the most valuable lesson of all. That we mustn't work for the sake of earning money, but enjoy what we do. Only by believing in what we do can we attain the highest goals in life. Flea Swallow's almost Zen Buddhist attitude to life is a lesson for us all, and as we rap along to his reggae tinged anthem we would all do well taking a leaf out of his book.
Parappa then moves on to his next challenge. It's Sunny Funny's birthday. Parappa's rival has got a huge cake for her. But like everything the big dog has its all show and no heart. Parappa seeks out Cheep Cheep the Cooking Chicken to help him bake a cake. Together, and with your help, they rap their way through the making of a special cake for Sunny Funny. It may not be a big or a chocolaty as his rivals' cake, but it has all Parappa's love in it. It's now that we realise that the journey his teachers have taken him on have changed Parappa for the better.
Yet life for Parappa is sill not smooth. His greed gets the better of him and he eats to much of the cake. Now is a queue for the only toilet he must face off against his teachers. This is a symbolic act, as it shows that Parappa has taken the teachings from each of them and used them to improve his spiritual well-being as a whole. As we ''rap-off'' against Master Onion Head, Mooselini, Flea Swallow and Cheep Cheep, the defeat of each one proves that they have done a good job with Parappa (and us as well). There is nothing left for him to learn from them, he is ready for the big time.
Relief comes as Parappa, makes it to the toilet on time. His teachers are defeated, but proud. Now it is time for Parappa to put everything together and more and face the biggest challenge of his life. Parappa has to lead a rap concert in a ''call-and-response'' singalong. He has to face his fears in front of a crowd. All eyes are on him and if he (and you) mess up he will be left alone. But as he repeats his mantra ''I gotta believe'', over and over, we notice all his friends and teachers in the audience. They are cheering him on.
He is a success and he is loved and he is doing what he always wanted. But he couldn't have done it without help, that of is his teachers, his friends and of course, us.
Ultimately what Parappa the Rapper teaches us is life is full of obstacles. We often mistake the superficial for the profound; we lose sight of our goals and often become sidetracked from the destiny we imagined for ourselves when we were young. But perhaps what Parappa teaches us most of all is that it's not just what we do at the end of a particular journey that matters. It's how we travel there and whom we meet on the way that are important to.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 10/01/01, Updated 10/01/01
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