Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Pon Pon Pata Pon

Oh. My. God. This game is amazing. I bought it on Friday, and since then have racked up 18 hours play time; 12 of them took up my entire Saturday non-stop. I never thought I'd get so addicted to a PSP game. I'd always intended to get a PSP when the price dropped, so when a mate of mine recently agreed to sell me theirs for the ridiculously low price of £30 I just couldn't refuse, and since then I've come to love it. Obviously it doesn't hold a candle to the sheer solid wonderment that is the DS, but particular titles just blow my mind. Patapon is definitely one of them.

It's strange how rhythm games have suddenly become something big; PaRapper the Rapper must be the original, but other than that and DDR (+clones) arcade machines, western gamers had little experience of this, one of the greatest genres of gaming right until, I'd say, Donkey Konga. No one's claiming the game did particularly well, but Nintendo had the guts to do what very few others have done in bringing more examples of this style of gameplay to a western audience who essentially rejected it in the past; Um Jammer Lammy, Vib Ribbon, (incidentally both developed by the same people behind PaRapper the Rapper) and the few others were found at the bottom of bargain bins throughout gaming stores at the turn of the century. Donkey Konga breathed new life into it, and while it may have been more of a putrid belch than an angel's sigh, I would go as far as to say had Nintendo not attempted to release this game for NTSC/PAL regions, Harmonix would never have tried to release their massively successful rhythm-and-music based peripheral game either.

Just to be clear once again however, I am certainly not saying that the guys at Harmonix were so impressed by Donkey Konga that they just had to do it themselves, but there just has to have been some crossover there. This is also not to say that Guitar Hero is the first genuine western success for the rhythm genre, since that same year iNiS released Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! to the DS in Japan, certainly a favourite franchise on the handheld delight among importers. And just to crush what may be another assumption, the renewal of the genre has not meant that every attempted cash-in since its rebirth has been successful; look to the graveyard of broken beats and you'll see such abominable titles as Daigasso Band Brothers (Jam with the Band), Electroplankton, Donkey Kong Barrel Blast and the vast range of various DJ games across all the platforms that simply play like crap.

Which brings us to today; rhythm gaming in 2008 has gotten off to an incredible start with both Patapon and Audiosurf simply blowing minds all over the world. As much as I like the latter, the former simply overshadows not just it, not even just PSP titles, but I'd say almost every rhythm game created to date; it has very quickly earned itself a definite spot in perhaps my Top 20 games of all time, and I'd say it's even a serious contender for the Top 10. I'm not going to launch into a lengthy description of the gameplay or the graphics, I'm not a reviewer; all I can say is how very much I enjoy this game.

I'm not even sure why it is. Essentially it's made up of fights that last anywhere from 2 to 8 minutes, and various mini-games which indirectly enhance play, yet I find myself spending hours and hours on end completely engrossed in it. It's certainly not realism; I press 4 buttons in various sequences to command an army of 18 eyeballs with legs and spears/axes/swords/bows/clubs as they fight either hoards of similar looking enemies or giant mechanical robots/crabs/dragons/worms. It's not the cartoon graphics with the pretty colours and the infrequent psychedelic trips. It's just got to be the sound; the entire game is of course based on rhythm and sound, and it just sucks you in. For example, pressing ∆∆O on the beats of a 4:4 rhythm; it sounds simple but it just isn't. You always have to think one bar ahead, and if you get something wrong, you can't afford to quickly change your mind since you'll break your combo and lose a massive amount of power. This is something I love about rhythm gaming, the clear distinction between doing it, and doing it well. Throughout the mini-games Patapon has a system of 4 different levels of items achieved through up 4 different levels of skill, and during battles you're rewarded with faster Fever Mode (achieved automatically for a 10-song combo, however attainable after 3 consecutive perfect songs) by hitting the buttons exactly on the simple 4:4 beat kept in the background.

A reasonably incoherent and disjointed rant, perhaps didn't focus on Patapon so much, but I feel points were made. If I had to sum up, I'd say there are two things you must do:
a) Go and buy Patapon, now. If you don't have a PSP, find one cheap, and get it; it's seriously worth it just for this, but there are plenty of other killer apps that will be well worth the now cheap purchase of the console.
b) Give rhythm gaming a chance. If you've not played any before, get Elite Beat Agents, Audiosurf or Patapon; I guarantee you'll suck at it for a while, but it doesn't take long to get good.

Ciao for now.

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