When the beating of your drum echoes the beating of your thumb
Patapon was one of the old greats of the original PlayStation Portable. Sony’s hybrid rhythm-tactical game captured hearts with its unique art style and approach to gameplay, though in truth, its influence didn’t stretch too far past the confines of the PSP audience and its own series.
Still, a lack of legacy is no reason to deprive people of the opportunity to fall in love with a cool game all over again, which as good a reason as any that Patapon makes a second debut on the PS4 this year.
Which, of course, leaves us with the question of how well it’s held up so far.
Patapon Remastered (PS4)
Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Released: July 31, 2017
We’re lucky, because it’s held up quite well, and remains well worth playing for PS4 despite a fairly spartan porting job. Unlike recent remasters like Gravity Rush Remastered, Patapon Remastered doesn’t pack in anything extra beyond the game itself and the necessary work to keep it looking and playing well on the PS4.
Of course, a lack of extra doesn’t diminish the game itself, as being playable at HD resolutions and on a home console is a good enough reason to give it a try.
One of the cooler things about Patapon is that there’s simultaneously not much to the game and a lot more than initially meets the eye. For the uninitiated, Patapon places players in the role of a newly minted deity to the Patapons, a race of cutesy eyeball monsters. To restore the Patapons to glory, they must march the Patapons to the end of the world in search of “IT”, whatever that happens to be. In the way are deadly creatures, hostile environments, and the Zigotons, an adversarial race of square-shaped eyeball monsters. Both armies field a handful of different troop types, such as the shield-bearing Tatepons, the horse-riding Kibapons, and the spear-chucking and arrow-shooting Yaripons and Yumipons.
The actual marching is accomplished by tapping drums using the face buttons, all according to an unchanging, never-ending four-beat rhythm. Each song pattern corresponds to an action by the Patapon army, with the core four representing a forward march, an aggressive attack, a defensive crouch, and a quick retreat. A last drum heralds the use of “JuJu”, unlockable spells that do things like cause a rainstorm to hide the Patapons’ presence, summon a tailwind to increase the range of projectile weapons, and more.
The back end systems are about as deep as a player wants them to be, involving a rudimentary crafting and loot system. Enemies can drop materials that will allow players to summon stat-boosted “Rarepon” versions of their Patapon soldiers, while dropped weapons and armor can improve the performance of the regular troops. This can generally be ignored, though, in case one wants to keep things simple or avoid the need to grind simple minigames for more materials.
What can’t be ignored, though, is how much concentration it can take to keep on beat when there’s a war on. It’s one thing to tap out the songs and issue orders, but the stress comes when conditions on the battlefield change, and when players need to correctly tap in the patterns, change patterns, and think several beats ahead to anticipate the right pattern to use for a given situation. There’s even more pressure to keep things precise thanks to the game’s “Fever” mechanic. Well-timed “perfect” inputs (i.e. taps that are just right on the beat) can build a combo, and a long enough combo triggers Fever mode, which sends the Patapons into a battle frenzy, greatly improving their performance and behavior. Every unit benefits in Fever mode, from Yaripons that jump to throw their spears farther to Yumipons that loose three-shot volleys and Tatepons that activate a defensive shield wall.
Maintaining the Fever, however, requires precision, and a missed beat, or even a slight lack of coordination can break it. This becomes especially true during the game’s scattered fights against giant creatures with varied attack patterns. Sometimes a good fever may even need to be broken in order to quickly tap out a retreat or defensive command.
There may also be a technical component to the challenge, as to me it seemed harder to maintain a precise rhythm than on the PSP. There may be some element of input lag involved, thanks to wireless controllers and modern TVs (an issue that affected the recent Parappa the Rapper remaster), or perhaps my reflexes have simply dulled after ten years. It could either, or both, honestly.
Technical concerns aside, all of the above issues were as true of the original Patapon as they are of Patapon Remastered. The game feels as much an aesthetic marvel on the PS4 as it felt on the PSP, which is a feat considering that the PSP had a fraction of the screen resolution as the PS4. Playing on a base model PS4 I’m not sure what kinds of benefits might be in store for PS4 Pro users with 4K TVs, but the only thing that looks out of place in Patapon Remastered are that some of the pre-rendered video bits look a little grainy.
And of course, there’s the music. Patapon remains a joy to listen to, as the beat adapts to the state of the game, with the Patapons chanting and dancing based on the patterns being used, the mission at hand, and even on Fever state. Modern melodies and beats mingle with backing from digeridoos and instruments from more indigenous cultures than I’m knowledgeable enough to name.
Ten years after it debuted on a handheld a fifth the size of a PS4, Patapon remains an utterly unique experience. For the life of me I couldn’t tell you what lessons it could hold for future games, but I’m glad it’s in a position for more folks to enjoy all over again.
[This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.]