Review: Patapon 2

Patapon2.jpg The original Patapon was an amazing game that ended up as the second highest reviewed game of 2008 and on Matt’s list of games he loved for the year. For me, it was my favorite PSP game of 2008, and I remembered it fondly because I was living in a hotel for a month in our new location while we went through the process of selling one house, buying another and moving to a new state. So I had enough time in the evenings to really dig into Patapon, and found it one of the best games on the PSP and couldn’t wait for the sequel. After playing I find myself feeling conflicted – as a standalone game it is very good, but as a sequel it is of questionable value. Either way it is a solid game – so let me explain all of this confusion!

Patapon is a quirky rhythm game that combines with strategy, action and a distinctive art style to produce something recognizable and breathtaking all at once. It compares with LocoRoco by having infectious music and innovative gameplay, but contrasts with it by focusing on strategy and combat as well as adventuring and exploration. Patapon plays out as a 2D side-scrolling action-adventure in which you need to defeat enemies in order to make progress and advance your army to be able to defeat more enemies.

Patapon 2 looks and plays pretty much identically to the original, from the art direction to the rhythm-based movement and combat to the need to level-up and evolve your units. The graphics are quite similar in both style and quality – there are new settings and characters but otherwise it was often hard for me to tell the original and sequel apart when my kids were each playing a game. The core of the game remains the rhythm-based gameplay, which means that awesome music remains a core element. Overall the presentation is very nicely done, but there is little new about it – which is more of a flaw in a game with such a unique style than in most other games.

The game starts after the conclusion of the original, and once again you are a god-figure guiding and helping the Patapons work towards their goal. This time they are on a ship seeking the mythical ‘EarthEnd’ when disaster strikes and only a single Patapon survives. This lone warrior calls upon you as Kami (i.e. ‘god’), and using your magical drum you resurrect the force and begin your march towards EarthEnd.

Once again it all starts simple – square, square, square, circle … Pata Pata Pata Pon! That inspires your army to march. Then you learn how to call them to battle, and as you progress you learn more and more rhythms that pile on to make you a musical fighting force! As you successfully match rhythms your army gets into ‘fever’ mode, which increases the damage they do and their attack and defense ratings. Obviously the goal is to not make mistakes, and there are times when it seems like a single miscue can shift the entire battle against you.

During each mission you will occasionally pick up items that can be used in later missions. You can manually equip each Patapon at the start of a mission or simply choose the ‘optimize’ feature. As you make progress through the various stages you will need to evolve your armies. To do this you will need items, and to gather enough of these items you’ll need to take on extra missions. There are hunting missions and mini-games. Hunting missions yield more items, but the missions are long and feel like grinding. Mini-games are quick and more of a fun distraction.

However you gain items, you will definitely need to constantly work to keep your Patapons evolving. This is because not only do your enemies get much tougher later in the game, their strengths and weaknesses shift, and thus you need to adapt by adding new resistances and offensive powers. Whether this is fun or frustrating depends on how much you enjoy grinding through hunting missions and mini-games.

There are a couple of new additions in addition to the enhanced evolution tree: heroes and multiplayer. Heros are Patapons with awesome capabilities who can drastically change the course of a battle in your favor. They are not trivial to call, as you need to perfectly replicate the drum patterns to call them and keep them around. Multiplayer mode allows you to cooperatively work with a friend on some special missions where you need to defend against attacks. It can be loads of fun even in the rather limited form you get with Patapon 2. It is a nice add-on, but obviously the main attraction is the long and challenging single player campaign.

The issue I have with Patapon 2 is one of recreating a novel experience. It is the same issue I have with LocoRoco 2 – both are excellent games and loads of fun, but a sequel to what is essentially a novelty game remains pretty much just another novelty game. And since the essence of ‘novelty’ is newness, a sequel that is made in pretty much the same way as a standard sequel (slightly different story, tweaked gameplay, a couple of added features) leaves me feeling that something is missing … and that something is novelty. So while Patapon 2 is a worthy follow-up in many ways, because of the original it feels to me like more of a retread than a sequel.

One final thought – Patapon 2 is novel in one way: it is being sold as a digital download ONLY. You can get it through the PSN Store or get a retail box that contains a code that will allow you to buy it through the PSN store. The game is a few hundred megabytes, so even over the anemic PSP WiFi it is relatively quick to download. The difference with digital downloads, of course, is that unlike standard UMD games that you can play and then sell or trade, once you activate the code you permanently own the game. This issue is becoming more prominent in PC gaming, and with the upcoming PSP Go and the growth of the PSN Store for PSP games it will be interesting to see how it impacts games and sales in the future.

My recommendation for this game is dependent upon your experience. Did you play the first game? If not, grab the demo and then buy the game, because I’m sure once you try it out you won’t be able to get enough! If you did play the first but didn’t like it, you can try the demo for the sequel, but ultimately it is more of the same as I mentioned above. If you loved the original, justifying the budget $20 cost of getting the new game shouldn’t be that hard.

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Pros:
+ Still loads of fun
+ Addictive gameplay
+ Cool new features
+ Long campaign

Cons:
– Very similar to the original
– Too much grinding required

Game Info:
Platform: PSP via PSN download
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCEJ
Release Date: 5/5/09
Genre: Action, Music, Platform
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-4

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About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!