Playing PaRappa the Rapper in 2007 is a little bit like trying to fight in a modern war with an ancient spear you dug up out of some archeological site. The game is a relic of a time when rhythm games were just trying to get their footing. It's far more interesting as something to look back on than it is something to play in an age when the rhythm genre has gone and leapt several tall buildings from where it was a decade ago. So it's a bit curious that PaRappa would see a release as a proper $30 PSP game as opposed to a cheaper PlayStation Network download, which has been the case with several other notable PS games. The added content in the form of a tacked-on multiplayer mode and some downloadable remixes isn't enough to justify the price tag either, so what you're left with is an overly expensive curiosity from the past that probably won't hold your attention for terribly long.
For those uninitiated into the world of PaRappa the Rapper, the titular hero is a rapping teenage dog that uses the power of hip-hop to solve life's challenges. PaRappa has a crush on a walking, talking sunflower girl named Sunny, though the dastardly and overly heroic Joe Chin continually busts in on PaRappa's attempts to woo her. To win her over, he'll have to learn kung fu, get a driver's license, make some money by getting a job, bake a cake with a TV chef chicken, find a way to get into a public restroom, and perform an all-star concert with the master MC King Kong Mushi.
To do that, PaRappa has to summon the ultimate power of rap to get through these situations. There's nothing quite like rapping along with a talking onion as he teaches you to kick, punch, and block your way to fighting superiority or busting rhymes alongside a Rastafarian frog to hock your wares at a flea market. The six stages in the game are all equally kooky, while the characters you encounter are wonderfully voiced (though PaRappa's raps still sound awkwardly clipped) and nicely drawn. All the character graphics are done with a 2D style that makes them look like paper cutouts, but they still look really sharp. It looks like a bit of smoothing has been done in translating the game from the PlayStation to the PSP, but even still, the core art design is strong enough on its own, even without those adjustments. All told, the story and presentation still have charm to spare, even if you never played the original game or are coming into PaRappa's world for the first time.
Unfortunately, it's the gameplay that doesn't hold up its end of the bargain. In each stage, the raps are represented by button icons that scroll across the top of the screen, which represent words being spouted by the MC with whom you're working. You then have to repeat the same series of button presses that they demonstrate to match their raps line for line in rhythm with the beat. That might not sound markedly different from other, recent rhythm games, but the trouble with PaRappa is that it's too simplistic to really keep your attention for very long. The game gets old after you've busted through each stage a couple of times (which takes very little time). Additionally, the difficulty can, at times, feel overwrought. The timing of some of the button presses is brutal (especially when you're trying to hit the PSP's trigger buttons in rapid, yet precise succession), and it's sometimes difficult to gauge the timing of long strings of buttons that actually take up two lines instead of one at the top of the screen. The really weird thing is that, despite the move to widescreen on the PSP, the button meter still only goes across about half the screen, which just seems lazy.
The one nice thing about PaRappa is that you can go back to each stage after you've completed it to show off a bit, essentially freestyling by pressing buttons multiple times and changing up the flow of things. The only way to get a "cool" rating on each stage is to do this, though it's still extremely difficult to do so. In all honesty, the "freestyling" doesn't really feel like anything of the sort because you're just hitting the same buttons more times, and there are a limited number of rhythms to which you can do that. It's also extremely hard to freestyle much in the later stages where the combinations of button presses tend to get a lot denser and follow more off-time rhythms.
It doesn't help that there's just not that much to do in the game. There are only six stages, and while there is merit to going back to play each one again, the gameplay isn't captivating enough to warrant doing so for more than one or two tries. At least this version of PaRappa has a bit more in the way of content over its predecessor, which only had the six single-player stages. The PSP release includes a multiplayer mode, as well as the option to download new songs. However, neither of these options is exactly exciting. The multiplayer is ad-hoc play for up to four players, and essentially, it's just four people playing the same stage, trying to rack up the highest score possible. You can't affect how other people play the game, nor does it ever really feel like you're in direct competition. The downloadable songs could potentially be a nice touch, but the songs that are currently slated for download aren't very impressive. They're remixes of the existing songs, and very few of them are particularly good. It's sad because the original soundtrack is easily the game's best feature. These tunes are still incredibly catchy after all these years, but the remixes don't come anywhere close to being as enjoyable.
Still, questionable new content and poorly aged gameplay aside, it's hard to judge PaRappa too harshly. The game is undeniably a huge influence for the modern rhythm-game genre. Its soundtrack and presentation also still rank among the best the genre has to offer. It's certainly pleasing to see Sony paying attention to the PaRappa franchise again, but simply re-releasing the original PaRappa in 2007 doesn't cut it. The gameplay isn't capable of engaging players the way it used to, and the new features aren't enough to justify a $30 price tag for a decade-old PlayStation game. If you're really hot to experience PaRappa's adventures all over again (or for the first time), give this one a rent. Even if the gameplay isn't worthwhile, the charming story and fantastic tunes are enough to make up for the small rental fee.