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Review: Patapon

(Image source: SCEJ.)

The first few hours of Patapon will suggest this is a casual Playstation Portable game. The simple yet enchanting graphics combined with the babbling yet charming voiceovers of its soundtrack will lull the gamer into believing this beat-based game will be a pleasant gaming experience.

But the hardcore side of Patapon, its unpleasant side, will reveal itself soon enough. For one thing, there is grind which may amount to half of the game experience. This isn’t an optional part of the game for the obsessive-compulsive loot-lusting gamer; this is mandatory grind needed to beat the tougher missions.

And the missions do get tough with battles that will frustrate even the most hardcore of gamers.

Beat it

In the world of Patapon, you are the Mighty Patapon, the god of these odd walking eyeballs. It is up to you to inspire them in battle, provide for them, and ultimately lead them to the mysterious Earthend.

You command the Patapons on the battlefield through wardrums, which must be pounded according to the rhythm of the Pulse of the Land. This is tricky initially and further complications like activating and maintaining Fever mode or casting an environmental Juju spell might seem impossible at first. With practise and experience, execution becomes easier though mastery might prove elusive.

In battle, Patapon plays like an unlikely combination of a simple rhythm game and a simple fighting game. You are a slave to the beat like in a typical rhythm game and you watch your opponents for patterns to exploit like in a fighting game. This unique, if peculiar, gameplay is the game’s greatest draw.

(Image source: SCEA.)

Though the game mechanics are simple enough to draw in casual players, there are spikes in difficulty in this game that will frustrate them. The boss battles, in particular, will prove vexing. Recognizing the boss attack pattern will avail you naught if you fail to adhere to the beat when attempting to evade. And it’s hard indeed to concentrate on the beat when your valuable units are facing insta-kill, perma-death boss attacks.

Patapon’s final boss really is emblematic of the game as a whole. What promises to be be a gripping, exciting affair against the Ultimate Bad Guy, the last thing standing between the Patapons and their promised land, is unnecessarily dragged out for no good reason.

It’s truly disheartening to realise that tactics matter only so much in Patapon and beating the tougher missions is ultimately all about grinding for resources to build better units. The loading screen tip following a failed mission explicitly state this and experience will bear it out. This is the game’s greatest flaw.
(Image source: SCEJ.)

Between missions, there are rhythm-based minigames to play. These provide a means to acquire resources necessary to build Patapon units but their main utility is to provide some welcome respite from the mission-grinding.

At the end of the game, players are treated to a non-ending that sets up a sequel and then invited to replay 15 repeatable missions in order to further improve their Patapon army. There may be players sufficiently smitten with the game willing to do this but most will put Patapon away once completed. There is only so much repetitive gameplay a player can take.

Patapon has quirky charm in ample amounts but is filled with just as much tedium and frustration. Despite that, it remains a must-have game because its unique gameplay is something worth travelling to the ends of the earth for.

Posted in Games, PSP, Reviews.