NA: May 5 2009
EU: March 6 2009
This strange little rhythm game has a lot to offer, refusing to limit itself to a simple “match the beat to win” sidescroller.
I won’t lie: when I first played Patapon 2, I really hated it. Not only did it throw me off with how precise your button presses needed to be, it seemed like you needed to bring just the right loadout to even make it halfway through the game. As I got more and more familiar with it though, things started to open up.
The game has a fairly simple premise and delivers on it well. You have to press buttons that correspond with songs you’ve learned to make your army of Patapons move, attack, defend, or summon the gods. You move on a flat plane from left to right so it is a sidescroller but it’s definitely not a platformer. Instead, it delivers a really engaging–if sometimes frustrating–strategic experience.
What makes it even more like oldschool strategy games is the way you grow your army. You collect materials that are dropped by the enemies you defeat and use them to “craft” new types of Patapons or upgrade your existing ones. The class tree where you choose how to evolve each Patapon (yes, you are managing each unit individually) is failry large, offering over 15 different classes, some unlockable Patapon types, and of course the ability to level up each one of these classes.
Another great thing about the class system is that, before each battle, you can choose which class each individual Patapon will be for that level. This means you can have a huge assortment of different archer Patapon, or maybe loadout with a completely fire-resistant goon squad to head up your marauder’s pack. Add that to the fact that you can find and equip armor and weapons to each individual unit and you’ve got a whole hell of a lot of customization at your fingertips.
“I got so used to the bonus of being in Fever mode that, when I lost it at critical moments, I was basically doomed. My army would almost immediately be worthless.”
This game is hard. It isn’t just that you really need to start thinking about how you’re going to approach the next level (you’ll be playing levels over and over again, trust me), but the rhythm gameplay is no walk in the park. I played through about four hours of it thinking I was the shit, blazing through baddies and beasties like nobody’s business, then I tried the multiplayer mode.
For some reason I was struggling fiercely with getting combos in the multiplayer mode (I was playing with CPUs though, so at least I was spared that shame). Multiplayer just seemed to be exponentially harder than the campaign. I was ready to chalk it up to a poorly balanced development issue when I decided to look up whether or not others had had this same issue. What I learned was a little depressing.
The game was automatically set to easy mode and multiplayer mode is always played in normal mode. So, naturally, I switched the campaign to normal mode and found myself instantly floundering. The game definitely doesn’t make it easy for you. I found myself tapping my foot to the beat just to keep going, much less make perfect combos.
Which brings me to my next point: the importance the game places on getting a continuous streak of successful commands. If you enter the commands properly five times in a row, you’ll enter “Fever” mode, upping your army’s stats exponentially. Normally, especially during the hunting/gathering levels, staying in Fever mode wasn’t much of a bonus or loss; I could easily pause and build up my combos again before going forward. When you’re in the middle of a giant boss battle–of which there are many–and you lose your streak because your dog licks your hand or the doorbell rings, shit hits the fan pretty fast.
I got so used to the bonus of being in Fever mode that, when I lost it at critical moments, I was basically doomed. My army would almost immediately be worthless, their attacks going back down to base values and their defenses basically disappearing entirely. To add insult to injury, you have to wait five turns before you can even really start attacking again for fear of getting too damaged by defending enemies.
The game’s presentation is great. The Patapons are cute as hell and always have something quirky to say, whether it’s positive or even derogatory to say. They’re always on your side but if you try to make them do something that doesn’t make sense, like attack dead air, you’re definitely in store for some sarcastic quips.
The art style is equally quaint and has a distinct feel that carries through the whole game. Characters are typically black with a tinge of colour to identify them with. Monsters and baddies alike are cartoonish and silly but manage to take on a life of their own when they start decimating your forces. You’ll soon learn to hate the jagged orange hats and spotted backs of the enemies in this game, but at least it’s a treat for the eye!
The campaign is quite long in Patapon 2 but if you get tired of losing to the same giant spider over and over again, there are a number of mini-games you can play to gather crafting items from the main screen. You can guide a giant bell through some dance steps in a Guitar Hero-esque mini-game or maybe play some Simon Says with a tree that shakes loose meat and bones from its limbs (that’s kind of suspicious, now that I think about it).
The mini-games were a happy surprise in this game, especially since you only unlock them as you complete story missions and the game doesn’t necessarily alert you to the fact that they’ve been unlocked. I only stumbled upon them by accident when I put my Vita down on the table and the shoulder buttons were pushed serendipitously, panning the camera onto a new area of the main menu.
“I had a really hard time collecting stuff without getting extremely bored.”
Just as the mini-games don’t really make an inkling of sense, the storyline is pretty weak. Frankly, after all the trying and re-trying of levels, fighting off random enemies and going back to replay some levels in order to find some rare material I needed, I completely forgot what the hell it was that I was doing. I recognize that games like this don’t typically require or even benefit from a good story, but I was hoping the RPG elements were a hint that there might be some good story hiding here. Nope.
On the topic of collecting materials: I had a really hard time collecting stuff without getting extremely bored. There were a lot of basic items that were required in order to level up my Patapons and I just could not get enough to really max out any one unit. It isn’t necessarily required to max out anyone in order to beat the game, but I always like to farm a bit before I fight a boss and that proved to be pretty difficult.
Even with the mini-games, the materials were hard to find and even harder to find in the correct grouping. In order to upgrade Patapons, you needed different types of materials in varying quantities so even if you had fifty iron stones, you still needed that one fang in order to level up your favourite cavalry.
Still, on the whole this game was very satisfying. If you’re terrible at rhythm games like I am, it might not be the first one to try, but once you get into it and find your inner rhythm, you’ll be humming the tunes to yourself all day.
+ MAJOR: extremely complex RPG elements
+ MINOR: rhythm elements are challenging but rewarding
+ MINOR: art and writing are playful and funny
– MAJOR: takes forever to gather materials and level up
– MAJOR: rhythm section relies a bit too heavily on combos
– MINOR: story is weak and forgettable
Flipped Stomach is Mikael Raheem. He writes a lot of stuff, from fiction to game reviews to feature articles to bathroom stall phone numbers. You can find more of his work at flippedstomach.com or follow him on twitter: @flippedstomach.