Review by velcry

"Games like this make me treasure my PSP"

The Good - Addictive gameplay, uniquely good visuals and music, well-polished
The Ugly - Weak storyline, hard to play on the go, steep learning curve

If you think you know what to expect from this game after learning that the creative team of Loco Roco was behind Patapon, you're making a big mistake. What's better, any surprises you'll experience while playing Patapon are likely to be pleasant ones. Quite simply, Patapon is one of the most inspired bursts of innovation and fun that you're likely to have seen in a long time.

Story - 7/10

The game puts you in the place of the Patapons' tribal God, and your job is to guide them to their destiny in the form of 'IT', a mysterious object at the ends of the Earth. En route, you'll face off their enemies the Zigotons, as well as a litany of Bosses who won't hesitate to crush the little obsessed Eyeballs.

True, this may be a cliched backdrop to your adventures, but you'll soon forget the cheesiness when the mini cut-scenes roll on. Presented as bite-sized exchanges of dialogue between various characters, the well-translated text moves the story on nicely, and you never feel overwhelmed with trying to keep up with the story. There may not be many twists along the way, but the well-executed story elements still help lend a sense of motivation to what is essentially a rhythm game. The occasional spots of humor don't hurt too.

The greatest testament to the effort poured into refining the storyline comes in the form of vague discomfort by the time you finish half the game. As the plot thickens, you'll come to realize that this is not just some simple quest by the good Eyeballs to defeat the bad Eyeballs, and you'll appreciate the many little nuances that color this otherwise child-friendly tale just that little shade darker.

Gamers used to twisty storylines in 40 hour RPGs might be a little disappointed with the linear storytelling here, for not once are you presented with choices with game-affecting consequences. Yet, the story is of the perfect size and scope for a portable game, and you'll be surprised at how much motivation you'll feel to reach the end of the game.

Gameplay - 9/10

Ah, this is where Patapon shines like the jewel that it is.

Missions consist of 10 minute side-scrolling stages, where your Patapons begin on one end and your job is to guide them to the other end. Along the way they'll have to defeat enemies, break down obstacles, collect money and a variety of items. Every three stages or so, you'll reach a Boss stage, where your mission is to take down the Ugly that's blocking you from the exit.

Outside of Missions, you get the opportunity to customize your Patapons' equipment, utilize a variety of 6 different Patapon types each with their own strengths and weaknesses, farm weapons and other materials, and also eventually gain access to 5 radically different Minigames
which reward you satisfyingly.

Sounds like what you'll expect from the average game these days, but the following elements working together help Patapon rise above the rest of the pack and become a real joy to play:

Firstly, at its heart Patapon is a rhythm game. In the Missions, you control the Patapons through a series of button-presses. For example, pressing Square Square Square Circle makes your Patapons advance forwards, while pressing Circle Circle Square Circle makes them attack. There's no room for button mashers here though, because your button-presses have to be synchronized with a background tempo. The game also rewards you for your diligence in the form of Fever Mode, which increase your Patapons' fighting abilities in recognition of your run of timely button-presses.

You eventually learn up to six different combinations of button-presses that give you a variety of options in battle. Though the learning curve is steep and mistakes are harshly punished, you'll quickly find yourself sucked into a trance as you try to maintain the timing in order to accomplish your missions. For the way you're expected to devote complete and utter attention to gameplay, it's no surprise that the entire experience is extremely immersive.

Secondly, Patapon packs a lot of strategy. Patapons come in many flavors - there are 6 different Classes, and on top of that there are 6 different Patapon Varieties. Gamers will be immediately familiar with the Classes, for you have the classic categories such as Archers, Spearmen, Calvary and the like. The Patapon Varieties, or Rarepons, are basically powered up Patapons with different stats from their normal standard-issue cousins. Thus, not only can you customize what Classes you plan to use for a battle, but you can also mess around with the Patapons within the Class itself.

The customization continues with the 100+ weapons and armour you'll find, as well as other materials that act as the currency for creating Patapons or for playing the Minigames. You'll quickly find that certain weapons or Patapon set ups are very useful for certain Missions, yet totally useless for others, and that's where your thinking noodle comes into play. This may seem an overwhelming lot of strategic options, but have no fear, the game introduces each new element progressively, and you'll always have lots of opportunity to fine tune your tactics.

