Patapon: March to the Rhythm of War

If Patapon had to be pigeon-holed into a genre, I suppose it would be considered a rhythm-based near-time-strategy seasoned liberally with devices from role-playing games such as customization, creation and item collection.

You play the leader of the Patapons, essentially black and white eyes organized into a tribal structure. As their leader, it’s up to you to guide the Patapons out of their exile and into “Earthend.” Who exiled the Patapons? The Zigatons, of course. And what exactly is at Earthend? “IT,” of course. The Patapons live in a very simple world.

You can only communicate with your Patapons via a drum beat input through the PSP’s controls. After issuing a command, your Patapons will repeat the beat and carry out the orders. There are four basic commands that you can issue: pata, pata, pata, pon moves you forward; pon, pon, pata, pon is the command to attack; chaka, chaka, pata, pon is for defense; and don, don, don, don, don invokes JuJu. This is an odd game.

Aside from the surface NTS and rhythm elements of the game, there is a significant amount of resource management and customization to play with between the 30+ missions in the game.

As you get further into the game, mini games are unlocked that will be essential to your future weapon- and unit-crafting endeavors. If you do well enough in the mini games, you get items in return that can be used for the creation of better units.

Patapon starts out with one unit available to you – the Yuripon, your spear thrower. As you progress through the game, more unit types will become available, including archers and melee soldiers. These units are created by combining specific resources gathered throughout the game and spending a set amount of in game money – Ka-ching

Basic Patapons are cheap and easy to come by. Once you start playing the later missions, it will be essential that you create some stronger units, or Rarepons. The Rarepons are made the same way as normal Patapons, only more Ka-ching and higher-quality resources have gone into their making. The Rarepons also get added status bonuses, such as a higher attack or a greater resistance to flame damage. With six different unit types and six different Rarepons possible per unit type, there’s ample room for customization.

To further customize things, you can get into the nitty-gritty of equipping each individual in each unit. Weapons and armor are found after battles, and some can also be crafted later in the game if you have the right resources.

While Patapon‘s gameplay is unique in the extreme, the choices made musically and artistically serve to place Patapon in a category entirely its own. The game comes from Pyramid, the same company that brought us LocoRoco. The artistic direction of the game was led by Rolito, a French artist and toy designer with a very distinct style. Whereas LocoRoco resembled a mish-mash of Yoshi’s Island and South Park, Patapon achieves a more Samurai Jack aesthetic.

Musically, it follows in the footsteps of Katamari Damacy and – considering it shares half of the same musical team – LocoRoco. It’s irreverent and catchy with a distinctly Japanese feel to it. Western musicians typically don’t have the courage to make music as cute, or inspired, as this. Given that the gameplay revolves around music, anything less than excellence would be unacceptable.

Patapon isn’t for everyone, but it’s certainly for most people. It’s safe to say this is one of the ten best PSP games on the market. Considering that it’s priced at only $19.99, I’d say that most PSP owners should go out and pick this up today.