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Rhythm game is a global phenomenon

Patapon originally devised for children with learning disabilities, awarded most innovative game in strategy genre, to release third version soon.
Hindustan Times | By Sharin Bhatti, Mumbai
UPDATED ON MAR 06, 2011 06:17 PM IST

Every once in a while comes along a game that engages your motor skills so effectively that you unknowingly play it in your mind, even when you’re off the grid. Sony’s Patapon has that Tron-like absorbing quality.

Designed exclusively for PSP (PlayStation Portable), Patapon follows the adventures of a warrior tribe, of the same moniker, bent on reclaiming its land from the enemy Zigotons.

The Patapon army marches and attacks on the command of the player. Gamers are supposed to mimic the sound of a drumbeat in order to move and attack. The army marches along singing ‘pata-pata-pata-pon.’

By tapping out command phrases in time with the game’s background beat, the Patapon can be instructed to advance or retreat, attack or defend. Keep the beat well enough and the Patapons reach a fever pitch, during which their attacks are exceptionally potent. Once the flow is in momentum, Patapon warriors, designed as cartoon silhouettes with horns, begin to dance as they move along and march in excited battle cries like ‘Spank them bottoms,’ taking the gamer forward.

At the heart of it, Patapon is a strategy game, which was initially designed by Sony for children who have problems with rhythm. But over the past three years, Patapon has become the most downloadable PSP game. It has also won awards for Best Original Music and Most Innovative Game at 2008’s GameSpot Awards. Recently, Patapon 2 made its India debut and since then has been cluttering the PSP space of most enthusiastic gamers, not just children, but also avid war gamers. Patapon 3 is slated to launch in the first week of April.

By mixing elements of rhythm-action games with old school crafting, Patapon turns battlefield tactics on its ears. Patapon is a one-of-a-kind game that breathes new life in the war genre.

For Patapon, player is God. The tribe’s movement is not only commanded by the gamer, but at the end of each mission, the player is referred to as a mighty deity. The squiggly drawn Patapon army, looks like a line of ultra-cute Japanese fur balls. But they are extremely deadly. Armed with axes, bows, and spears they’ll kill at your command.

Battles have ebb and flow, a sort of rhythm. Patapon takes this idea to its furthest conclusion by tasking the player with beating the war drums that goad troops into the fray. Rather than trying to match the music, players call the tune. There’s no note chart to follow, just a background tempo. Players tap out drum beats using the PSP buttons. The right combination will send the army into action. The music is catchy and the marching orders feel empowering.

Battles require a great deal of strategy - the right soldiers, equipment, and commands can make or break a maneuver. But sometimes Patapon feels like a grind. You need cash to create more warriors and the only way to earn this dough is to go out and kill. There are, also musical mini-games that help you gather goods, farm for food, and cook up meals. The songs are fun to play at first, but they start to wear thin after the thirtieth run through. Three songs is a lot of hoops to jump through for one pot of stew. There’s also a musical game where a spoon player matches the notes of a mountain’s beats.

This is an innovative game that is tailor made for the hardcore gamer. The only folks who go unnerved are those who balk at a game that looks too cute. The adventurous will enjoy one of the most infectious role-playing games in ages.

Rating- ****

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