Release Date: February 26, 2008
What, you may ask, is a Patapon? It's best described as an eyeball with limbs: a circle with stick figure legs and arms, usually wearing some kind of hat and carrying a weapon. Unfortunately, they're also almost extinct. Long ago, the Patapon tribe flourished under the guiding hand of "The Almighty," a distant god with amazing powers … but the Almighty abandoned them one day, leaving the Patapon to survive on their own. The poor Patapons failed, and rival tribes and terrible beasts quickly stole their lands, driving the Patapon to the very brink of extinction. The Patapons launched a single final quest to find one of "The Almighty's" magic drums, which would allow them a new chance at life, but the search party was wiped out, except for a single dedicated Patapon, who called plaintively to the heavens for aid. This is where you come in. As "The Almighty," you must help these poor creatures recover from annihilation and lead them toward their eternal destiny. It's quite a big task to put into something as small as the PSP!
Controlling Patapons is a rather unique experience. Each of the PSP's four face buttons is assigned a specific tone. Square is "Pata," Circle is "Pon," Triangle is "Chika" and X is "Don." In order to command your Patapons, you have to beat those drums in time to the game's four-beat background music. For example, moving your Patapon forward involves pounding out "Pata Pata Pata Pon" on the drum, attacking is "Pon Pon, Pata Pon" and defending is "Chika Chika Pata Pon." Thus, traveling through a stage basically involves playing a long self-made song comprised of these various beats. The closer to the rhythm you drum, the more effective the Patapon's actions are. Match the beats perfectly, and your Patapons will attack more effectively and move faster, but if you're tone-deaf, they'll end up being ineffective and weak. If you're successful enough to create a long "combo" of beats, you can even send your Patapon into a special Fever mode, where they grow more powerful and gain new abilities … but only if you manage to keep up the beat.
This all sounds very simple, but it isn't quite as easy as it appears. Learning the correct rhythm can be a real challenge, and making sure you give the correct actions in time with the music takes a lot of practice. Accidentally order your Patapons to rush into an attacking enemy, and you'll have to suffer a lot of damage or break your rhythm in order to quickly issue the defense order. It's a difficult task to combine the calm state necessary for proper rhythm with the mental quickness needed to ensure your adorable Patapons don't get routed.
Missions are divided into a few different types. Some missions involve having your Patapon quest through a new stage, battling various rival enemy clans and deadly environmental hazards in an attempt to reach the end of the stage. Others place your Patapon up against massive screen-filling bosses, who your poor Patapon have to try to take down, despite the fact that these monsters can kill them in one blow! When not exploring new lands or fighting massive monsters, however, the Patapon also have to hunt for food and supplies in special Hunt stages, which can be replayed as much as the gamer wants. In these stages, Patapon have a limited amount of screen space to hunt down various animals, and slaying animals rewards Patapon with valuable food, supplies and "Kaching," the local currency of the Patapons.
You can command different kinds of Patapons, including spear-wielding hunters, shield-bearing defenders, bow-equipped archers and even horse-riding cavalry soldiers. Each type of Patapon has its own special niche. The shield-bearing Tatepons, for example, are essential to keeping the rest of your Patapons alive. When using "Chika Chika Chika Pon," they thrust up their shields, intercepting damage and protecting your squishier Patapons. On the other hand, they are worthless for hunting, since their attacks tend to scare off the prey before you can successfully hunt them. It's important to learn each Patapon's strength and weakness, since you can only bring three kinds into a stage. Bring the wrong kind, and the stage is much harder, maybe even becoming impossible to complete.
While there are many different kinds of Patapon, even those of a similar type are not identical. Players create new Patapon for their armies by developing them at the Tree of Life at the Patapon base camp. This is done by sacrifice materials — hunted meat, found stones and Kaching — in order to create a new soldier for your army. However, the quality of the items you use to create the Patapon directly influences the Patapon you create! Use a pebble and some common meat to create a Tatepon, for example, and you get a regular everyday Patapon who can equip basic items and has basic stats. However, use super-hard Titanium Ore instead of the pebble, and you create a Mofeel-Tatepon, who is a bit weaker but has skyrocketed defense stats. Of course, this Mofeel-Tatepon also costs roughly five times what a regular Tatepon would cost in Kaching.
Another kind of Tatepon might have improved attack stats, skyrocketed critical chance or higher attack speed. Learning to balance your army so that you have a proper mix of attributes is key. Too many defense-heavy Tatepons, and your frontline becomes less effective in combat. Too many high-damage but slow Yaripons, and you find yourself having a hard time hunting. Moderation is key. Luckily, Patapons can also equip various items found throughout the stages, including weapons, headgear and shields. These pieces of equipment allow you to boost a Patapon's stats, allowing you to balance out the innate weaknesses in a Patapon's type.
Much like LocoRoco, Patapon's graphics are 2D and very minimalistic. Almost everything is made up of pure black silhouettes with white or red eyes, and occasionally a colored highlight, built around beautiful but simplistic paper-cutout backgrounds. The result is that Patapon resembles nothing so much as a fairly attractive Flash cartoon, and while it certainly isn't going to draw attention for its graphical prowess, the animation style is both charming and pleasing to the eye. The Patapons are shockingly adorable for eyeballs with stick arms and legs, and even the various creatures and enemies are a bizarre mix of cute and creepy. The Patapons even provide much of the music in the game, singing along with the Almighty's drum playing, and, when the player is doing well, turning the game into a symphony of tribal music.
Patapon is unusual. There is no other game like it on the market, and in all honestly, there probably never will be again, unless we get a Patapon 2 sometime in the future. However, just because something is unusual doesn't mean that it is bad, and in fact, Patapon is an absolutely charming title. It is simplistic enough to play for five minutes, but addictive enough that you may find yourself so engrossed that you don't even realize that hours have gone by. Even better, Patapon is being released at the budget price of $20. If you're a PSP owner, you owe it to yourself to give Patapon a second glance when it comes out this February. It isn't a game for everyone, but those who give it a shot will find a charming and unique adventure in store for them and at only $20, it's difficult to come up with reasons to not take the risk.
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