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Patapon
Sony Computer Entertainment
PSP
$19.99

Once in a while, a game comes along that seems so ridiculous it has to be awesome. Patapon is one such a game.

Essentially a rhythm game, in the vein of PaRappa the Rapper, Patapon also mixes in a bit of strategy and some RPG elements as you take the role of a war general/deity worshiped by small, cycloptic warriors known as–what else–the Patapon. However, the feisty Patapon, are an extremely rhythm-oriented tribe and only obey your whims so long as you beat the correct patterns on the PSP’s face-buttons, which serve as your heavenly war drum, the crux of Patapon’s gameplay.

Initially, you only have a couple of different Patapon forces and command patterns (attack, defend) with which to control them as you start off hunting for the meat of fairly innocuous creatures to support your li’l guys. Eventually, you will encounter enemy armies and giant boss creatures that require a good deal of studying and perseverance to defeat, but who can yield new armor, weapons, new command patterns, or even new Patapon, such as bow and arrows units, horseback units, etc.

Success is all about keeping the beat and building up your “fever” meter, which gives your Patapon greater attack and defense powers. But if you can’t keep up, you will never reach the “fever” mode and likely never take out your enemies, thus ending your poor little Patapon’s campaign fairly quickly.

As far as our experience with the game, we’ll start with the not great news first:

Right off, hearing the “click track,” with which you are supposed to keep time with, can sometimes be difficult on the PSP speakers, especially if there is a lot going on at the moment (headphones help this somewhat).

When your army finally gets into the very necessary “fever” mode, they yell out a battle cry that, while cute, can totally throw you off the beat, thus taking you out of the mode and back to square one. And since, if you can’t keep up fever mode, you are pretty much toast, this can be annoying.

Our final sticking point is the need to use special patterns that allow you to defeat certain bosses (a rain dance lessens the damage of a fire-breathing dragon, for instance). These patterns often require you to first be in fever mode to execute them, which, as we said can be a challenge in and of itself to achieve consistently, and each boss often requires you to do this many, many times before they are beaten. It was quite frustrating to do these special dances repeatedly, only for our army to be continually decimated by a giant sandworm or ornery robot.

Now on to the good stuff:

Patapon’s art style is nothing if not absolutely charming. The simplistic design lends itself perfectly to the game and is uniquely mesmerizing. The Patapon themselves are very entertaining–despite only having one eye and no face to speak of, they are extremely expressive, love to dance, play instruments, and cook. Who knew?

The strategy/RPG elements, such as building up your armies and finding new weapons and armor, is actually quite compelling, making replaying levels and repeating boss fights (which get more challenging each time you do them) worth your while.

And as it is a rhythm game, music is important. So what about it? Totally fucking catchy. Tribal drum patterns and gritty basslines underlie the Patapon’s war chants, which will be stuck in your brain for weeks. Be prepared to catch yourself chanting “Pata Pata Pata PON!” at almost all hours of the day. It’s kind of ridiculous.

Finally, and most importantly, despite the game’s sometimes frustrating aspects, it remains extremely addictive. No matter how many times we got crushed, we kept coming back for more and loved every second of it.

The PSP has had some good games since its release a few years back, but Patapon is a one-of-a-kind experience that embodies everything that is great about the system. It’s simple, slick and fun. If you enjoy games, music or pop-art in any capacity, you owe it to yourself to pick up Patapon.

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