After hearing about the Patapon series over the past few years, I’ve always been intrigued to try it, largely due to my love for music rhythm games and the distinct art style of this quirky series.
Now, 10 years since the original title was first released on the PSP in Japan (followed by two sequels in 2008 and 2011) Patapon is back. Although in remastered form on the PS4. But how has this ten year old music rhythm/strategy game aged? Unfortunately, not well.
For its time, it was a hit largely due to the developers obviously trying something unique in combining the music rhythm, strategy and niche god genres. Along with its sharp artstyle, it certainly has a unique appeal. Although I found the aesthetic, aiming for quirky and charming, came off more quirky and shallow.
The story follows the Patapon people, who require you their drum god, to drum them to victory and take back the land they once ruled. Coming from Japanese developers, it doesn’t surprise me just how odd it all is, with the people you lead having a native american tribe vibe. As the Patapon’s camp is adorned with various ritual areas, mythical creatures and mini games to be played for bonuses.
You’ll be leading your various units of Patapon, who you discover during adventures, into battle where you keep the beat with simple button combos. It is surprisingly slow for a music rhythm game, which comes from the strategy side and need to change formations, in a march, attack, defend, attack etc strategies to overcome enemies.
As you play through missions you’ll collect new equipment and items to create new units or upgrade your current ones with better gear. With various stats to look over before each mission and the ability to change the formation of your squads, lending heavily to the strategy side of Patapon.
The gameplay feels very much a product of its time and for the platform it was developed for. Released on the PlayStation Portable, the gameplay is enjoyed best in short bursts, and would be ideal now on your phone to keep you busy on your commutes to work. However, as a home console experience, it feels rather lacking.
You’d think a music rhythm with strategic elements would be engaging to its core. But to my disappointment, it can be rather dull. There were even moments when I started to daydream or doze off due to the repetition of the gameplay and lacklustre musical score.
Although it does slowly add more strategies and mechanics as you progress through the dozens of levels on offer, but overall it just isn’t much fun. It just becomes more messy. Which partly comes from what often feels like inconsistent mechanics. Despite practicing missions over and over, the gameplay never felt natural and more importantly I never got into or enjoyed the music oriented elements.
It didn’t help that the mechanics and systems at play were explained in what seemed like the bare minimum. Leading to me to having to read over the digital manual multiple times, attempting to better grasp what should have been explained better in the actual game itself.
There are mini games to be completed back at the home camp in an effort to break up the gameplay. These brief silly moments added to the strange aesthetic of Patapon, which although weren’t always the most interesting or charming, could be cute at times.
Another element in Patapon which is a unfortunate symptom of its time, is that there is no auto save. A feature which is simply a given, if often not the only option in many games nowadays. Which, unfortunately led me to making the mistake of not saving once before quitting, leading to me having to replay several missions. Which weren’t any more entertaining the second time around. This is 100% on me, but gave me a greater appreciation for auto saving, which we take for granted so much in modern games.
Thankfully, the environments change frequently with some beautiful backgrounds and art to vary up the feel of the game. Although the stages could quickly become messy with the mix of backgrounds, your units, enemies and the various music UI elements clogging up the screen.
The worst part though, is that the soundtrack is incredibly forgettable. My favourite music rhythm games have me coming back again and again to play the same level or track because the music is so damn good. Which is how it should be. But in Patapon, the music feels like more of a by-product of the theme and style rather than the stand out component, which is a major misstep. Especially considering the strategy gameplay leaves a lot to be desired.
I don't know if my expectations were too high, but due to a unforgettable soundtrack, lacklustre strategy mechanics and largely boring gameplay, Patapon is an interesting concept, which couldn't decide whether to focus on the music or strategy elements and ended up in an awkward and messy middle ground.