A god among Patapons

Pon, pon, pata pon. Pon, pon, pata pon. Pon, pon, pata pon. Sound familiar? If you’re a fan of Patapon, Sony’s quirky, rhythm-cum-real-time, strategy-action game, this beat will certain call up some memories.

Pon, pon, pata pon. Pon, pon, pata pon. Pon, pon, pata pon.

Sound familiar?

If you’re a fan of Patapon, Sony’s quirky, rhythm-cum-real-time, strategy-action game, this beat will certain call up some memories. If you remember, it’s a song for offense and rallying the troops, beaten on a Patapon drum of war.

The Patapon series is so named for the Patapons themselves—a tribe of cute, tiny cyclopean warriors that exist against a backdrop that’s something of a mash-up between the dawn of time, 16th century Central America and God-knows-when Pacific islander cultures and aesthetics.

The original Patapon took the tribe on a quest to the edge of their known world while looking for Earthend, sort of the Pataponian religious equivalent of Mecca. Along the way, the Patapons gathered troop units and fought off a rival group of tribesmen, as well as wild beasts populating the Patapon universe.

The sequel picks up right where the first left off, with the Patapons braving the ocean on a trek to the far edge of the world, where they believe Earthend resides. But along the way, the tribe is left for dead by a giant sea kraken, which destroys their ship and leaves them marooned on an unknown island.

Those of you who’ve played the original will know this is where you come in. See, to the Patapons, you are God. Literally.

The game doesn’t assign an avatar for you, but as the deity of the Patapon world you’re given the magical war drums with which to beat out tunes and command the piously loyal little guys in their linear quest to reach Earthend, which involves slaughtering anything in their way. For such peace-loving things, the Patapons are surprisingly bloodthirsty.

Commanding Patapons is simple: Tap out songs using the PSP’s face buttons in time to the beat of the Patapon’s war drum. Each button is assigned a rhythm, such as “pata” or “chaka.” Although there are new songs, the game feels nearly identical to the original, so series vets won’t have any trouble.

Basically, all you have to do is memorize some four-rhythm patterns like “pata-pata-pata-pon” or “chaka-chaka-pata-pon” to, say, make your Patapon army move forward across the game’s 2-D plane or fall back in a defensive formation.

But the problem with Patapon 2 is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. In the first game, you could strengthen troops or create new units, but the sequel makes it that much more complicated by individualizing stats per unit, which makes the game arguably more complex than it needs to be.

This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if leveling units was easy, but it isn’t. In order to level up a single Patapon (as compared to a three-Patapon unit) you have to have a variety of raw materials, such as animal bones, metal ore and various stones.

You also have to pay for each upgrade you make, which means you’ve got to have a hell of a lot of materials and ka-ching to upgrade your entire 20-Patapon army.

This sounds good in theory, but cash and materials are both a bit scarce, meaning you have to go back and forage for items by either replaying stages or playing musical mini-games, which also cost money. But leveling and evolving your army is paramount to survival, as the game gets pretty tough.

So basically, you’re stuck either foraging for materials on the battlefield or spending all your cash on the mini-games for the necessities. Pick the former and you’ll probably have enough cash but not enough materials. The latter will give you plenty of materials but it will leave you broke.

Either way, you’re going to be continually foraging for something, which gets old really fast.

It doesn’t end there, unfortunately. Patapon 2 introduces a hero character that your Pata-troops can rally around, but in order to effectively use them, the Patapons must enter a “fever” state—which, if you remember from the first game, is an offensive/defensive boost rewarded to players for keeping perfect rhythm.

In fever mode, heroes will unleash devastating super-attacks, but once again, the sequel is more exclusionary than the original, because I’ll be damned if you can keep a perfect four-rhythm streak going for more than a turn or two—the game is much less forgiving of even a microsecond of timing misjudgment this time around.

So even though the sequel is bigger and longer (oh, so much longer), with more varied unit types and more customization (though it still feels more like an expansion pack than a full-on sequel), it seems like Patapon 2 nearly always shoots itself in the foot by making “improvements” that aren’t always necessary.

While I’m at it, it should be noted that Patapon 2 is a digital-only release, which means that you’re paying for an empty box with a download code. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—just don’t expect a hard copy of the game. You have been warned.

There are probably a lot of fans that may disagree with my thoughts here. But I feel like the original Patapon hit the right balance between its rhythmic battles and choice of customization. Patapon 2 might just be too much, which is a shame. If the game’s taught me anything, it’s that “better” isn’t always a good thing.