When we receive Sony titles at the NZGamer office we're initially overrun with a little bias. This isn't because we've allied ourselves with the Sony Defense Force but moreso due to the way Sony provide the press with their games. To put it simply, they deliver their titles in exquisite and luxurious packaging.
Soon after, however, we're usually wrought with bias in the opposite direction - perhaps Sony is trying to bribe as with all these fancy extras?. Patapon was no different; to get to the game we were required to open a Patapon Tube which contained a Patapon booklet which itself contained Patapon stickers, a Patapon press disc and of course the Patapon game itself. After playing Patapon for a while we quickly realised that the tube and its bits weren't there to bribe us into thinking the game was great; instead they were there because Patapon is a game which deserves the red carpet treatment. Patapon, without a doubt, is essential gaming for any PSP-phile, period.
People have referred to Patapon as being similar to Locoroco, and though the art style and developer (Interlink) may lend itself to this opinion, any other comparisons to that game are defunct. In fact, were you to liken Patapon to any other PSP title your best bet would be Puzzle Quest. Like Quest, Patapon represents an amalgam of multiple genres, taking from them their best ingredients to concoct its own wicked little recipe. Patapon is a side-scrolling real-time strategy game infused with rhythm-based controls and a dash of role-playing game elements. Are you salivating yet?
The name Patapon is taken from the tribe that worships you, a deity (don't let it get to your head... your highness). Your loyal wiley tribe is being forced out of their homeland by an evil army, the equally evilly named Zigatons. You're to lead the Patapon to salvation by taking them to Earthend where a religious item awaits, mysteriously only known as “IT”. Like Lemmings, the Patapon are capable of many a great feat but won't engage in any of them unless you, their God, tell them to.
To command the Patapon you use a set of four battle drums, which are conveniently mapped to the PSP's face buttons. You'll need to hit each command to the on-screen beat which will make your guys advance, attack, defend, and retreat. As you progress, more commands are opened up to you along with the ability to exercise your godly will against the weather. A good example of this is creating a strong gust of wind to ease your archers arrows into your enemies.
Speaking of archers, they are just one of six class types you'll encounter on your scrimmage to Earthend. You'll soon find yourself armed with musicians (deadly ones), spear-men, cavemen and a small selection of soldiers with varying strengths. On each mission you're conflicted with the decision on who to take to make up your team of six (or three should you choose some of the larger guys). Bear in mind however that having the biggest soldiers doesn't mean you'll win the war. You'll have to use your brain first to determine who is best suited for the upcoming battle. Brain over brawn, right?
There are over thirty missions for you to lead your Patapon to battle in, mixed up a little by their type: hunts, battles, and bosses. Hunting, as the name suggests, pits you against the creatures of your world, harvesting resources to create items to assist you on your upcoming battles. Battles, again, are just as the name implies; defeat some Zigatons and accomplish a mission objective like rescuing your fellow tribesman. Eventually, this leads to the final game type, Bosses. Here you'll square off against some of the most wonderful creatures ever seen on the PSP. Bosses resembling Dinosaurs, Evil Plants and even Giant (enemy) Crabs are all up to be fought via memorising their attack patterns and ordering the Patapon in a race against your reflexes. You will find yourself getting a little beat up a bit early on in these fights, as that's the only way to figure out the boss at hands patterns. The concept is a little clumsy, but it works well enough. Patapon allows you to replay boss battles on increasing levels of difficulty, which is a nice touch, and something more games should be investing in. Wouldn't it be great if you could just load up a boss battle from Resident Evil 4 or Metroid Prime at the press of a button? But as with all things involving repetition, if you do it enough, you won't want to do it again.
A small assortment of mini-games are unlocked as you progress through the core game. Rhythmically based, they're there to help you harvest materials to create new items to up-skill your Patapon and outrank the Zigatons. Though the art style is simple, creating items does create a cosmetic edge. The Patapon, who can be simplified as being eyes on legs, will look rather impressive by the game's end, and because the item selection is so weird and varied it creates quite a good reason to show your guys off to a friend. Unfortunately, this is something you'll have to do manually as there is no online option to do so (maybe in the inevitable sequel?); in fact, there are no online options at all.
Played through quickly, Patapon is an eight hour game which - when played correctly - can be as long as 15 to 20. There's never a sense of urgency to get the Patapon to Earthend so you never feel guilty for spending a couple of hours repeatedly defeating bosses or zapping through the mini-games. After all, the rewards you reap are entirely worth it and make a big difference to the core game. However, you may not feel the need to go back to the game once you're done, but should you pick it up a few months down the track, the range of game modes would help make it a lasting purchase.
Patapon is a truly unique experience and just another reason to buy a PSP.