When I originally reviewed Patapon on the PSP nearly two years ago, I instantly fell in love with its intriguing mix of rhythm and real time strategy. Leading these little one-eyed cuties into battle against dragons, giant crabs, ancient statues, and the evil zigoton forces was a sheer joy the first time around, and I was enamoured from catchy beginning to toe-tapping end.
Therefore, it's with great enthusiasm and a touch of trepidation that I announce that Sony has taken a "if it ain't broke…" approach to the new sequel, released exclusively through the PlayStation Network.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of the game proper, it becomes really important to tell you that the game is not available on UMD whatsoever. If you see the game case in the store, it contains only a download voucher for the game itself. Unfortunately, there's a few kinks that need to be worked out for a truly seamless download experience.
I entered my review code into the PlayStation Network on my PlayStation 3, and the 360 meg file downloaded promptly onto my PS3's hard drive. I copied the game to my PSP's memory stick with nary a hitch, but once the file was on the PSP, some problems started to arise. The game requires a firmware update to version 5.51, and Sony didn't see fit to include the update file within the download. Unfortunately, my PSP doesn't like my wireless network at home, rendering the game unplayable. It wasn't until I toted my PSP over to the nearest coffee shop that I was able to download the update file and apply it to my firmware. You probably won't encounter all the same problems that I did getting the game up and running, but it's worth mentioning nonetheless.
If you haven't played the original, it may be a good idea to do so before you take on this one. The level to level gameplay is nearly identical, and Patapon 2 actually lets you import your original save file and bring over all your ka-ching (Patapon's currency) and items to your new game. Also, the story picks up right where the original left off. Without spoiling anything, lets just say that the Patapon's journey didn't end off as expected, and they are forced to take on a new and frightening enemy, one that may even mean teaming up with old foes to fight.
If you haven't played Patapon before, the gameplay is deceptively simple, with layers and layers of depth and strategy that reveal themselves after hours of dedicated play. The game places you in the role of an omnipotent deity that commands an army of adorable one eyed swordsmen, archers, cavalry, barbarians, among others.
The game takes place on a two dimensional plane, with your army moving in from the left, and your enemy on the right. Commands are issued not through menus, but through music. Each face button on the PSP corresponds to a different drum beat. To issue commands, you must press a specific combination of beats in 4-4 time. For example, pressing square-square-square-circle translates to Pata-Pata-Pata-Pon, which the Patapons understand as an advance command. It sounds complex at first, but the game does a good job of easing your into the mechanics. With just a little practice you;ll be issuing commands with the precision of a four star general.
Every four beats you must issue a command. Get a few right in a row, and you'll enter fever mode, which increases your defense and attack strengths, and plays the game's entire track in full force. Also, while in fever mode, you'll be able to use magic spells that increase you defense, change the weather to your favour, and other neat little effects.
Keeping the beat can be quite the challenge, especially when playing the game on a bus or out in public. Patapon essentially requires a good set of headphones and a tight attention span. The slightest misstep will send you careening back to the start of the beat, leaving your Patapons weak and exposed. At least this time around the developers were thoughtful enough to include a warning signal if you're getting off the beat, and getting back to fever mode is easier in the sequel.
Missions are quite varied. One mission you may be taking on a mighty beast, another will have you storming a fort, and yet another will have you hunting game to feed your hungry patapon. It's a little annoying sometimes however, when the game is cryptic about what to do next, leaving you randomly grinding levels until you stumble upon your next objective. Speaking of grinding, if you expect to see Patapon 2 to its end credits, a fair bit of grinding will be required.
In between missions are loads of mini-games that are necessary to master in order to upgrade and level up your Patapons. These games have you cleaning up flowers, dancing with a tree, chopping ingredients for a living pot, and using a mountain's toes as drums. Yes, the Japanese influence is certainly strong in this title.
Once you have your items and money built up, Patapon 2 shows a whole new level of depth that was unseen in the previous game. This time around, you can upgrade your Patapons (Patapii?) through a skill tree that is not unlike those seen in Final Fantasy X or the Diablo series. The options for upgrading your Patapons are nigh endless, and significant upgrades can unlock new types of soldiers, or give you exciting powers that become essential towards the later stages of the game.
Making a triumphant return from the original game is the fantastic music, art style, and presentation. The game is gorgeously animated and the Patapons are shockingly expressive and lovable. The environments are simple, yet exquisitely detailed with lots of neat little touches throughout. Even the weather can completely change on the fly. The new foes and bosses are also outstandingly designed and add a lot of personality to the proceedings.
In terms of audio, the Patapon series would not be nearly as addictive or fun to play if the music wasn't great, and fortunately Patapon 2 shines just as brightly as its predecessor. While none of these tracks will have you dashing to your iPod to listen to when not playing the game, all the songs are catchy and have that indefinable ability to get stuck in your head for days on end. Of course, how much you enjoy the music will also be in direct correlation to your skill. Also, the track that plays over the title screen in probably the greatest title screen track in the history of gaming, and that's not a statement I make lightly.
Sony likely could not have chosen a better showcase for the power of their strictly digital download service on the PlayStation Network. A few minor quibbles and frustrations aside, Patapon 2 is every bit the worthy successor to its superlative forefather. You should definitely Pata-Pata-Pata-Pon your way over to the PSN and download this little gem.