Patapon is one of the more unique games in the PSP's library. It's half RPG and half rhythm game. Instead of controlling your army of Patapons with the d-pad or analogue nub, you beat on one of four different drums in the proper sequence. They can advance, guard, retreat and charge up their attacks, and once you unlock the ability, you can perform Miracles that alter the level's weather conditions. If you successfully execute a series of commands, you'll enter Fever mode, which greatly increases the performance of your army.
The game starts you out with a soldier-type class called Tatepons that melee and defend oncoming attacks. As you progress, you'll kill different kinds of Zigotons and then collect their memories. After you receive a memory of a Zigoton, you can birth them at the Tree of Life by combining different materials and spending kaching, the game's currency. You can birth archers, spearmen, cavalry, giant club-wielding brutes and bizarre Megapons that use horns to fire damaging symbols at the enemy. Of all the different kinds of Patapons you can use, the flag-bearing Hatapon is the most important; if he dies, it's game over. The mission also fails if he's the last one left standing.
Mission structure is pretty straight forward. You have a map where you'll select the next story mission. As more missions are completed, you'll be allowed to return to previous areas and hunt the wildlife or fight bosses you've already beaten again. Bosses become one level stronger for each time you face them, but they sometimes offer exclusive rewards for doing so. The story missions will become progressively harder, so a lot of your time will be used hunting and fighting bosses for materials and kaching.
Farming is instrumental to Patapon if you ever hope to stand a chance in the later part of the game. You can take the materials you've collected and use them in mini-games at your village to make rarer materials, weapons and even performance-enhancing stews. These mini-games are played by pressing the circle button to the rhythm. Each mini-game uses a different rhythm with their own instruments, so no game sounds alike.
You can also find spoils of war in the form of weapons and armor. Weapons will raise the maximum amount of damage Patapons can deal out, and affect other statistics such as attack speed and critical damage rate. Unique weapons will also grant them abilities such as igniting the enemy on fire and piercing through multiple targets. Helmets and shields raise the maximum number of hit points, along with granting other abilities such as being immune to knockback.
Patapon is about as unique looking as its gameplay. There isn't a bit of 3D rendering to be found. It's all flat-as-paper 2D. Your Patapons and most of the world are meer silhouettes matted on trippy almost psychedelic backgrounds. Even though the little guys are nothing more than eyeballs and limbs, they still seem to emit a good amount of emotion. The animations are smooth, yet subtle, and they become more alive when you enter Fever mode. The same can be said with the majority of special effects.
Since Patapon is a rhythmically driven game, the audio is terrific. The songs are very catchy, and musical elements are added in layers the longer you continue to remain in Fever mode. The sound effects themselves aren't anything remarkable, but considering you have to keep your ear to the beat, it's for the better that they aren't loud enough to distract you. The real charm of the audio comes in the chanting and gibberish that the Patapons utter; their high pitched voices are rather cute. It's also best if you play the game using earphones, as the PSP's tiny speakers don't do it justice.
Patapon is infectious. It's one of those games where you just have to do another mission. The mixture of both RPG and rhythm game mechanics is a surprising recipe for great gameplay. There are a few drawbacks, though. One would be the frustration of losing Fever and having to build it back up again. Then, there's spending too much time playing the hunting levels over and over. Lastly, there's no way to move backward and collect the remains of your fallen brethren and sometimes, items dropped too far past the finish line cannot be picked up. With all that said, the lovable presentation and addictive music will keep you coming back for more. Patapon is an experience no PSP owner will want to miss.