Don't eat the brown acid.
Everyone wants to be a rock star. Fame, fortune, fans - these are a few of my favorite things. The dream of rock stardom burns brightly in the minds of countless aspiring musicians, from the 35 year old has-been to the 14 year old would-be.
It's also a well-known fact that rock stars have a penchant for burning...other things. Got a headache? Take a Quaalude. The bus broke down in Iowa? Here's a line, baby. Just plain bored? Nothing that a toke or two can't fix. Show me a clean rock star and I'll show you a breathalyzer.
In this sense, Um Jammer Lammy truly captures the essence of rock 'n roll. The sequel to the runaway hit Parappa the Rapper, Lammy demonstrates what a game developer can achieve with an already proven concept, a well-oiled Casio, and a few rips off the bong.
Um Jammer Lammy is the story of the all-girl band, MilkCan. This power trio is all set to play its first live gig. You take on the role of Lammy, the "guitar-slinging megastar" (which is impressive, considering they have never played a gig. Someone get me the number of their agent...). Lammy suffers from the all-too common megastar malady of tardiness, and it's your job to help ensure that she makes it to the gig on time.
Lammy follows the mold of Parappa to a tee. The game is essentially a video game version of the classic Simon. The computer plays a few notes, and then you have to pound out the same thing. Each press of the button corresponds to a guitar riff, which changes from line to line and from song to song.
Like Parappa, your performance leads to different rankings - Awful, Bad, Good, and Cool. If you're playing at the 'Cool' level, you'll have the chance to just play and improvise by yourself and rack up some big points. And unlike Parappa, you don't have to finish a level before getting a 'Cool' ranking.
The main game is the Solo journey of Lammy, which covers 7 stages. Each stage has a different song and teacher. Matching skills with the teacher is the only way to beat the level and further the story.
The story in Lammy, though, makes the plot of Parappa seem conservative. This has got to be the most obtuse, disjointed, drug-induced mess of a story that has ever been conceived, period. You'll receive bits of wisdom from Parappa alum Chop Chop Master Onion, including the Santana-influenced mantra, "My guitar is in my mind!" You'll put out a fire, then get accosted by a barfing Caterpillar. You'll fly a jumbo jet, then battle a guitar store owner wielding a chainsaw with the inscription, 'Bite Me.' You'll have a serious flashback and save the day by playing second fiddle to rock idol Teriyaki Yoko on a tropical island. And along the way, you'll see more tie-dye swirls than a Grateful Dead parking lot. I'm convinced that whomever created this plot did so in the midst of exploring the virtues of mescalin.
Whereas Parappa eased gamers into the concept of rhythmic button mashing, Lammy assumes you have mastered it. The first level is not nearly as simple as that in Parappa, and it just goes uphill from there. By the time you reach the third level, you'll be sweating like a horse and breaking out the Ouija board to summon the spirit of Buddy Rich to aid you in your timekeeping troubles.
The lack of any replay value led to the eventual demise of Parappa. Lammy fixes this by offering a slew of gameplay choices. Aside from the Solo game, you'll find several multi-player modes. These include Cooperative levels, which pit you and a friend against the computer, and Competitive levels, which allow you and a friend to engage in your own version of 'Dueling Banjos' (freaky inbred hick-child not included). Both Coop and Competitive modes can also be played alone, with the computer acting as your friend or enemy.
While certainly a worthy addition, the multi-player is limited by the nature of the game. The fact of the matter is that whoever owns the game will likely dominate the opposition, since most of the game requires extensive practice and memorization. Still, this adds much needed replay value and is a significant improvement over the incredibly brief Parappa.
One of the biggest improvements over Parappa is the rhythm engine. The system seems to allow for more improvisation, though it's far from perfect. You'll often play something that sounds terrific, but the computer will think it was bad, or vice versa. Unfortunately, this AI area will not likely be perfected any time soon, and all things considered it's handled rather nicely in Lammy.
Graphically, Lammy is nearly identical to Parappa. The weird, 3D pancake characters are back. The animation and cut-sequences are a bit more complex, but that's about it.
Much of Parappa's success can be attributed to the songs themselves; catchy one minute, absolutely unforgettable the next (Crack, Crack, Crack, the eggs into the bowl...). Lammy has a wide variety of song styles, including punk, funk, Satriani-esque guitar rock, rap, and heavy metal(!). However, none share the same catchy quality as the jams in Parappa. In fact, two of the songs (Teriyaki Yoko's ode and the barfing Caterpiller's punk nightmare) are as enjoyable as nails on a blackboard. The best song in the game is found in the ending credits. Go figure.
Um Jammer Lammy will not appeal to everyone. The fact is, Parappa already broke this ground, and simply switching a guitar for a microphone doesn't change much. The multi-player, however, certainly warrants more than a passing nod.
The bottom line? Um Jammer Lammy is certainly a cool game, if for no other reason than to entertain sufficiently inebriated party guests. It's easily the most insane mish-mash of psychadelia yet seen on a console, and at least deserves a shot (or the whole bottle, even). Artistically speaking, Lammy is a very complete vision, from the opening video to the amusing loading screens. Fans of Parappa should definitely buy it, though the rest of you may want to rent. Now please excuse me, while I kiss the sky...