If there is one thing Patapon has always been able to do, it's invade your brain and remain firmly lodged there. As you walk down the sidewalk, you may fall into a rhythm and begin chanting to yourself, "pata-pata-pata-pon," and you lost that bar fight because you couldn't throw a punch until you got all the way through a full rendition of "pon-pon-pata-pon." The surprise PSP smash has now spawned a sequel, and the new game manages to pile in some neat features as well as fix some glaring issues from the first title. It's truly a must-own for anyone touting a PSP.
Patapon 2 picks up immediately after the original, with the eyeball-shaped army fashioning a boat in the hopes of finally reaching Earthend and gazing upon IT. Things go awry at sea, the boat is torn asunder and the poor little Patapons are washed ashore on a strange new land. Players once again take on the role of the Mighty Patapon, god of the little creatures, and lead the armies to glory against a newfound enemy, the mask-wearing Karmen.
Just like the original, the game is a rhythm-action-RPG hybrid that I never would've believed could work if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. Players control the Patapon army with drumbeats, with each face button representing a different sound. Tapping out sequences will allow the Patapons to advance forward, attack an enemy or retreat from battle, as well as jump over an impending attack or tighten up their defenses against a particularly dangerous incoming blow. The drum also allows players to call up miracles, such as rain, to douse fires, reveal invisible enemies, or grant temporary boosts to attack and defense.
What makes the drumming mechanic unique is the fact that you can't just tap out rhythms as fast as you can and unleash a series of commands. Players must execute the sequence in the proper tempo and wait for the Patapons to execute the last command before inputting another. This call-and-answer gameplay means that one must constantly be thinking ahead and ready to react to an ever-changing battlefield. When you begin combining the eight different drum rhythms with the variety of miracles that can be unleashed, it creates an experience that's just as heavy on tactics as it is on rhythmic prowess.
While Patapon 2 borrows several things from its predecessor (you'll see a lot of the same enemies and bosses as last time), it does add a considerable amount of brand new content that make the overall experience better than the last outing. First up is the new hero unit, a Patapon who joins you early in the game and fights alongside your army the rest of the way. This amnesiac stranger can switch to any of the various Patapon classes at will, and his presence in your army will add a much-welcomed combat boost. Just like in the previous game, consistently nailing the rhythms sends your Patapons into Fever mode. If you manage to tap out commands perfectly while in Fever, your hero is granted special powers that can greatly turn the tide of any battle. One such perk sees your special unit tossing a spear and causing splash damage, while another allows him to create a nearly impenetrable shield for all allies, rendering even the most dangerous boss attacks harmless. The available powers depend on what class the hero currently is assigned to, so players will have plenty of reason to bump him from one unit to another to constantly get the most out of this terrific new addition.
Speaking of units, the game adds several new troops while keeping all the old soldiers, thus allowing you to create quite an interesting army. Players start out with the familiar infantry troops, spearmen and archers, and it won't be long before you unlock the cavalry and brute units found in the last adventure. However, there are plenty more classes from there, and the game introduces mages, heavy-hitting shock troopers who excel in staggering enemies, horn-toting units who specialize in status effects and even flying soldiers that prefer to take the battles to the skies. This cornucopia of units means that you'll be ready for any situation; the only downside is that you can still only deploy three different unit types into any battle so there's no way to march your entire army onto the field. Hopefully the next game will allow us to utilize custom units so we can mix and match soldiers.
The other big new feature is the inclusion of co-op multiplayer, finally letting you join up with friends and tackle all that stands in the way of Patapon peace. The way the game handles multiplayer is by having bosses drop eggs, which can then be used online. The host of the game carries the egg, and each player is on his own to determine when to attack, flee, charge up or anything else. The only thing the game makes you do together is march, so once you're in range of the boss, it's every man for himself. Successfully completing these levels results in a rhythm-based mini-game, which allows players to earn a bit of extra money that can be spent on items in treasure boxes. The grand finale comes when the host tries to nail one last tricky rhythm, and doing so hatches the egg to reveal a special piece of equipment for the hero character. Don't worry if you can't take the game online because all these missions are also available solo, with some pretty capable CPU partners helping you along the way.
Patapon 2 also boasts a ton of improvements that make the sequel stand above and beyond the original. There is now an evolution chart for each unit so players will know exactly what they're getting and what materials are needed to create a new unit. This takes all the guesswork out of evolving the creatures and fixes one of the original title's most glaring flaws. Furthermore, while the first game was fun but ultimately tricky due to a fairly steep difficulty grade, Patapon 2 allows players to choose from easy, normal or hard and lets you switch difficulties on the fly. Other small but helpful tweaks include bumping up the frequency of loot drops to mitigate backtracking, as well as a few new mini-games that allow for gathering resources much more quickly than replaying the same missions over and over again.
Even still, the game misses its mark on a couple of occasions, and the issues are significant enough to warrant mention. First off, there's still no way to pause the game, meaning that if you're interrupted for any reason while playing, you're looking at a missed set of rhythms at the least and a potentially dead army at the worst. It's definitely a baffling omission, and it just seems strange to leave out.
The other major problem lies with the hero unit, which often won't obey commands and sometimes seems to just be doing his own thing. For example, when the hero is enjoying his special stat boosts, he won't retreat and often won't jump or attack with the rest of the army. This isn't a big deal in standard missions, but when you're facing a boss that can kill the hero in a single move and thus render the rest of your army at a severe disadvantage, it really hurts. The only way to avoid the issue is to intentionally mess up the beat in order to get the hero to obey again, and by that time, it may already be too late. I guess being a hero means never having to obey your god's orders.
While there are a couple of small blemishes, Patapon 2 manages to shine in a glorious way. The original game was a triumph, showcasing the fact that we haven't run out of good ideas yet, and the sequel continues to drive the franchise in the right direction. While the PSP has taken its lumps for not having a ton of fantastic games, this one nicely bucks that trend, delivering an amazing experience that remains unmatched by any title on any other system, handheld or otherwise. If you own a PSP, you really ought to own this game.
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