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Patapon 2

For: PSP

Patapon echoed

Product: Patapon 2 | Developer: Pyramid | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe | Format: PSP | Genre: Adventure, Music/ Rhythm | Players: 1-4 | Networking: wireless (network) | Version: Europe
Patapon 2 PSP, thumbnail 1
They used to call it difficult second album syndrome, but with the music industry's fragmentation bands now just churn them out happy in the knowledge it will soon be time for their third and fourth efforts.

It's more difficult with games. They remain expensive to make, and for that reason the template popularised in the early days - a third the same, a third improved and a third new - remains firmly in place.

But back to the music analogy. If LocoRoco was Sony's wacky J-Pop breakout PSP hit, its cultural sibling Patapon was a critical underground dance success.

Journalists and the okatu loved it, but it didn't connect more widely. Still, unlike LocoRoco 2, which was unceremoniously booted into retail without comment pre-Christmas 2008, at least Patapon 2 won't be overwhelmed by festivities. It's Sony's first PSP release of 2009.

So what have the developers managed to do with the rhythm-based strategy game, populated as it is with one-eyed warriors, mad shadow puppet-style monsters, and luminescent backdrops? Frenchman Rolito supplies the art direction again, of course.

Well, they get the first third of the sequel equation exactly right. In fact, for the first 30 minutes of Patapon 2, you'd be forgiven for thinking a stoned shop assistant had given you the original game instead of the new one.

Once again, you guide your bounding, singing army of spear-wielding Patapon from the left of the screen to the right, using the same drum beat commands.

Your PSP's four face buttons are converted into four drums - 'pata', 'pon', 'chaka' and 'don' - and tapping out different sequences commands your army to march, attack, defend and so on.

Thankfully, additions do appear, such as bird rider, robot and magician units, but the hero character is the big change for the sequel.

These larger-than-average warriors head up different classes of Patapon and introduce special attacks to the battle as you collect their memories. Not only do you have to decide which type of footsoldier to send into battle, but you need to select the best hero too.

The hero also makes Patapon's basics more difficult in another way. The original game wasn't tricky, especially in terms of the timing of your rhythms.

Now, Fever mode (built up by performing a string of combos) has an extra hero setting, which requires you to hit four beats in a perfect sequence in order to pull off a special attack. Fail to do so and you'll still enter Fever mode, but your hero will only fight as a normal soldier.

Significantly, other additions don't take place within the game, but in between levels.

Adding depth to the levelling up system is the Evolution Tree, a complex-looking screen where you cash in collected spoils and Ka-ching (money) to evolve your warriors into fiercer fighting machines.

Options include attributes like Speed and Strength, as well as the ability to perform special attacks and build up resistance to special attacks.

However, while the increased level of strategy and options offered will be welcome to players who enjoy fine-tuning, it's not intuitive or an interesting place to spend large chunks of the game, which is what the gameplay demands.

Yet when it comes to Patapon 2's beat de resistance, the new multiplayer mode shines. By teaming up with up to three other players - and their hero characters - you can play through specially-made levels and fight boss characters together to gain rare material rewards. (You can also employ three AI-controlled heroes if your friends are elsewhere.)

There are seven rhythm-based mini-games too. These experiences are more shallow than the single player game, which is ideal as everyone can quickly hop into missions without faffing around.

Still, underlying your time spent with Patapon 2 is the feeling that the element of surprise and enchantment that the original game enjoyed is missing.

It's not that the game delivers a sub-standard experience. In fact, quite the opposite. As well as the hero features, more levels, levelling up options, and multiplayer mode, Patapon 2 has more detailed visuals, better tunes, and new units and bosses too.

But it sits somewhere between an upgrade and a sequel. It's as charming as before but banging out the same drum beats to defeat the same sorts of enemies begins to feel like a diminishing return after a while.

For that reason, if you haven't experienced the joys of Patapon, it really is time to get a copy of the original and find out what all the fuss is about. Otherwise Patapon 2 is best enjoyed by experienced and committed fans.

Sometimes, the original really is the best.
Patapon 2
Reviewer photo
Kath Brice | 6 March 2009
Patapon 2 improves on some areas of the classy rhythm-based strategy game, but the new levelling up system is overly complex
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