Like me, you might have heard that music has the power to soothe the savage beast, right? Well, I'm here to tell you that we were wrong. Twice.
The original quote actually has nothing to do with "beasts", much to my surprise (go ahead and search "William Congreve" on the Internet, I'll be here when you get back.) Pretty interesting huh? The second corrected truth is proven in the new Playstation Portable (PSP) game "Patapon" in a big way, on a small screen...yeah, I think I better explain.
In the rated "E" for Everyone game, "Patapon", the story revolves around a tribe of fierce warriors called Patapon, who look like eyeballs with arms and legs. Cute as they may appear, they are brave and intense fighters who have long lost their legendary power and domination of their world. You come in as their newly found deity. Having found a surviving Patapon, he gives you a sacred drum and explains that by using the drum you can guide and command the Patapon and in doing so, restore them to their former glory.
You control the Patapon by playing the drums you've acquired to the beat of the music playing in the stage. It's usually a simple 4-beat melody and you play the drums to the 4-beat rhythm. What the Patapon do is based on what 4-beat song you play. While it's usually challenging to describe music via words, I'll give it a shot anyway!
Each stage's background song has 4 beats:
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 1- 2- 3- 4- etc...
To make the Patapon move across the stage from left to right you play the movement song by pressing:
S - S - S - O (Square - Square - Square - Circle)
To make the Patapon attack enemies, you play the attack song by pressing:
O - O - S - O (Circle - Circle - Square - Circle)
Each button press is done to the beat of the music; the Patapon will trip over themselves or even insult you if you are not in rhythm. If you cannot hear the music, be it a loud environment or whatnot, the outside of the screen has a flashing border that is timed with the music so you also have a visual cue of when to hit the buttons.
So yes, in order to get your tiny eyeball warriors from the left side of the stage to the goal at the right side of the stage, you fight though your enemies using music. If you consecutively chain the commands by not missing the beat, you will start a Combo meter. Once you get to 10 Combos in a row, or hit 2 perfectly timed commands in a row no matter what your meter is at, your Patapons will go into a "FEVER Mode".
Depending on the individual Patapon you have in your attack party, their abilities will increase. For example, the archers will shoot 3 arrows instead of one, your swordsmen will have increased attack and defense, and in general, your attacking tribe will increase in power. Miss a beat, and the tribe goes back to normal power and the combo meter is reset. It's a crazy idea on paper, and to be honest, watching some Internet videos didn't convey the game completely for me. Having the game in my PSP put all my doubts about this game to rest within 2 minutes of playing.
You start with the lancer unit who throw javelins at range against their enemies, but you will find other units such as the aforementioned archers, swordsmen, horseback and more. You will decide which units to sortie with and how to better equip them to deal with the mission at hand. An example: when hunting for meat to use back at camp, you would not want to take your swordsmen, as they get too close when they attack and scare away the prey. Here you would only take the javelin team or the archers as they can hit from a distance.
You will even find support Patapon who will help you gather extra material so you can create more powerful versions of the basic units. Even though you start the game with 1 unit of 3 javelin novices, you'll eventually command an attack force of almost 20 Patapon battling enemy tribes, hunting for food and even defending against enemies the entire screen high.
One poodle versus you, ain't a fight. Fifteen poodles armed with axes, javelins and arrows might make you think twice, wouldn't it?
Your use of rhythm and puzzle solving abilities will mean the difference between your Patapons defeating their adversaries and returning home as celebrated heroes, or failing and having nothing but crickets welcome your return. Seriously, the tribe's camp where you take care of your Patapon is in a lively celebration mode with Patapon dancing and hanging out and music playing whenever you complete a mission successfully. To hear nothing but crickets and see an empty camp when I failed missions really made me want to complete the mission to bring the camp back to it's upbeat party atmosphere.
The challenge of the game eases you into getting the hang of the rhythm based timing that the game is based on. While it looks cute and childish, it starts to get moderately difficult as you progress the levels, necessitating several attempts on how to complete the task at hand. My only gripe with the game would be that depending on the play session, sometimes the timing of how the game receives my button presses changes. Half the time, it will accept the input on the actual button press, other times it will accept the input a split second AFTER I've released the button.
It will never change timing during the game (whichever timing the game is attuned to when the game is started will be the timing it will keep until the PSP is powered off,) but still, it took a few admittedly frustrating days to figure this out. However, once you get the timing down, the game is great again. So please don't throw your PSP into a wall if your timing seems slightly off, simply adjust your timing a little bit and the game will be fun again.
If you enjoyed the stylishly simple but addicting gameplay of "Loco Roco", or the rhythm based challenge of "Parappa the Rapper, "Rock Band", "Guitar Hero", etc., and have been waiting for a fun challenge to throw in your PSP, look no further than SONY's "Patapon" for the PSP. Besides, when was the last original $20 game *you* saw for the PSP? I'm here to tell you that if rhythm based games are your thing, it's worth every penny. If it's not your thing, I wouldn't be surprised if "Patapon" was the game that helped warm you up to the genre. Rallying a weapons heavy, incredibly cute, surprisingly funny warrior tribe into an attacking frenzy using your "savage beats" is really a lot more fun than I initially gave it credit for.
Alejandro's GameCore Review Equation: (Novice-Intermediate) Simple with a fair difficulty curve + Fun + 'Smile Inducing' + Action Packed + Musical Goodness + Affordable * Addicting x2 = MUST BUY.
By Alejandro K. Brown