Fashionably Late Review
Patapon 3

By Jorge Figueiredo - July 3rd, 2011

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The Patapon series for the Playstation Portable is easily at the top of the list of my favourite handheld titles. With addictive game-play, simple-yet-effective visuals, a great “score” and an unapologetic view of level-grinding (and loot collecting) – what’s not to love? Part rhythm game and part RPG, Patapon 3 is no different from its predecessors in how it makes the player feel, even if a good deal of the game has changed.

For the uninitiated: Patapon places you in the role of a mighty deity (or Uber-Hero in Patapon 3) that helps the cute-yet-deadly Patapon march along and deal out holy destruction with the four action buttons of your PSP. Each button sounds a different drum (PATA, PON, DON, CHAKA); you play four-beat rhythms and your Patapon followers will do what you ask in the four beats following your pattern – provided you actually pound out a rhythm that is an actual command (instead of random nonsense). You trundle along defeating enemies, gaining experience and collecting treasure, which sounds a lot more boring than the game series actually is. Each title in the Patapon legacy comes with a rich story that unfolds as you complete missions. Truth be told, if you have any rhythm in your body at all, you will become incredibly addicted.

From a visual perspective, Patapon 3 is just as stunning as the previous games in the series. The Patapon themselves are sharply-defined dark silhouettes; strong foreground colour patterns let you know at-a-glance which classes make up your Patapon raiding party. Monsters are equally interesting, and resemble two-dimensional puppets in many ways (until they start firing lasers of blowing flames at you). These strongly-presented characters are placed against a very colourful and detailed background that can change on a dime depending on the weather. It’s all very cool.

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Your headquarters, which is located in a cave, can be customized.

Even though the visuals are awesome, it’s the audio that’s the real star of this show. In any Patapon game, the game-play is so closely tied to the audio that one really has to mention them in the same breath. Each level has its own song that you use as a guideline to play along with: the better you play, the better your Patapon cohorts perform. For instance, FEVER mode is where it’s at; it’s when your Patapon do the most damage (including some devastating attacks from your hero when you hit the right combination of drums); also, it is only during full-on FEVER when you can summon other spirits to help you out (they can revive your party, increase your attack power, and much more).

One of the first bits that an experienced Pata-player will notice is the lack of an army. Indeed, since your army (reference to iterations past) has been turned to stone, the only hope for the future of your tribe is you, a Patapon Hero (one of three root classes: spear, bow, sword), and a handful of warriors. Each of these four characters can be any number of designated classes (which are leveled-up separately) with a fair number of passive and active abilities that are unlocked as you gain levels with the experience point system. It is a daunting task to wrap one’s head around how it all works, even if you are a well-versed Patapon guru.

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The most intimidating thing in this game is no monster; it’s the stats screens.

Indeed, one of the most frustrating parts of the game is the lack of direction when it comes to progressing. Leveling-up involves a bit of guesswork and luck; also, I have yet to really figure out how the skill trees work (in terms of actually unlocking skills)- from what I have gathered, some skills are unlocked only when you are a certain class; once unlocked, you can use some of these skills in other classes. Item creation can be just as confusing, as the old mini-games have been done away with and replaced with a simple pay-as-you-go system. Most items can be upgraded except (it seems) for the unique items. Also, you can declare a certain type of item as a type of super-specialized item (“arch item”), allowing you to level it up past the normal maximum that the blacksmith allows. So, for instance, you can declare shields to be the type of item that can be designated as “arch”; leveling these past the maximum allows you to give them names (their appearance also changes).

Another frustrating thing is that you can have a really powerful hero and a great party with useful equipment; but you may still lose and never figure out the reason why. Luckily, many of these types of scenarios are the “secondary” missions that are unlocked by completing missions in the main storyline, so they are not really that important. However, these are the missions that really allow you to pick up some great treasure and experience.

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The monsters you fight in Patapon 3 really stand out.

I have spent a few paragraphs detailing some of the flaws; by no means does this really make me dislike this game at all. In fact, working past these hiccups made me love the game even more. Once you get the hang of everything that -admittedly- takes away from your enjoyment at the beginning, you will find a really engrossing experience rich with possibility. It may sound cheesy, but even my previous sentence may be an understatement.

First of all, nothing really beats the feeling of getting everything right in a mission. Eventually, everything becomes intuitive: you learn which classes will benefit you in which missions; you figure out the patterns of the monsters you are fighting; you discover how to pick and choose your goals so that you can maximize your Patapon’s abilities; it’s euphoric. All of this is enhanced even further by the power of multi-player. Yes, that’s right: multi-player has come to Patapon.

Using an ad-hoc local connection or a connection through the internet, you can build tribes and play co-operatively or competitively. This all goes towards your Patapon Uber-Hero’s experience and your armoury (you get to keep the items when you win levels in multi-player). I was a bit late off the mark when it came to attaining Patapon 3*, so let me tell you, I was pretty surprised when I joined my first co-op mission with people that were thirty levels above me! I ended up dying a number of times, but they kept me going and I “went home” with some pretty spectacular weapons.

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Dungeons will prevent your Uber-Hero from coming back unless you have a Summon handy. Right to left? Egads!

When you play through the single-player campaign, you will also unlock some levels that can only be done with other Heroes (ie: multi-player). I made the mistake of trying one of these as a single player with my CPU companions and promptly got my rear-end handed to me on a silver platter (which the monster yanked back when I thought about taking it). Having some friends to help you out of these tough situations is definitely something to be appreciated. If you’re feeling frisky and powerful, you can turn on the multi-player mode and try to tackle them solo; sometimes, with the right items equipped, you can get away with it.

Other little touches are very much appreciated as well, such as the command list pasted to the bottom of the screen, or the pause command (PATA PON PATA PON), which allows you to fully pause the game and resume with a four-beat buffer (pausing it via the PSP button robs you of this time to recollect your senses). Granted, you have to work for some of the perks, but once you unlock them they are very handy. One such perk is how the Summon works: instead of playing a beat-matching mini-game, you actually just improvise a rhythm. The closer you are to staying with the beat, the better your bonuses!

As a long-time fan of the Patapon series, I really love this latest version. Once I conquered the steep learning curve (or most of it), I found myself engaged in a full-featured and addictive game that I will return to again and again. With multiple heroes to choose from, a complex abilities tree, multiple-multiple classes to play with and the multi-player element, this game will surely be my go-to game on public transit, as well as when I’m near a decent WiFi connection.

* – The PSN was down.

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