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Strategy and Rhythm collide in a brilliant game
The Sony PSP system has a wide library, and outside of a few titles, has not released anything that captivated me in such a way that it holds my limited gaming time. Patapon, released by Sony, combines the addictiveness of a rhythm game with elements of a strategy game. Rarely has a game made such an impression on me that I often find myself starting up the PSP instead of my old standby Xbox 360.

The story revolves around the Patapon tribe as they strive to regain the land they once inhabited. In the distant past, the Patapon tribe was the strongest in the land. However, their strength has dwindled as the years wore on and a fierce tribe of Zigoton’s drove them from their home. Disillusioned, the Patapons gave up hope of ever seeing their homeland again. Were it not for the optimistic pleadings of Hatapon, the Almighty Patapon might never have intervened. With renewed zeal and your rhythmic drum beating, the Patapon tribe might yet regain their former glory and homeland.

Patapon draws on elements of two successful genres in video games. However, instead of feeling that it is a strategy game with a rhythm element thrown into it for no reason, the game blends the two elements perfectly. Your role in the game is the Almighty that the Patapon tribe worships and feels will lead them to regain their former glory and land they were expelled from. With your war drum, you an issue commands to your army as they encounter various enemies from the Zigaton tribe.

You start the game with minimal songs that you drum. You can have your army move or attack initially. As you progress through the game, you will gain the ability to learn different songs that will allow you defend or issue other commands. Learning when to move, attack or defend offers much in way of planning your strategy. If you move too close to an enemy, you open yourself up to attack before you can issue your own command to attack.

The key to the games rhythm portion lies in a subtle beat that plays in the background. You must time your button presses so that they result in a pattern that matches the underlying beat. If you perform the button combination to the beat, your Patapon army will mimic the pattern you just drummed out. Once they finish, you must keep in time with another beat pattern. By stringing successive drum patterns, you build up your combo meter. Once you string enough in a row, your army will enter fever mode which allows them to do more damage and critical attacks. If you interrupt the Patapons song or miss the beat, your army will sit idly until you get the timing right. At first, the timing takes a little bit of practice. But, once you gain the rhythm, you can tap your drum commands effectively and successively to deal the greatest damage.

The strategy aspect of the game is brought out in your ability to upgrade the equipment your army battles with. You will gain stronger weapons and armor items as you defeat enemies. You can also gain resources that will allow you to generate more units to replenish and build up your army. Initially you are able to command one type of Patapon. But as you progress through the game, you will encounter memories of past warriors that give you additional units. The planning of equipment and placement of the different unit types will ensure your success or lead to your defeat if not properly planned. As you engage enemies, your units take damage that is represented by a small bar at the top of the screen. As they take more damage, the bar decreases in size until the unit is defeated. Once you are out of units, the mission will fail and you will be forced to rebuild your army and try the mission again.

Patapon is an engaging title that draws you in with its simplicity and makes you lose all track of time. The hypnotic drum beat draws you into the game and makes it difficult to put it down. However, there is a stumbling block that does take away from the “gaming on the go” aspect of the PSP. You cannot save the game mid mission so you must either complete the mission or risk losing anything you may have gained during it. Early on in the game, the missions do not take terribly long and do lend themselves to the short game play sessions a PSP is useful in. The later missions can take considerably longer and require planning to effectively complete them. However, this one item is not enough to cause a person to avoid it.

The power and graphics abilities of the PSP are certainly not challenged with this title. That is not to say that the graphics are bad. In fact, they work quite well and give a cute, cartoonish feel to the game. The various characters and enemy units you encounter will have very minimal detail to them, but show up amazingly well on the brightly colored backgrounds. This works as often times, your army can show you when they are in range to attack an enemy. Had the characters not been so discernable against the background, the subtle eye changes signaling might have been lost.

If you have played Loco Roco on the PSP, the audio portion of Patapon will seem very familiar. Your Patapon tribe will sing their way through the map as you lead them to victory. Each drum at your disposal has a unique sound that the Patapons mimic as they complete your command. Stringing together your four beat command pattern will result in the Patapon army singing the command back to you. If you can string enough combos to enter fever mode, a background chorus will sing as you continue on your way. And while it is repetitive, the singing will not detract from your ability to complete drum beat commands.

With more then thirty missions and the ability to replay any prior missions to gain more resources, Patapon offers much in the way to keep you drumming the cute Patapon’s towards their goal. As you play through the missions, you can gain resources used to birth various Patapon tribe members or equipment that can enhance your regiments health and damage inflicted.

Combining these elements allows you to plan the various units equipment and placement so that you can deal the most damage while receiving the least amount of damage. You will encounter stronger weapons, shields and hats that increase the amount of health or damage that a unit has. By finding resources, you can birth more units to lead into battle. This comes in handy if you ever have a unit defeated in battle.

Given its quirky exterior, some may be driven away from this title. Behind its infectious cuteness factor, is a solid game that will offer much for fans of strategy type games. Adding in the addition of a rhythm based command structure gives a unique twist on a familiar genre of game. Offering more then thirty missions and customization of your units, extends the game beyond the first play through.

When I first read about this title before it was released, I was a bit hesitant with my enthusiasm. I feared clunky and difficult controlling through the rhythm portion of the game adding to the difficulty. However, upon playing in my very first session, any apprehension was completely removed. The game is solid and even if you struggle at many rhythm games, you will find yourself easily overcoming the learning curve as you drum your Patapon army to victory. You owe it to your PSP to rush out and become one with the Patapon.