Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


This is one of those games that sneaks up on you. At first glance, Patapon looks like an overly simplistic game with some gimmicky play but not a lot of depth. However, this changes as you play the game's later stages, where you have multitudes of Patapon to command and massive enemy armies to battle, things become a lot more interesting and intense. Patapon's unique style of play definitely makes for some interesting strategic decisions. Your main objective is to move them from the left side of the screen to the right, attacking any foes you encounter, collecting items and hunting for food and additional items. It takes place on a 2D playfied and all the objects in the game are rendered visually minimal, which makes the action easy to understand. It seems simple on the surface, but this is deceptive. Like the similarly themed Loco Roco from the same developers, Patapon wraps complicated strategic play under a simplistic presentation, though Patapon feels much more active. Superficially, its gameplay resembles the classic Lemmings, though instead of being passive, these warriors attack their obstacles. Despite its similarities in style and presentation to other games on the market, Patapon feels like a refreshing change of pace. The game's interface is unique as well, and makes this feel more like a music game than an action title. Instead of controlling the characters manually, you have to beat on the drums using the PSP's square and triangle buttons. Alternating these beats creates songs, which are the commands that your Patapon respond to. If you correctly make the notes, you'll enable specific commands that they'll hear and follow. However, you can't do this randomly and instead need to play specific songs on the drums in time to the beat of the music, which is shown by a bar that flashes around the screen. You need to get the timing just right, which takes some practice but becomes more intuitive as you play along.

When you command them to do something, they'll follow your instructions and attack or move around the screen. The unique pacing follows a call and response where you have to wait for the tiny Patapon to respond for a bar before you can issue the next command. You can build combos and momentum by successfully completing a sequence of songs, which sends them into a frenzy, making them move faster and attack more effectively. Each stage of the game presents a variety of different obstacles and enemies. Most of the opponents you face will attack your Patapon almost immediately, so you'll need a large army of specific types to defeat them. As you move your army towards the goal, you can collect special items that appear when you defeat foes. These can include power-ups that restore your health or special items that you can use between stages to upgrade your Patapon creatures or create new types to use in later battles. Before you begin each mission, you can equip and deploy your armies and give them weapons such as swords and spears to use and give them helmets and shields to help protect them from attacks. You can also use the different elements such as food and wood you find in battle between missions to create other items for your armies as well. This unique upgrade system gives you plenty of flexibility and keeps you interested in the gameply throughout.

Patapon starts off simply enough, gradually introducing new abilities and types of characters to use, while adding new songs here and there that give you the ability to perform additional commands, which adds to the challenge. The game's complexity sneaks up on you and before you know it, you are managing complex assaults and massive numbers of little soldiers into battle, which is almost as much fun as the battles themselves. Patapon's levels are fairly well designed and offer an excellent balance between combat and strategy. Timing your moves so your soldiers are close enough to attack without taking damage is a big part of the strategy, doing so allows you to get through the next stage without losing any of your soldiers. The levels themselves are fairly simple, and filled with imaginative enemies and creatures, some of which will come to your aid and join your forces if you play things just right. Most of your time is spent attacking enemies and deflecting their advances, but there are also other objects you'll encounter. For example, there are large creatures that you can hunt for food and numerous special objects in each stage. Most of the action progresses quickly from left to right but sometimes you'll need to attack enemy buildings in order to progress. These varying tasks help to keep the game fresh and interesting throughout, creating an immersive balance that makes Patapon engaging and fun.

Visually, the game takes its cues from games like Loco Roco, and features a brightly colored, minimalistic design with a very cool tribal gathering motif. The game's design is quite beautiful and its seamless animation and unique character designs make for an immediacy and simplicity that many other modern games lack. Its 2D approach makes things instantly accessible and allows the gameplay to shine through. As you might have guessed, the game's music is superb as well, with primal drum thumping and a tribal beat that drives the gameplay home throughout. The characters mostly speak in high-pitched tones, which adds to Patapon's cuteness and appeal, though in a clever touch, comic-style word balloons appear over their heads so you can tell what's going on. This is definitely one of the more aesthetically appealing and accessible titles from a design standpoint on the PSP, and effectively highlights the handheld's versatility. Even though it doesn't seem like anything out of the ordinary, Patapon is actually one of the more entertaining and challenging titles on the handheld. It's accessible and innovative gameplay combined with its unique sensibility makes Patapon one of the more unique titles on PSP, and it's low price makes it an irresistible title you won't regret picking up.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: A

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