Patapon is what happens when you stab LocoRoco with a skewer, marinate it in 2D Samurai Jack art sauce, cover it in exotic PaRappa The Rappa spice, flame-broil it with essence of eyeball, and then while it’s hot, sprinkle grains of Katamari Damacy-style whimsy all over it. One “Chef’s Special”, coming right up! At first glance, the platter might make your dinner guests pause nervously, but they cried for something innovative and tasty, and well, you ran out of God of War: Head of Thompson.
[image1]No one knows for sure how Interlink cooked up Patapon (let alone LocoRoco). A real-time strategy RPG with rhythm-based inputs and tribal dancing eyeballs is not something you just conjure up without a healthy dose of inhalants. With what can only be diagnosed as a deep God complex coupled with a repressed desire to learn African dance, you play as a deity that speaks through a set of war drums. The Patapon themselves refer to you as ‘The Almighty’… finally, people who understand.
Like a true omnipotent god, you do not heed the call of your teary-eyed minions until they have been almost entirely massacred by the evil Pharaoh Zigaton army. (They must know their place.) Your monotheistic call to action is reclaiming the homeland of the Patapon while leading them to Earthend, the veritable promised land, which is said to hold an object called “IT”. Maybe it’s a jewel or a sandwich or a clone of Keanu Reeves that can actually act. In any case, searching for things with names in all capital letters is your life's ambition.
Restoring the Patapon to their former glory takes a keen eye, a sharp ear, and a steady hand. Your units only respond to well-timed hits in four-beat measures, such as the ever-sinister “move forward” command: “Pata-Pata-Pata-Pon!” You and your followers take hot-potato-like turns per measure with you inputting a command for four beats, them performing the action for four beats, you inputting another command for another four beats, and so on, until the end of the stage. A white rectangular box bordering the screen flashes at the beat to help you keep rhythm (and fall to the floor in an epileptic fit).
[image2]The crux of this innovative, light blend of genres is Fever mode, which turns your army of singing, frolicking soldiers into a frenzied war mob. If you can maintain the musical exchange with the Patapon long enough without skipping a beat, their attack and defense power will be bolstered far above any benefit that their armor and weapons will give them. Of course, every little bit helps - equipping units with steel caps and weapons instead of wooden ones can’t hurt. Also, giving rise to new underlings and resurrecting dead ones at the Mater of Life will keep your roving army at a healthy size.
As you order the Patapon to attack and defend, evoke powerful weather-changing miracle dances, overcome monstrous bosses, and go on hunts for food, resources, and monetary Ka-ching, you will come to care for the adorable little eyeballs. But be sure not to get too attached. Even if you’re able to keep up Fever mode for the entire game, your units will still die often.
Some stages, contrary to the vibrant environments and catchy nonsensical tunes, are surprisingly challenging, much more than those in LocoRoco. Thankfully, you can preemptively fail a mission and return to camp with all your units restored. If you need room for improved units, you can manually remove individual units to open up space, though the process to do so is confusing. "Select: Quit" in the equip menu apparently means killing off a unit. Oddly, you can't sacrifice the minion on a burning pike in exchange for godly powers or anything like that. Fried eyeball is a delicacy, after all.
[image3]Thoughts of dilated cannibalism aside, some of the core mechanics could have been crisper. The white rectangular box fades in and out, so it’s hard to tell whether you’re supposed to hit the drum when the box is at its brightest, or before or after it appears. This hit-or-miss system would be more reasonable if it weren’t for the crucial impact of Fever mode. Not only are combos easily lost after a miracle dance or after Fever Mode hits - both of which put the soundtrack slightly off-beat - but drumming commands with exact precision activates Fever mode even faster.
A treat that is as deliciously unique as Rez or Okami comes around once every few years. That one has appeared for the handheld and lasts well over thirty hours is a feat in itself, especially for a $20 budget title. Some of the missions can get monotonous as all you do is drum, and there’s no multiplayer or co-op play. Still, Patapon is like sitting down at an exotic, hole-in-the-wall restaurant and deciding to order an entrée that you can’t pronounce. Then finding it so delicious you end up going back every Saturday until the waiter, the chef, and the patrons roll their eyes and start throwing spears at you. But you don’t care. In fact, you wouldn't have it any other way.