TGS 2007: Hands-on: Patapon

One of the more curious games shown at Sony’s E3 press conference, the PlayStation portable title Patapon represents everything that Sony seems to have that its competitors do not. With a Loco Roco-esque visual style, and quirky appeal that’s difinitive of so many of Sony’s original IPs, Patapon is a title that should catch the eyes of gamers interested in highly stylized, and unique experiences.

But just what in the hell is “patapon”? Will those weird spear wielding, shadow dudes escape the deadly wrath of the big, bad shadowy crab of doom? And why did this chick at the Patapon booth keep trying to explain the game’s controls to me in Japanese when I was clearly ignorant to her native tongue?

The answers (sort of) to all of these questions and more, after the jump.

Having known nothing about the gameplay behind Patapon before getting my hands on the game (running on a so-bright-its-blinding-me rose pink PSP slim), everything about my visit to the booth was a surprise. While I thought the game might be a side-scrolling Lemmings-esque experience, that wasn’t the case at all, actually. After starting a game for me, the Patapon booth girl did her best to explain the game to me … in Japanese.

“(Something really fast in Japanese I didn’t understand),” she said. “(More stuff in Japanese which I, again, didn’t understand).”

I nodded politely as she spoke, hoping that maybe she would leave me to my own game-playing devices. But she didn’t. Instead, she stood there, and start clapping her hands in rhythm.

“Pata-pata-pata … pon,” she sang.

I was stunned. So I stared back at her.

“Pata-pata-pata,” she said as she tapped her hand on the table, “pon!”

Okay, I thought, this is going nowhere. I smiled, and put on the provided headphones, and that’s when it all made sense. On the screen, the black and white spear holding critters danced about, and just like the Sony booth girl, they sang.

“Pata-pata-pata-pon! Pata-pata-pata-pon!”
I pressed the square button to see what would happen. On the left side of the screen the word “Pata” appeared, accompanied by audio of a bongo hit. I pressed the triangle button; this time, “Pon” appeared on the right side of the screen, and this time a different bongo sounded. And that’s when it clicked. Square, square, square, triangle — pata, pata, pata, pon.

Successfully following the correct button sequences and rhythm made my crew of creatures move to the right. I tapped the sequence over and over again, each time building a combo. Failure to keep with the rhythm and sequence would cause the creatures to stop, and my combo would reset. In this one stage, I was chased by some sort of dragon who blew fire at my creatures; if I missed a sequence, the dragon would catch up to my group and torch them with his stinky dragon breath. I’d move on in this fashion until I reached the goal. Pata-pata-pata-pon.

The next stage introduced a new sequence — pon, pon, pata, pon (triangle, triangle, square, triangle). When completed, the little monsters would raise their weapons and toss spears. Using a combination of my movement and spear rhythmic presses, I chased warthogs from the left side of the screen to the right, nailing in their behinds as I moved along.

Repetitive and simple, Patapon was surprisingly fun. The incessant chanting of the creatures followed by your own bongo playing to make them move is hypnotic. The style and animation of the creatures and environments is unique like few titles are; it’s hard to keep your eyes off of the screen as you pata-pata-pata-pon your little soldiers to their eventual goal.

If later levels can incorporate more complicated and varied combinations of button presses to perform different actions, it shouldn’t be a problem finding gamers willing to take down the big, bad shadowy crab of doom.

Nick Chester