Quirky Fun with a Dash of Deja Vu
Last year, Sony introduced the world to the first real time strategy rhythm game with Patapon for the PSP. Its unique art style and addictive gameplay made it an instant stand out classic on the system. Now, Sony is looking to recapture the magic with the download-only sequel aptly titled Patapon 2. Does this title stack up to its quirky predecessor? The answer is “yes“, but almost to a fault. Hardcore fans will appreciate the slight improvements to the overall experience, but some lingering issues and a strong sense of déjà vu may turn off both newcomers and casual fans.
If you’re unfamiliar with how Patapon plays, the basic premise is actually quite simple. You take the role of a deity tasked with guiding an army of stick-figured eyeballs to their promised land called Earthend (ah that old chestnut). You do this through the power of percussion by playing different rhythms to move the army and take down foes. Each face button corresponds to a different drum and you can string together 4-beat combos to make your army advance, defend, attack, charge up, and retreat. If you’re able to keep the beat long enough, the army enters Fever mode which increases defense and attack power. As you complete missions, you earn items from defeated enemies which can be used to create new Patapon classes to bolster your army.
The story of Patapon 2 picks up from where the first game left off. While continuing their search for the true promised land, the Patapon’s boat is attacked by a giant sea monster leaving them stranded on a mysterious new island. Soon they encounter the hostile native Kraken tribe, the remnants of the Zigoton army from the first game, and the enigmatic Akumapon tribe. As the returning deity, its up to you to get these hopeless ocular warriors out of another jam and one step closer to their ultimate goal. If all of that sounds like nonsense, don’t worry, it pretty much is. As new villains are thrown in with increasingly ridiculous names, you may find yourself zoning out within the first few hours. Fortunately, the game never really gets too deep or takes itself too seriously, so all you have to worry about is guiding your funky tribe to the end of each mission.
At first glance, Patapon 2 almost looks like an expansion pack to the first game. The first few levels use the exact same color palette as the first game, the music is identical, and you even fight the exact same first boss. However, returning fans shouldn’t turn the game away immediately because of its familiar setting. As you progress, the improvements start to become apparent and the levels become more open and varied. The most welcome change is an on-screen indicator of your Fever status. As you play rhythms, a red snake inches out from the corner of the screen. If you hit four beats perfectly, a cymbal accompanies the fourth beat and the snake inches out much farther than usual. Once the snake completely inches out, Fever mode is activated. With perfect timing you can get to Fever mode within seconds, and the margin of error is slightly more forgiving than the first game. Even if you start losing the beat, a siren goes off with the music to get you back on track.
The other big addition to Patapon 2 is the Hero. The Hero cannot be removed from your party, but he can take on any Patapon class and he can never die in battle. If that’s not awesome enough, the Hero also has hidden abilities that can be utilized in battle by keeping perfect time. For example, if you outfit the Hero with the Dekapon class (giant guys with giant clubs), he can swing his weapon in a windmill pattern as he moves forward, totally decimating any poor saps that dare to stand in his way. As long as you keep that perfect time, you can keep the attack going forever. But pulling that off is much more difficult than it sounds which ties into one of the games lingering faults.
The first few hours of gameplay are largely more forgiving than the first game, but as you fight new tribes, timing becomes absolutely crucial to success. Therefore, it’s kind of disappointing that there’s no true medium difficulty setting. On the default setting, the game can be quite stingy with granting you that perfect beat Hero bonus. The only other option is to pick the easy setting, which takes all of the enjoyment out of the game because everything registers as a perfect beat (unless you really, REALLY lack a sense of rhythm). Also, for a game that stresses staying in Fever mode, there are still too many occasions where you’re forced to break it to cast a weather spell. Weather spells allow you to summon rain to put out fires or wind to help arrows fly, but you’re forced to play a rather lengthy rhythm mini-game every time you need it. Even though the developers added a timer to track how long the weather will last (100 seconds usually), it still becomes tedious to have to go through the same mini game four or five times in one level.
Another issue held over from the first game is the item disappearance. As you fight enemies and hunt animals, they drop crucial items needed to create new Patapon classes or level up your existing army. There will be many occasions where an item is just out of reach because of an obstacle standing in your way, and because you can only advance a set distance with the music, the item often disappears by the time you get to it (which can really be damaging if that item happens to be a health potion). Lastly, Patapon 2 introduces an Evolution Tree which allows you to see what Patapons you can create before committing to a choice. While an improvement over the random creation of the first game, the Evolution Tree can still be an overwhelming feature because of the large number of options and short supply of loot.
Despite its setbacks, Patapon 2 does offer a ton of features that will keep you playing well past the 40 hour mark. Several missions can be replayed multiple times to earn rare items, and the difficulty increases with each victory. It’s very easy to get stuck in a loop of playing different side quests trying to get that one item needed to create a rare and powerful Patapon. While that makes this a great title to play on the go, keep in mind that you still can’t pause the game during missions. There’s also a multiplayer component where you can and up to 3 friends control a group of Heroes and battle the games bosses together while carrying an egg to the finish line. The multiplayer can even be played with those who don’t own the game, or by yourself if no one else you know has a PSP (which might even be favorable since you keep all of the loot that way).
The sound is largely unchanged from the first game. There are a few new songs thrown into the mix and the multiplayer ending song is fantastic, but overall the music retains the odd mix of tribal rhythms and a hyperactive children’s chorus. The music can be endearing and catchy, but if you get stuck on a mission that goes on for 15 minutes or longer, the constant chanting can become downright painful. A few different time signatures and some improvisation options would have been a nice addition to the gameplay, but those are minor gripes overall.
Patapon 2 is a great value for the $20 price tag. The missions are nicely varied, there are tons of creation options to explore, and the multiplayer is a blast. However, because of the nature of the gameplay, your enjoyment depends on your opinion of the first game as well as your tolerance level. If you’re downloading the Patapon soundtrack right now to blast in your car, then buying this game is a no brainer. If you appreciated the first game but didn’t exactly love it, know going in that you’re going to be playing pretty much the same thing for a much longer span of time. Finally, if you’ve never played the original and you’re wondering what all the fuss about, Patapon 2 is a great place to start but check out the demo just to be sure you‘re up for the journey to Earthend.