Review / Patapon 3 (PSP)

I thought I had Patapon 3 figured out right from the start; I thought I had this review in the bag before I’d even popped in the UMD. In fact I was so confident in my view I even wrote the first 200 or so words just a few hours into the game. I was going to tell you about how Patapon 3 is simply too confusing, too much of an actual game instead of an addicting app-style fix.

Then I realised that I was still playing, and wanted to keep playing. By about the 10 hour mark I’d deleted those original opening paragraphs and, well, here we are. And that’s because Patapon 3 is taking that small app style approach and then building on it. Think Angry Birds with RPG elements or Cut the Rope with an equipment system (although I’m not quite sure how either of those would work), and you’ve got a good idea of what this gem can offer.

Gameplay in this second sequel remains virtually untouched; you strike up an annoyingly catchy drum beat to issue orders to a small bunch of (surprisingly bloody thirsty) creatures named Patapon. You’ll take these cute little buggers to war with rival tribes and huge monsters, all the time chirping “Pata-pata-patapon!” as spears are chucked and shields are raised.

It’s the context in which you play that’s changed the most. No longer do you control a sprawling army of Patapon, rather a squad of four led by your hero. Each tiny warrior has his own class, wielding a spear, sword, bow and arrow, or sceptre, all of which can grow into bigger and better weapons and classes as you level up.

Sounds a little complex, dunnit? That was my initial fear with and to some extent it is a problem. It does take time and effort to get a grip of everything, especially for newer players. The game doesn’t do all that great a job of explaining the ins and outs, rather leaving you to discover where you can dismantle kit for extra cash or level up your weapons. Once it’s all under your belt you’re ready to dive into an ocean-deep game, but it’s that initial learning curve that’s bound to put some off.

The campaign takes another twist in the form of co-op. You can tackle every mission with up to three other players, each taking their own heroes into battle. It’s always been a bit of a struggle to get PSP games up and running online; Sony’s PSN wasn’t even implemented into the device until about halfway through its life and you may recall a fair few problems with the service this weekend. If you do manage to find a game though (which I thankfully did just before last Wednesday’s PSNageddon) then there’s a tonne of fun to be had with others.

Co-op does a great job of mixing up the gameplay that’s become a little too familiar as the series has gone on. There’s a huge amount of customisation to be had but it still boils down to the same drum-beating gameplay that we’ve seen for three games now.

Despite repetition rearing its ugly head, gameplay remains fun, addicting and charming. No game delivers quite the level of odd satisfaction that Patapon can provide when you hit your stride, dishing out orders, bobbing your head along with the beat and crying “Spank dem bottoms!” in unison with your fellow combatants.

The striking art style helps evoke the sense of fun that’s lost in many of today’s games. Again, nothing’s changed visually in this latest entry, but it’s still pleasing to look at. The small groups of one-eyed Patapons are as cute as they are deadly, and the monsters they face aren’t short on imagination.

Familiar sounds of battle cries and drum beats also return to entertain your ears. A lot of games are visually arresting, but Patapon is one of the few that uses music to steal the show.

The funny thing about Patapon 3 is that while us hardcore gamer types claim that too many of today’s shooters and RPGs are being “dumbed down”, here’s a game that could really benefit from being streamlined. Without the early learning curve and difficulties of PSP connectivity Patapon 3 could really be a hit.

It strikes me that Sony’s NGP could provide the tools for a perfect evolution of the franchise with its 3G connectivity and touchscreen, but for now this serves as a fitting swan song for one of PSP’s more unique and all round best franchises.

+ Gameplay remains addicting, fun and charming
+ The sounds of Patapon 3 are virtually unmatched on PSP
+ Co-op adds a fresh take on gameplay

– Single-player can still prove repetitive at times
– Learning curves and PSP connectivity issues stand in its way
– Not much in the way of significant changes