Were I stocking a game store Patapon would be sitting all alone in the realtime rhythm strategy RPG section. That sounds like a lot, and it is. Patapon is deceptively deep. Its Loco Roco-esque graphics imply a simple, soothing game that is stored on the UMD. Patapon is anything but simple. It’s deep, strategy-focused, and rewarding.
If one genre shines a bit brighter than the others in Patapon it’s rhythm. Without rhythm your warriors cannot walk, they cannot fight, and the game cannot progress. Everything in Patapon requires the player to keep a beat. This is easy enough for simple movement (pon pon pata pon or square square circle square as it’s entered on the PSP), but in the heat of battle it’s easy to rush things and completely miss an attack, have a warrior eaten by a dragon, finally regain the beat, and retreat only to try it all again.
In addition to keeping a beat Patapon is a game of strategy. Squad composition and positioning are important – archers go in the back, for example. Boss fights require specific tactics to complete, and even in normal fights it is important to know when to run away versus when to push through and attack. In this regard Patapon is just as much a two-dimensional realtime strategy game as it is a rhythm game.
As with any game that tries new things there are a few nits to be picked with Patapon. It’s short, it requires a bit of grinding for materials to create new warriors and weapons, and at times it is frustratingly difficult. All three of these nits, however, are nullified by the New Game+ feature which allows you to replay the game with the same squad that just vanquished the final boss.
I’m not sure this is a con so much as a warning. Despite being released for the PlayStation Portable, Patapon is not a portable game. The timing required is so precise that ambient noise or the jostling of a bus ride is certain to throw you off. Stages that are easy while sitting on your couch will result in nothing but piles of dead patapons on the bus.
Patapon is charming, the art style is great, and the soundtrack melds into the gameplay superbly. The patapons themselves are so cute that not only will you want to win the stage but you’ll want to keep as many warriors alive as possible. It’s not that you can’t make more; it’s that it’s depressing when the cute things die. The whole experience is light-hearted and smile-inducing – particularly the patapons’ singing while they work, hunt, and take down giant bosses. If you like rhythm games then picking up Patapon is a no-brainer. Just watch out; once that song is stuck in your head it may never leave.