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Monday, December 8, 2008

Patapon sucks

Looking over games that were sitting on my shelf, I noticed Patapon up there. It had been a long time since I played it, so I thought I would try to get back into it. But now I know why it was sitting on my shelf for so long.

Patapon is a really brilliant looking/sounding game, with an innovative gameplay mechanic-- it's both a rhythm and a real-time-strategy game. All that gets RUINED by the demand of the game for absolute machine-like precision in tapping out the drum beats.

You control these little black eyeball soldiers called Patapons, by beating drum commands in a series of 4 drum beats. To command the army to move, you beat the pata drum, [] button, and the pon drum, o button. So move is [], [], [], o. Attack is o, [], [], o. Unlike most rhythm games, there's no symbols flying down the screen telling you what to press & when to press them; you issue whatever commands you have unlocked, and it's up to you to stay on the beat.

The RTS factor comes in when you're fighting enemies, you have to plan what set of beats you're going to follow up with depending on what they're doing. If they're about to attack, you want to be sure to tap out a defend command to anticipate it. This gametrailers footage shows how your drum beats show up on screen after you tap them:

Where the game falls apart is that it's REALLY, REALLY hard to "stay on the beat", according to the games strict parameters. You could be tapping along, counting time, and suddenly it decides you messed up. You often need to tap a certain number of combos to get a FEVER mode, but it's nearly impossible to keep that up. So what happens is you fail missions over & over, until you can master the machine-like precision needed to have a chance to pass it. But then add to that you need to have planned your battle carefully, attacking & defending at the right places. One missed command can cost the entire mission, and you'll have wasted the last 10 minutes of your life. Those last 10 minutes where you had to get EVERY set of 4 beats right. Sounds like fun, doesn't it.

Patapon should be one of the shining jewels of the PSP library, it's one of the most innovative games to have come out in 2008. Instead, I feel ashamed of it, even though I had nothing to do with its creation. I feel ashamed because it's such a beautiful looking and sounding game, and the core mechanics are sound. But because it's so rigidly anal, it sucks all the fun right out of it. People who are interested in the top games of the PSP library will be told to look at Patapon, but it's so flawed it's an embarrassment. I feel like they're getting suckered if they're told it's a "must buy".



Matt Coatney said...

I had a PSP blog at one point and made the mistake of making similar comments about Patapon. I wasn't as polite as your post. I laid into pro critics and gamers alike who seem more concerned with the asthetics of a game than the gameplay and are happy to play a piece of crap as long as it looks good. But telling people its a must buy is ridiculous. But then... I had the same reaction to Daxter.

Don said...

I was pretty disappointed with Daxter myself... I can't see why everyone likes it so much. because of the fisheye-lense distortion when you turned, it really bugged me. I've been meaning to give it another try, but we'll see.

You had a PSP blog? I think we need more PSP blogs out there, I honestly haven't come across very many.


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