Thirdly, Patapon caters to the 'farmer' in many of us. Ever played Diablo? And felt that inexplicable drive to get that next better weapon? Say hello to Patapon. Loot drops from Missions make you keep coming back for more, and the replayable levels in this game help you scratch this itch. This is the element which makes the game so addictive and rewarding - there's a real purpose to the Missions, a real drive to keep on playing, as you make your Patapon army stronger and stronger. It'll take you quite some time before you manage to collect all the items and money necessary to fully power-up your army.

Fourthly, the Missions are varied and interesting. If you're worried that this game is nothing but one big grind fest full of easy enemies, you'll be surprised. The objectives in the Missions are mixed up sufficiently well, such that the game rarely feels monotonous or repetitive. Furthermore, the Boss designs are well done, and with each Boss presenting its own attack pattern and weak points, there's more than enough to keep you on your toes throughout the game.

This is not to say that the gameplay is not without its faults. Some would find the learning curve too steep, and rightly so. The rhythm gameplay is extremely frustrating for people new to the game, and it takes quite a lot of practice before you're able to play competently. Furthermore, there are a number of puzzles which simply cry out for more clues. Also, if you think this is a game which you can casually play on the train, you're wrong. Ironically, this is one of the least portable, portable games I've ever played - the timing requires such great attention that any lapse in concentration leads to terrible consequences.

Furthermore, it's a pity that there's no multiplayer in this game, which would really have added a measure of longevity to it. Many a time you'll find yourself wishing that you could share this gaming experience with a friend, and you'll just curse and hope that Patapon 2 fixes this oversight.

Still, Patapon's gameplay elements come together very coherently to present an addicting game that forces you to keep playing that 'one more mission'. The intelligent game design here certainly bequeathed this simple rhythm game with a serious amount of depth and scope.

Graphics / Music - 9/10

As if the gameplay elements were not enough of a draw, the graphics in Patapon deliver the killing blow by introducing an instantly memorable visual style that screams 'I'm unique' and 'fall in love with me'. Graphics whores might be disappointed at how this game has 'not pushed the PSP's graphics processing', but you're shortsighted if you dismiss Patapon for its lack of 'realistic' graphics.

Do yourself a favor, go look at some screenshots or videos of Patapon. Envisioned by the French artist Rolito, Patapon's distinctive rendering of backgrounds, Bosses and Patapons gives the game a whole identity of its own. The bright colors and bold art work make the game a visual treat to play through, and you'll find yourself playing on just to see how the next level or Boss looks like.

Being a rhythm game, Patapon's music does not disappoint too. Most of the music comes from the Patapons singing, and their songs vary according to whether you're in Fever Mode, and which stage you're on. Some might find that the music gets too irksome and repetitive, but it is exactly the right sort of tribal music that helps you keep your button-pressing synchronized. Don't be surprised if long after you put the game down, those diabolical songs and tunes keep echoing in your head.

As a package, the graphics and music do the gameplay elements justice. Even if you're not such a big fan of the gameplay elements, the graphics and music really do draw you in and keep you hooked - it's hard to dislike a game that's presented with such polish.

Replayability - 8/10

Patapon does try to draw out the game by offering you the opportunity to grind and improve your army. Towards this end, you'll find yourself replaying Boss levels (you can't replay Story Missions, only Boss Missions) just to get better equipment and materials. In fact, you won't tire of this for a long period of time, for it takes about 15 plus hours to fully trick out your army.

Without spoiling anything, all I can say is that after the final Mission, your adventure still continues. From here on out though, I would have to say that replayability is limited, because there's not much else to do after your Patapons are fully powered up.

I would say that a normal playthrough can take anywhere between 10 to 20 hours, but after you're done maximizing your army, and playing the Boss levels and Minigames to death, there's not much else to do. You could replay the game from scratch, but there's no extra content that lies in wait for you.

Final Recommendation - 9/10

For me, this game is proof that creative design and hard work can bring innovation and freshness to old genres. Friends who tried to sway me to the DS on account of the more innovative and 'fun' games on that platform would have less to say when presented with such a uniquely fun game as Patapon.

If you live in North America, where the game is ridiculously priced at $20 USD, do yourself a favor and pick this game up. There's bound to be something to like here, what with the engaging gameplay, the rewarding Missions, the catchy music and the visual flair. If the game's more expensive where you live, take comfort in the knowledge that for the price you pay, you're getting a full-fledged game that you'll want to display proudly in your library.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/04/08

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

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