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Review: Patapon 2

2:00 PM on 05.01.2009 // Brad Nicholson

So, Patapon 2 is Sony’s  big UMD-less release. Since we got an early copy, I thought it would be cool to talk (briefly) about how you go about getting the game on your PlayStation Portable. It’s quite simple, really.

Just update your PSP to the latest firmware, find a wireless signal, sign up for a PlayStation Network account and go to the PlayStation Store. From there, you’ll be able to sort through a bunch of demos and new offerings. Find Patapon 2 and select download. The game will automatically download and install from then on.

It’s nice when these things work.

As you can imagine, I’ve been playing the hell out of Sony’s Patapon 2. If you’re a fan of the series, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re not, then, well, you’ll just have to read the review.

Hit the break for it.

Patapon 2 (PSP)
Developer: Pyramid, Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: May 5, 2009
MSRP: $19.99

Patapon 2’s story is zany, if not completely ridiculous. You’re a god who is praised and revered by the game’s mini-protagonists, the Patapon. Your objective -- and really, it’s the curious creatures’ will -- is to lead an army of these pocket monsters to a magical place called Earthend. Many enemies and obstacles, big and small, will block your path and slow your progress. But clearing these impediments doesn’t require tactical genius. All you need to do is feel the rhythm, and, uh, an affection for upgrading.

Pata-Pata-Pata-Pon.

I was late to the Patapon party. Sony’s original title hit retail in February 2008. I didn’t pick up the game until that summer. Much to my surprise -- and ultimately dismay -- I didn’t find the game that enjoyable. The delicious art style and character certainly tickled me. Yet, I wasn’t able to find that sweet spot between progress and backtracking that made the first game possible to play. In fact, the only thing I found was frustration. Despite my hours of effort, I was always underprepared, underpowered, and overwhelmed in the majority of the game’s advanced levels.

Patapon 2 hasn’t been that much different for me.

A couple notes on similarity and difference: Patapon 2 stays true to its source material. The progression for both levels and troops is handled in the same manner. The art design appears identical, and the game’s quasi-tactical combat is largely left alone in this installment. Adjustments have been made, of course, but they’re extremely subtle ones -- the kind that you don’t write home about. The tweaks and miniscule additions have made Patapon 2 a better game than its predecessor, but you’re still getting the same core experience wrapped in all the old frustrations and bliss.

Patapon 2 is a tactical action game with a rhythm twist. Your immediate goal -- as a god and commander -- is to lead a legion of deformed, yet cute, creatures to the end point of a level. The only way to make the Patapon do what you desire is through music -- the game’s weird bread and butter. By inputting simple commands (learned steadily throughout the game) you’ll be able to make your Patapon army move, attack, defend, charge, and even alternate the weather. The key is to input these commands with the beat. If you don’t, the Patapon won’t respond and you’ll likely take big damage from aggressors.

I believe this is where Patapon 2 fails as a strictly handheld title. You need to concentrate intensely on the music to have any measure of success. Good headphones or a quiet room are necessary to play this game.

If you’re down with the game’s groove and you’re hitting the beat perfectly, you’ll be rewarded with Fever mode, which makes the attacks and defense of the Patapon stronger. Let’s not piddle around here: the biggest key to success in the game is keeping Fever mode going throughout the entire level. The game expects you to be able to manage this feat. Difficulty is adjusted accordingly.

Whenever you successfully enter a command, there’s a slight delay in action. You can’t input beats while the Patapon are already engaged in another movement. This is detracting, especially during boss conflicts. You’ll often be one second behind being able to properly defend or attack. Most bosses require precise timing -- something the game doesn’t really allow you to do.

The frequency of boss battles is off the chain. Every few levels will have you and your Patapon army facing off against a massive creature. While the monsters are always delightful to look at, they certainly aren’t a pleasure to fight. These big baddies are ridiculously difficult to defeat, thanks to the game’s terrible scaling.

One thing that does help is the Hero unit, completely new to Patapon 2. This guy is capable of unleashing massive destruction when the Fever gauge is at its highest point. They’re also very durable and respawn after being knocked out of the fight. It gives a face to your army, almost literally. The Hero unit can don “masks,” which turn it into any type of troop in your army, be it archer, spearman, clubber, or cavalry.

Some quick notes about army diversity: many challenges in Patapon 2 require you to diversify and upgrade your army. You’re allowed four kinds of troops at any given time. The first will always be the Hero unit; the other three are of your choice. Some missions may require archers because of air threats; others, heavy-duty guys like the clubbers. Diverse armies typically prevail, but it’s unfortunate that you don’t get the clue to do so until you enter into a level and lose miserably.

And that’s only part of the rub. You also need to upgrade your troops. Patapon 2 has a deep upgrading system that allows you to transform and diversify your army according to your play style. Sounds great on paper, but there’s a problem with this. Upgrading requires practically endless hours of backtracking and boss battles to acquire the few items it takes to upgrade one measly Patapon.

The thing that keeps me from gushing over Patapon 2 is the blurry line between victory and defeat. Boss battles are always harder than the previous level -- one that you probably breezed through. But every once in a while, the game throws in a particularly challenging confrontation. At this point you’re expected to replay levels for hours and collect items needed for upgrades. In other words, you’ll be spending numerous boring hours rehashing old content.

Patapon 2 certainly has charm. Very few games have such a vibrant and flamboyant style. But the gameplay -- the fighting, backtracking, and item collecting -- is stale in comparison. The Hero unit, the extra mini-games (which allow you to get items slightly easier) make Patapon 2 slightly better than its predecessor. But the issues that remain with the game still dwarf the little strides made with the sequel.

If you’re a fan of the series, then this should be an easy get. If you’re not, then it might be best to consider if the frustration with backtracking and boss battles is worth your time.

Score: 6.5 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)



Brad Nicholson,
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