Patapon is a gem of a game, something so innovative and genre-bending that it almost defies categorisation. It’s a role-playing/rhythm game, it’s a strategy/god-game and it’s a wonderful concoction of inspired art, great characters and incredibly hypnotic music.
Patapon is a rare game in that it puts you, the gamer, into a reasonably passive role for the majority of the gameplay. Playing the part of the Almighty to the endangered species that is the Patapon themselves, you slowly attempt to rebuild the race while attempting to thwart the efforts of the evil, mean and maniacal Zigaton army, who would like nothing more than to wipe the Patapon off the face of the Patapon land.
The main crux of gameplay is found in the correct timing and use of the four face buttons on the PSP. Hitting these buttons in time with the Pulse of the Earth allows the Patapon units to perform various actions, from movement to attack, retreat to defend, the Patapon are your vital responsibility on the battlefield. Get enough drum beats in a row and you put the Patapon into a frenzy mode which allows them access to special powers and speed, greater increasing their effectiveness against the enemy. Get the timing of the drum beat wrong though, and your units will be sitting ducks!
The gameplay is a great blend of the rhythm and strategy genres, forcing players to think a couple of steps ahead while also keeping a close finger on the beat in order to keep the Patapon in their crucial frenzy state. Eventually players will be able to recognise the various visual states both the enemy and the Patapon themselves fall into (visual clues are crucial to defeat some of the latter bosses) and respond accordingly.
Through more than 20 missions you will eventually acquire six different types of Patapon who will lend different aspects to your Patapon army. Choosing the right formation of three units to take to the battlefield is crucial to progressing through at any decent rate. Strategy must carefully be considered when taking on a huge Zigaton army, or merely going out to hunt for more supplies, if you have the wrong balance in your units, then the missions become almost impossible.
The role-playing element of the game comes to the fore after you have successfully finished one of the missions and are given the opportunity to create new weapons or units. As you defeat enemies on the battlefield, or collect hunts on the hunting field, you acquire various items that will allow you to greatly increase the effectiveness of weapons or of individual Patapon.
Patapon is a gorgeously simple game. Although the backdrops and characters might not seem like much from the outside, they are the perfect
compliment to the style of gameplay. The Patapons themselves look like eyeballs on legs but as they progress through the game they each, through the numerous upgrades they can obtain, become as individual as snowflakes and have personalities to match.
Ultimately there are a couple of small drawbacks to the game which will hopefully be improved upon in the inevitable sequel. For one there is no multiplayer to speak of, although this is totally understandable when placed into the context of the overriding narrative. Who really wants to see those cute little Patapons attack themselves? The only other issue that could be a little intimidating to those with limited time frames is the lack of a pause button, something that tends to increase the tension but which also makes sneaking in a game on the bus a little difficult.
Like Locoroco before it Patapon is a superb use of the PSP’s power. An innovation and enthralling experience on nearly every level that is truly something different in a video gaming world saturated with remakes and copycats. Patapon is a great example of a unique idea done almost to perfection; now try to get that beat out of your head…Pata, pata, pata, pon!