Patapon was one of the best things to happen to the PSP last year. It had all the personality of something like LocoRoco, but with techno-tribal warfare in place of cloying whimsy, and it offered a blend of rhythmic action and strategic combat that was both unique and approachable. Patapon 2 is out now, and it mostly offers the same kind of experience, but with a few minor tweaks and new features. It's different enough that if you liked the first one, you'll like this one, and if you haven't jumped into the Patapon pool yet, now is as good a time as any.
If you're new to Patapon, the basic idea is that you're commanding a small army of shouty, monocular creatures as they march across the screen from left to right, encountering enemies and various other obstacles along the way. You don't have any direct, one-to-one control over the Patapon, instead relying on the power of rhythm to compel them. Each of the face buttons corresponds to a percussive sound, and specific patterns trigger different actions. It's a basic call-and-response format--you throw out a four-beat pattern, your Patapon respond and react accordingly, you rinse and repeat. The game gives you the three basic commands of advance, attack, and defend pretty much right out the gate, and they're your staple commands throughout. You'll eventually discover additional chants that allow you to dodge attacks, charge into battle, and change the weather.
The campaign in Patapon 2 is mostly pretty linear, though you can revisit past missions to pick up more money, resources, and equipment. The missions themselves tend to focus on specific tasks, like hunting prey, fighting giant boss monsters, or attacking entrenched enemy armies. Missions are never terribly long, usually topping out at around 10 minutes, which helps make Patapon a game that's theoretically easy to play in short bursts. Once you get some momentum going, though, it can be a tough game to put down. The rhythmic action in Patapon 2 can feel pretty loose and forgiving, which matches the kind of improvised, electronic drum-circle sound of the music. To really flourish you need to chain together successful chants in order to trigger Fever mode, which makes your Patapon attack more fiercely. A lot of the music seems recycled from the first Patapon, but it still works, and its capacity for getting hopelessly stuck in your head isn't diminished in the least.
Your input is kind of limited during combat, so a lot of the strategy in Patapon 2 comes during the planning phase, when you're deciding which types of Patapon to bring with you. Patapon come in a number of different classes, starting off with basic sword-and-shield units, archers, and pikemen, eventually expanding into horsemen, flying units, and other exotic types. You can equip each of your Patapon with different armor and weapons that you collect during battle, and there's an extensive evolutionary system at work as well, which can radically alter how individual Patapon handle. You can bring three different classes of Patapon with you, and up to six individual Patapon within each class, though you won't start out with a full company of 18. You'll have to complete missions to earn the cash and supplies you'll need to create new Patapon. In addition to these three class groups, you'll also get a hero character who you can assign different classes to before you get to marching, and who, if your timing is particularly spot-on, can perform particularly powerful special attacks. Every one of these choices can have a significant impact on how a mission might play out, though the game offers enough assistance, in the forms of hints and an auto-equip option, to keep it from being too overwhelming.
Patapon 2 introduces multiplayer to the series, allowing up to four players to bring their heroes out on a shared adventure where you have to protect a big-ass, mysterious egg against peril, which can yield some rare items if you're successful. If none of your PSP-having buddies have picked up Patapon 2, there's a game-sharing option as well. It's worth noting that Patapon 2 is only available as a PlayStation Network download here in the US, no UMD, so you'll need a Memory Stick with a good 360 megs of free space to play it. This seems like it could be the future for the PSP, and while I could see some folks preferring to buy physical media, the upshot here is that you get a lot more battery life out of your PSP when you're not constantly spinning that UMD. Also, Sony is offering Patapon 2 right out the gate for the same price of $19.99 that you can pick up the original for on UMD.
Patapon was charming as hell, with its weirdly emotive characters and the chanting music that had a way of insinuating itself into your subconscious. Patapon 2 hits the same notes, and it hits them just as hard, though as a mildly iterative sequel, it might not have the same impact on returning players. If you haven't played Patapon before, though, this is arguably a more approachable game, and a more attractive package in general.