Patapon 3 Review
Game critics love Patapon. I gave perfect 100s to the first two games in the series, as did a decent number of other, more widely-read reviewers. When those first two PSP classics came out, Guitar Hero had rhythm games at the top of everyones’ lists, and this new strategic action game rode the music game wave by using drum beats to issue commands to an ever-growing army of little black eyeballs with varying skills. Building your army was fun and fresh, and the drum beat-only control scheme was just different enough that it made even the most jaded reviewer feel like he was playing something truly “new.” With probably 400 or so hours invested across both Patapon games, I was ready for a sequel about a year ago. But now that Patapon 3 is here, can it maintain the charm and style of the original while making enough big changes to keep vets coming back?
Well, I came back, as I’m sure others will, but there is something fundamentally different about Patapon 3. The all ruling Kami – you – is gone, and the remaining Patapon forces are lead by some sort of Uberpatapon, who has special masks and powers and even keeps the beat. And the remaining forces are small; the flag carrying guy and three other warriors whose weapons, classes and powers are all upgradable and useful in their own ways. You counted it right – that means you have a mere five Patapon with which to march to victory. The part of me that got pure gaming bliss from smashing other armies with waves upon waves of Pata-warriors goes unsatisfied with Patapon 3, but that doesn’t mean I love the new game any less.
In place of the legions in previous games, these “Iron Five” can do everything you’ll need task them with. At first, you’ll have your Hero, a swordsman, a spear guy and your requisite bow and arrow, in addition to the ineffective flag carrier. As you gain levels through battling foes, you can change the class of each of the warriors, building special skills as you go. Before you’ve completed a dozen missions, you’ll have a Hero with a swinging mace special attack, a “blob” combatant with some heft and knockback powers, a steed-bound attacker, even a Patapon with a fire Tuba of death (seriously). The combos only continue to build as you move on and win (or even lose; you get experience no matter what), allowing you to build smaller, yet just as specialized teams of Patapon forces.
And the warriors themselves aren’t the end of the customization. You’ll be gathering, building, dismantling and rebuilding new weapons and armor between nearly every foray out into the battlefield. You’ll get little explanation of the process or why you’ll need it, but after a few frustrating “What the hell am I do wrong?!” moments, it will crystallize. I was worried that with such a small force the weapon/armor choices would be scaled back as well. My worries were unfounded, as the deep amount of customization remains, though not all of it makes sense. A tree made of pure fire didn’t seem to take any more or less damage from water or ice weapons, for example. Either way, if you liked fiddling with your teams in past Patapon games, you’ll be able to jump right back into it for this sequel.
Another major improvement is that now all the commands are ALWAYS displayed at the bottom of the screen. You can turn the feature off, but it is a huge help when you’ve forgotten a beat or are interested in a new one. And speaking of new ones, there are a few; the best of all is a simple four-tap beat that will PAUSE THE GAME. You read it here, folks; you can finally pause in a Patapon game. As a portable game, this should have been a part of the series since day one. Strangely enough, though, since I was so used to not having the option, I rarely used it. Weird.
The most highly celebrated aspect of this sequel is the multiplayer, which includes both head-to-head and co-op modes. The head to head mode plays a lot like king of the mountain, with a stretch of territory and two opposing armies attempting to bust through each others’ lines. These skirmishes are fun in the single player modes, but I found that in multiplayer, teams were either too closely matched or to far skewed in their techniques and classes. This meant nearly every match was a stalemate or obliterative victory, but never really much fun. The co-op was a little better, but thankfully, unlike Monster Hunter or Lord of Arcana, you can make it through the whole game without ever needing a partner. After a multiplayer co-op mission or two, it was right back to single player for me. Patapon 3 reminds me a lot of Bioshock 2, Dead Space 2 and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes in that it is, by definition, a single player game with a multiplayer segment crammed in to satiate those who simply can’t enjoy a video game on their own. It’s a shame, really.
Patapon 3 is a great game, no question. The formula that has worked since the very beginning is just as entertaining now as it was two games ago. But not all the additions are good ones. The ability to pause is as amazing as the clouds parting and having God tell you that you are, indeed, his favorite son, but both multiplayer modes have a tacked on feel and aren’t all that much fun. This is still Patapon at its best, but it doesn’t measure up to the first two. Regardless, don’t expect me to play much else besides this game for quite some time.
Final Rating: 95%.