Parappa: The Archaic Music Game Relic
Parappa's place in the pantheon of music games can't be denied. It helped launch a wave of beat-centric Japanese games that would come to have pretty prominent places in both homes and arcades for much of the later 90s and it did so with style. It's not everyday, even in these times, that you find a game where you play as a dog and use the power of rap to woo the sunflower of your dreams. But what the game did in the past and what it does now are two very different things and that's where Parappa on the PSP stumbles majorly. It's a functional music game, but one that's really hard to endorse after the genre has gone pretty far beyond it since its halcyon days, even on the portable front. You can simply do better with more relevant games and not miss out on much at all.
The main problem is that, like other 90s rhythm games, the timing of the button presses in Parappa is too strict for its own good. You have a scoring meter that uses adjectives such as "Cool," "Good," and "Bad" to describe your competency at the moment. But, that's also the only real feedback you get from the game and it's not enough to consistently help you turn around your performace if it starts to apparently sour. Too many times, I felt as though I was getting the timing down just fine, only to quickly see the game warn me that I was about to drop down a rank and then have it happen moments later. Should you not be at least "Good," the second highest ranking, by the time the song ends, you're made to restart, which happened to me numerous times. There's a Parappa icon that helps you keep track of where you are in the sequence of button presses, but it otherwise does very little to help you with timing. There's also a freestyle mechanic that lets you push buttons in time to the song even if the screen doesn't tell you to do so, but it's so finnicky and jerky-sounding in implementation that it's ultimately a throwaway feature, despite being the only way you can actually reach the "Cool" ranking in the game.
Naturally, a music game's quality is tied very intimately with its soundtrack and that's where Parappa falters the most. The game only has six songs and that will mean, despite any outstanding issues with the timing, you can probably beat the game in about two hours or so. Downloadable content was planned for the game in the form of additional songs, but that apparently never came to fruition. None of that would necessarily be a problem if the songs that were there were good, but Parappa's music is middling at best. The raps are deliberately nonsensical to fit in with the game's style, but the background beats and the lyrics themselves just don't sound all that good. This is especially true when you throw in the fact that Parappa only speaks when you press a button and, more often than not, his words will sound copy and pasted into the song, instead of properly flowing. Contrast this with the fact that Parappa usually has a partner who also participates in the song, but doesn't have that problem and it becomes an even more glaring issue. It's a jarring feeling that never really goes away, even temporarily.
The only real strong points that Parappa still has today is its art direction and story, both of which are pleasantly surreal. While the graphics looks like they've only received some minor upscaling in the process of being ported to the PSP, they still stand out as well as they did back in 1997. Characters walk and move around like pieces of paper and the designs themselves are always distinct. You won't forget that your rapping instructor is a talking onion or that you got Parappa's driving license by learning from a moose in a police uniform. Likewise, the plot, while pretty barebones, still does a humorous job at moving you from one song to the next. Accompanied with some now very campy-looking FMVs that certainly did not get prettier with time, the story is one that could be expected out of NanaOn-Sha and as such, Parappa delivers on that front.
Parappa's main issue is one of relevance. When considering the still relatively short history and life span of modern music games, it's easy to understand why Parappa was such a hit back in the day. It took a musical genre that was seriously hitting its stride and presented it and the gameplay in a way that hadn't really been done before up until that point. But 12 years has been more than enough time for the game to grow archaic. The missteps that persist in the PSP version have long since been corrected by games that came out after the original Parappa on the PlayStation and as such don't make Parappa a very worthwhile game to play today. There's still something to be said for the game's quirkiness and charm, but they don't do nearly enough to compensate for this game's age. Times have changed and while it's unfortunate, Parappa's fervent devotion to living squarely in the past in its PSP rendition is really its ultimate downfall.