While many games fall into a neatly definable category, occasionally a game appears that is unlike anything you've ever seen before. Games such as Loco Roco, Rez, and Echo Chrome all fall into this category, and this year's Tokyo Game Show hosted another such title in the form of Patapon. Sony's new PlayStation Portable title is a rhythm action game at its simplest, but it could also be described as an interactive cartoon, a tribe-based action game, or an interactive screensaver as well. It was proving very popular with the small crowd of media during the first day of the show, but we managed to wrestle a PSP out of someone's hands in order to check out what all the fuss was about.
The storyline itself was difficult to comprehend given that we were playing the Japanese version of the game, but it seems to revolve around helping a tribe of small circular warriors through a number of problems. Being a tribe, they're quite open to the idea of a higher being guiding their lives, which seems to be where you come in, as it's your job to tell the tribe what to do and when to do it. And with this tribe being capable of only basic communication, you do this via a series of basic chants tapped out on the PSP's face buttons.
Once we got into the game it was fairly easy to figure out what to do. Your tribe will wait around until you tell them what to do, and a steady drumbeat bangs out in the background so that you have a rhythm to base your chanting on. Simple four-button commands need to be issued in time to the drumbeat, such as square, square, square, circle to move your tribe forward and circle, circle, square, circle to make them attack any enemies or obstacles in your way. Once you've tapped out the command, your tribe repeats the tune and performs the action in an endearingly obedient fashion.
It might sound spectacularly simple, and perhaps even a little bit twee, but the joy of figuring out these commands was enough to bring a massive smile to both ourselves and the Japanese demonstrator. Much of its appeal lies in the visual design of the game, which is technically simple but artistically imaginative. It reminded us of Loco Roco in terms of the clear inspiration it's taken from classic Eastern European animation. Either way, half the fun is watching these little creatures onscreen and seeing what they get up to.
There's clearly a lot more to find out about Patapon, but our interest has been piqued by this first look at the game. We expect that the command system will become more complex as you progress, and we hope that you can do a lot more with your tribe than just getting them to move forward and fight--but we're as eager as anyone to find all this out. Expect to hear more about Patapon in the coming months.