After listening to all of the hoopla surrounding Patapon, I decided to give the little bugger a try. I remember seeing it waiting on a shelf for an unsuspecting buyer under the allure of its kiddish demeanor to purchase it. Wondering if it held more than fancy looks myself, I popped the bad boy into my PSP and began my journey in search of “It.” After about twenty minutes, I realized that the developers had successfully blended real-time strategy and rhythm mechanics into one of the most entertaining and alluring titles on the handheld.
Patapon starts out with you, the mighty god, helping Hatapon (the flag carrier) gather the remaining troops together. The group heralds you as the lost god and asks for your assistance in search of “It.” However, the Zigaton army stands in their way and it’s up to you to help the Patapons reach their lofty goal. The off-beat tone of the game caters to its childish artistic style, although the plot itself is weak, you will find yourself laughing along to the rhythm, which happens to be the crux of the gameplay.
To motivate your army you must give them commands in the form of four different beats. Each face button represents a different beat and hitting them in a certain order will give have your Patapons attack, retreat, charge, advance, and defend. These commands are used to battle the enemies and creatures that stand in the Patapon’s way. There are also JuJu powers that let you manipulate the battle field with weather effects. These effects can give archers the tailwind they need or suppress the Patapon’s scent to make hunting easier. The rest of the buttons are used to navigate the hub world or move the camera during each mission.
The main beats are easy to use and require you to wait for the Patapon’s to mimic your song (and complete the action) before you can give them another command. This constant back and forth can put you in an almost trance like state as you constantly listen for your chance to chime in. However, you can’t just run around inputting the attack command at your leisure. Patapon requires a great deal of strategy and you will have to find the right sequence of commands to put your armies in the best position to attack and counterattack. A lot of the missions require a great deal of timing and strategy because bosses will gobble up your Patapons and the Zigaton army likes to keep the odds in their favor with castles and catapults. It’s a wonderful and unique blend of real time strategy coupled with rhythm based gameplay.
Once you get the hang of executing commands, you can put the Patapons into a fever with ten beats in a row or by hitting the notes perfectly on cue. Fever mode puts your army into a fervor/fever/berserk (whichever you prefer) state that powers them up and gives certain troops special abilities. The best part about fever mode is that it’s almost always required to win the larger scaled battles. This is where a majority of the game’s challenge manifests itself because keeping your army in fever mode can be difficult. Combining the different beats challenges your ability to keep the rhythm and there is a lot of noise born from the combat: sword clashes, bow strings, battle cries, and the Patapon’s song. These sound effects constantly keep you searching the background noise for the beat. It’s frustrating to lose your beat at the wrong time, but the challenge is intended and welcomed.
What is most impressive about Patapon, besides its unique sounds and visuals, is its depth. I figured the game would mostly focus on timing, and while it’s required, success in battle hinges on how well you put your army together. You can choose from cavalry to tuba wielding infantry, outfit them with gear you find during your journey, and also position them in the front, middle, or rear. You are allowed to take three different armies with you, and depending on the type of unit, you can bring up to six of each with you. Some units are going to better choices for certain missions and finding the right combination plays a key role in victory.
If that doesn’t whet your micro-management pallet the supplies you get from hunting, battling the Zigaton army, and collected from mini-games can be combined to create unique Patapons that have different strengths and weaknesses. The ability to customize your army to your liking adds an incredible amount of depth and lasting appeal.
The gameplay’s biggest drawback is the requirement to grind. If you are having trouble defeating a boss or a mission it is necessary to hunt two to three times or defeat older bosses again and again (which gets harder every time) to power up your faithful Patapon. It extends the games length, which is only about ten hours to begin with, by forcing players to play the same missions several times, however, the hunting missions offer no real challenge and they make up the majority of missions you will have to repeat. This is slightly alleviated with the ability to swap supplies through the unique rhythm mini-games available in your hub city, but it’s not enough for it to go unnoticed.
Surprisingly, there are no multiplayer capabilities in Patapon. A game that focuses so much powering up your army, seeing how many times you defeat a boss, and telling you how long it took to complete a mission would be a shoe in for at least ad hoc multi player, yet, it exhibits none of this. It’s entertaining at the beginning to compete against yourself, but that lacks the staying power of any kind of multi player or leaderboard. If you want to battle your mighty army against anyone else you will have to download Patapon 2.
The worst part about Patapon is that it constantly reminds you what a finicky system the PSP is. I played this on the original PSP-1000 system and there was a lot of motion blur and the sound system’s power makes it impossible to play without headphones. The motion blur doesn’t affect the gameplay, but a system as advanced as the PSP shouldn’t be prone (I know the newer models still have problems with fast moving images) even if the colors are as rich as Patapon’s.
Besides the PSP’s flaws the game sounds and looks great. The whimsical artistic approach is supplemented by the awesome sounds effects and score. I prefer the lush sprites over the graphical super powers like Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core and God of War: Chains of Olympus, which is a massive compliment considering how amazing those games look for portables. It really shows off the color capabilities of the PSP (even with the aforementioned problems).
Patapon is a gem in the mucky muck that is the PSP’s gaming library. Its deep and invigorating gameplay challenges and entices gamers while the rich visuals and artistic style prod the whimsical nerves. It may bog down during certain intervals, but anyone willing to slide it into their UMD drive will find a game that is worth more than they paid for, and thanks to being a greatest hit, you won’t have to pay much.
Patapon is one of the most provocative and rich, in visuals and sound, titles on any system.
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A refreshing twist on action, strategy, and rhythm mechanics deliver unique and challenging gameplay.
Besides the PSP's inability to operate without headphones, Patapon's score and sound effects will tantalize you.
The game itself is short but there is a plethora of items and rare Patapons to collect, however repeating missions can get stagnant.
Patapon is a must have PSP title that delivers more than just a quirky good time, but repetitive missions may turn some gamers off.