Do you hear that? The sound and the music that you can hear while you sleep, eat or work? I hear it and it is 'pata-pata-pata-pon', the new rhythm/action game, Patapon, from Sony and the studio that brought us LocoRoco is a fantastic title that is the deepest, simple game I have ever played.
The premise in the game is for you, the Mystical Almighty Patapon, to guide the tribe to the IT at Earthend. You see, the Patapons used to rule the world, but time has decayed this fearsome tribe into a shadow of its former self and they were waiting for their God to bring them salvation. You start the game by reviving the flag bearer Hatapon and from there you slowly build the army and the tribe back to its fearsome state. The tribe leader Medan will also assist you and assign quests as you help bring glory back to the Patapons.
During the game you will face the competing tribe of Zigotons as they try to hold you back and stop you from regaining your glory. The Zigotons have heroes, varied units, castles and advanced weapons just like your tribe so there is constantly a challenge for you to overcome as you progress. You will also face bosses in the form of giant dragons, crab creatures and what can only be described as killer caterpillar worms to describe a few. The bosses are always a sight to see, they are HUGE, varied and can be approached in different ways depending on the environment and the special songs you know.
There are also numerous areas for you to hunt; these hunting grounds give you meat, materials, Ka-Ching (money) and sometimes items that you can use to expand your tribe. The hunting grounds are always different and sometimes have environmental effects you need to overcome or watch out for. There are also some creatures that fight back as you hunt them and need to be approached with care.
Finally there are many mini-games you can play in the village of Patapolis where the tribe rests. All of these games are here to provide materials to build new Patapons and they are some of the most unique and enjoyable diversions I have ever played. They range from matching the beats on the toes of a baby mountain to chopping food as you make a stew in a very hungry stewpot. They are surreal and actual give great benefits if mastered in the form of very rare materials and stews that provide benefits.
The game play is described as 'super simple four button game play' and that is quite true. Throughout the entire game play portions you will only ever use the action buttons (square, triangle, circle, x) to simulate drum beats of different notes (circle is PON, square is PATA for example). Over the course of the game you will learn various songs, some to move (the infamous pata-pata-pata-pon), some to attack and others to defend in various ways. If you string together enough consecutive songs without missing a beat you enter Fever mode, which increases the effectiveness of your army. But how you use the songs and what Patapons you use (as well as there equipment) is up to you.
The game may have a simple control scheme, but the depth can be staggering (in a good way). There are many types of Patapon (bow, spear, axe, horse, etc…) each of them can be created at the tree of life using two different materials and Ka-Ching. For each type of material there are rare versions (there is meat, tender meat and so on), so basically there are dozens of Patapon variants for you to make. On top of that there are different weapons you can find and equip so your armies can be drastically different from others. Add to this the ability to battle bosses again for new weapons and hunt whenever you want this game has a surprising amount of depth and game life.
The only issue I could see with the game is the lack of a pause feature, once you start a mission you either sleep your PSP or finish it, since sleeping will totally throw off your rhythm you are generally loathe to do this. Also because of how engaging this game is, you actually can (and I did) get quite upset when life distracts you from keeping Fever mode going. I think I still owe my wife flowers from the time I snapped at her when she called for me during a tense moment in the game.
Graphically this game has to be seen to be believed. The Patapons themselves are actually little more then black eyeballs with arms and legs (and large weapons). The variants you make with different materials are usually larger, different colors and hairy for some reason. Their archenemies the Zigotons are square shapes and follow the same variants as the Patapons and their generals have some of the funkiest headgear around. Despite the simplicity the game is simply stunning, bosses are huge and detailed, the Patapons/Zigotons are vibrant and distinct and animated beautifully. Care was taken with the backgrounds and atmosphere effects to really pull you into this fantasy world. I can safely say this is one of the best looking and stylish games I have ever played on the PSP.
The animation deserves a special note, it is fluid, diverse and really, really great. The Patapons themselves launch into the air when you are in fever mode, jump in happiness when you win and stumble when you miss a beat. The creatures/monsters you hunt are also very distinct, the cow like Kacheeks waddle and bounce as they walk whereas the bird like Motitis hop like storks. Bosses are the true star in my mind with all of the varied types attacking, retreating and bellowing in their wonderful screen filling glory. The animation is fluid and superb, further drawing you into the game.
As this is a music rhythm game at it's core (as well as a strategy game, action game and RPG lite) the audio is very important and it is up to the challenge. The songs you beat on the drum are universally catchy and distinct. The background music always starts faint and as you string more and more combos it gets louder and more incessant. The music and the beat really get in your head and I constantly found myself moving my head or legs to the beat. The Patapons sing along and make yips and yells as you progress through the missions, at first I thought it would be annoying, but it is actually catchy and quite funny. The little guys have heaps of personality and the audio really shows it in nearly ever action you help them make. The songs during the mini-games are also very amusing and make you want to try to master their beats until you perfect the rhythm.
Final Word: Are you still here? You should either be playing Patapon or running out to buy Patapon! This is one of, if not the best, games on the PSP and at a shockingly low price of 19.99 USD and CDN for us in the Great White North, buying this is a no brainer.
Patapon is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Mild Cartoon Violence.