Reviewed by Jacob Spindel, July 2008
Music-based video games have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. Unfortunately for us mobile gamers, that Dance Dance Revolution floor mat is not generally permitted on the bus. That's why Sony has released Patapon for PSP, which is one of the first portable music games available (no floor mat required). Although Patapon isn't really among the PSP's all-time greats, its unique gameplay can be very addictive.
Dumb & Drummer
The Patapons are a species of small two-dimensional creatures who roughly resemble eyeballs with hands and feet; think "Mike Wazowski as a stick figure" and you'll get the idea. Your job is to lead the Patapons as they march left-to-right through a series of missions. Most of these missions fall into one of three categories: hunting for food, battling bosses (most of which resemble giant lizards), or battling the Patapons' arch-enemies, the Zigotons, who look similar to the Patapons except that they are evil and red. By completing the missions, you can unlock additional levels while earning food, weapons, and other supplies, which you can use to create stronger, better-equipped Patapons.
At the beginning of each mission, you choose up to three squads of Patapons to bring along; several types of Patapons are available, specializing in archery, close-range combat, horseback riding, and other talents. To command your squads, you issue a series of four drum beats. Different patterns represent different instructions, such as march, attack, or defend. Each of the PSP's four buttons represents a different drum, and during gameplay, the D-pad and analog stick are used for... well, nothing, actually. If you drum accurately enough, the Patapons will soon enter Fever Mode, during which they become faster and stronger. The "songs" the Patapons sing are simple, repetitive beats - this isn't the kind of game where you'll be playing along to music by Madonna or Justin Timberlake.
Leading the Patapons to victory can be a lot of fun. In fact, you may soon find yourself "singing along" with the Patapons' silly chants. Rhythm-based minigames are also included, and learning new skills in order to unlock new options can be quite addictive. However, the game also has its share of frustrations. For example, when the Patapons go into Fever Mode, they get excited and make even more noise, which is distracting and may cause you to lose the beat, in which case you'll drop back out of Fever Mode almost immediately after it begins. Moreover, the game's learning curve varies greatly and can be very steep. In some areas, the game gets a lot harder quite abruptly, which may be too much for some gamers to handle. Also, it can be difficult to handle some events that urgently require a quick reaction, since you'll need to stay with the beat, issue a command, and give the Patapons enough time to react.
Patapon's graphics are simple and two dimensional. Most of the characters and backgrounds are not very detailed. Some of the camera zoom in/zoom out effects are pretty cool, but the fact is that most of the game's graphics could've been done on a Super Nintendo. Under the circumstances, you may find yourself wondering if Patapon would've worked better as a downloadable purchase rather than a full-scale UMD release.
This is one game you definitely can't play with the sound off. Fortunately, the musical accompaniment for your drumming varies from level to level and is mostly pretty catchy. The Patapons' own noises are just cutesy enough to be amusing without being too annoying. Still, like the graphics, the sound is pretty simple and basic. For example, virtually all of the game's dialog consists of silent, comic-style "dialog bubbles." The sounds and music that are available are pleasant overall, but the game's audio again gives the impression of an early-to-mid-1990s game with limited technical capabilities.
Patapon de Replay
Patapon is a bit like Warcraft meets Guitar Hero meets Lemmings. Such a combination may sound a little insane, but once you actually play the game, you realize that it is... way more insane than you could’ve imagined. Nonetheless, it’s a fun type of insanity, and people who like rhythm- and music- based games could easily find themselves spending a few hours playing “just one more level.” The game’s learning curve, and some other aspects, can be frustrating, and the graphics and sound do tend to feel a bit outdated. Still, Patapon can be lots of fun - and it’s even safe to play on the bus (unless you’re the driver).
Hints & Tips
-To get the Rain Juju, go to the first hunting area and repeatedly enter the pattern on the signpost (triangle-circle-triangle-circle) until you obtain a Compass, which will unlock a new battle level in which you can earn the Juju.
-To get the Wind Juju, successfully hunt the gold motiti in "A World of Ooze."
-To retire members of your army, press Select on the Equip screen that appears before a mission. (This enables you to buy new Patapons at Mater with more upgrades.)
-If you are having difficulty keeping the Patapons in Fever mode and learning to distinguish between the game’s various sound effects, try playing the game with speakers, headphones, or a TV with better bass output than the PSP’s built-in speakers.