Patapon 2 hits America's shining shores on May 5th. This PSP title is, logically, the sequel to the original Patapon, a title in the same "$20, super Japanese, unusual" category that Katamari Damacy had created in years prior and in which Loco Roco 2 has since landed. I'm going to start with some positives, but you should know that before the end of the post they're going to give way to negatives.
I thought that Patapon, at its core, had some very admirable qualities: its art style and sound were undeniably interesting. Visually, it was Loco Roco meets Mystery Science Theater 3000 – the protagonists were two-dimensional and distinctive, and framed entirely in silhouette against their environments. Aurally, it managed to be annoying but nevertheless charming – a combination of the incessant “PATA PATA PATA PON,” some dynamic music, and cutesy Patapon noises made this possible. Artistically speaking, A plus.
It also offered an interesting take on the rhythm game genre. Let’s compare it to Guitar Hero, both the most identifiable and the most wildly-aped rhythm game since Parappa the Rapper. In Guitar Hero and its endless sequels and spin-offs, the game throws at you a sequence of button presses which you must emulate as closely as possible – a faithful enough replication of the game’s preset button presses will win you the game. Patapon shakes it up a little bit – you are given a few sequences of button presses that will make your Cyclopean army perform certain actions (attack, guard, flee, etc.) and are trusted to use them effectively. Instead of the rhythm game dictating your actions, you tell it what to do – this is innovative, and commendable.
Based on the prior paragraphs, one could infer that I liked Patapon, and they wouldn’t be wrong – I did, sometimes, but certainly I didn’t like everything about it. The thing I liked the least about it was that it was a good three times longer than it should have been.
The thing about games like Katamari Damacy and Loco Roco is that they’re creative and take a bit of a chance, straying as far as they do from the beaten path. They also know that they’re one-trick ponies, to an extent – one is about rolling shit into a ball, and one is about rolling a ball into some shit. Patapon seems not to have the huevos to be as short as it ought to be, and ultimately, that’s where it fails. The game is composed mostly of giant, strategic boss fights, between which are interim “hunting” stages where you stock up on money and other items for the benefit of your glorious Patapon army. At a certain point in the game, you stop being able to beat the increasingly difficult bosses without making stronger, more resilient Patapon, and to create these Patapon you need lots of money and lots of supplies. The only way to get said materials is to play through the half-dozen hunting stages over. And over. Again. Same goes for the game’s four mini-game distractions, the introductory sequences to which you may not under any circumstances skip. Um.
Look, it’s not that Patapon is a bad game, it’s just that it’s a very repetitive one. There are only four or five bosses, total, each boss having a “hard” version that’s basically the same creature except faster and with more hit points. This is boring. By the time you’ve finally put an end to the game, you’ve played each hunting stage some half-dozen times, just so you can harvest enough cash and resources to make the Patapon you need to beat the game. And guess what! These new, super-strong Patapon play exactly the same as their weaker counterparts, the ones you start the game with. This game would have been fantastic if its creators had cut back on the padding just a little bit – especially when your brand new game’s going price is $20, people aren’t going to be miffed if the thing’s only a few hours long. Sure, give them the chance to play a little longer to get 100% if they’re hooked – Katamari and Loco Roco both do this. It’s fine. It lets players have more of the same if they want it, but doesn’t force it upon them.
My point is, I got more than my fill of this game the first time I played it. Maybe a sequel will mix up the gameplay a little? But I may just stick with my gut reaction on this one – more Patapon? No, thank you, I’ve had quite enough.