Patapon 2 Review
Since I started writing game reviews and guides about three years ago (THREE YEARS?! Time must fly when you're… working… wait…), I've given out a single, solitary perfect score. Killzone 2 and Wario Land: Shake It!!! both came close, but in retrospect, I'm glad I didn't give either game the honor. Killzone 2 featured a fantastic single player campaign that was unfortunately overshadowed by a much deeper online multiplayer component. Wario Land: Shake It!!! had zero replay value after the stages were beaten and all the treasure was collected. My single (so far) perfect 100/100 went to Sony's portable masterpiece Patapon. If you missed the game, shame on you. It was a bizarre, endlessly playable mash-up of the side scrolling, the rhythm and the real-time strategy genres that, even at its bargain basement price of a mere $20, steamrolled nearly every other game released that year (2008) in terms of gameplay, replay, fun, innovation, concept… everything; Patapon was truly a game that deserved the highest honor a game reviewer could give - the elusive perfect score.
Now, a year and change later, Patapon 2, the sequel to one of the best games I've had the distinct pleasure of playing in my 25+ years of being wrapped up in this hobby, is finally upon us. Even though the game officially comes out on May 5, being a reviewer has its perks; I was treated to an early copy. From the very second it was in my hands (sort of… we'll get to that later), I was completely captivated. The original Patapon hit the gaming world like a meteor, shaking even the most jaded of gamers to their core with what amounted to a redefinition of what a great game could and should be. Now, a year later, Patapon 2 lovingly recreates all of the original's charm and wonder, and adds enough material to push the story and gameplay forward. If Patapon reframed the boundaries of our beloved hobby/obsession, then Patapon 2 will probably be remembered as a blueprint and new gold standard on what every game's sequel should be - a retention of the original concept and gameplay, with enough new and different ideas to make the still-fresh concept even better. And guess what? You're reading the review that grants my second perfect 100/100 ever.
Since this is a sequel (and since you SHOULD have played the first already), I'll only spend a few minutes explaining the story and gameplay. If you want a deeper look at the game's basic elements, you can find my review of the first Patapon (HERE). Patapon 2 finds the Patapon army aboard a ship, heading for the promised land of Earthend. Along the way, the ship is destroyed and the little civilization seems to be lost forever. Luckily, one Patapon survives and is washed up on a beach. Disheartened by the broken promise of paradise, the little guy still looks to you, Kami (Japanese for "god"), for guidance. Using your drumbeats, you resurrect your small army and begin the push toward a new era for the Patapon. It's a pretty simple concept but in this case, the thin story fits and works well with the game's music and visuals. Don't let that fool you, though; the game takes on a radically different slant after the first little bit, and it's more than worth the wait to see another layer added onto what made the first game's struggle so entertaining
Now let's go over the gameplay, again, just in case you didn't play the original. Basically, the four face buttons on the PSP function as four different drum sounds. By tapping them in time with the music and the Patapon's chants, you move your ever-growing army of warriors across all kinds of terrain. By tapping the four buttons in certain patterns, you give your army different commands; square, square, square, circle (Pata, pata, pata, pon) orders your army to move forward, while circle, circle, square, circle orders them to attack. If button combos were the whole game, Patapon would be a boring one indeed. What makes it fun and interesting is that you never really stop the drumbeat. All the commands you give flow seamlessly together, creating a mesmerizing soundtrack on each and every level. Better yet is the concept of Fever - Patapons gain power, speed, or whatever if you enter enough beats consecutively without messing up - and the necessity of its use. This gives the player a boost for performing well, while also making it clear that the boost is needed. If you expect to win, you'll need to keep the beat - especially in the jaw-dropping fights against the bigger-than-life boss monsters. And even if you only spend a few hours here and there with either Patapon game, those little chants will start sneaking into your subconscious; I've caught myself repeating them in the car, at work… its weird, but that kind of immersion and memorability are both the hallmarks of a truly fantastic game in my book.
One of the most interesting aspects of the gameplay is hunting and, in turn, building new units. You can put your army through stages as many times as you like, killing wildlife and collecting the items they drop. Between levels, you use those items in different combinations to create new units (warriors, recon units, long range fighters, mounted units, etc.), giving the game a refreshing and deep real time strategy slant. The army construction was what gave the first game legs; I spent no less than 100 hours hunting, building and constructing an unstoppable fighting force comprised of interchangeable squads of soldiers for every situation. With that out there, I can say that from the very second I started Patapon 2, I knew it would be great; the game gives you the ability to import all your hard-earned items from the first game if the save is present on your PSP memory stick. Some might think that will make the sequel too easy, but they'd be wrong. Even if you are completely maxed out on items, you'll only have a slight advantage, and it won't be long before you start to realize that your old stuff is a help, but having it isn't going to make the game a cakewalk either.