When you’re excited to play a game again that you’ve played countless times before, you know it’s something special. Patapon is one of those games. Released on Sony’s plucky PSP handheld in an era where the console was still being touted, somewhat hopefully, as offering a home console experience on the go, it’s an oddity, a curio, but one that’s incredibly distinctive. It’s silhouetted art style remains instantly recognisable, married to a game that is utterly joyful. Patapon Remastered only goes to prove that it is genuinely timeless.
A strategic ryhythm-action game where you control tiny eyeball people probably doesn’t sound all that good on paper, and yet it is undeniably one of the PSP’s highlights. Things sound even worse when you find out that the majority of your time will be spent inputting the same rhythmic phrases over and over again, but in practice it just doesn’t get old.
You’re cast as the Almighty, the diminutive Patapon’s deity, and you’re expected to lead them to salvation. You do so by taking them across various battlefields, as driving them forward with their standard bearer Hatapon, using the power of the four mystical drums you have mapped to your controller’s face buttons. Different rhythmic phrases cause the Patapon to behave in a certain way, whether you’re advancing, defending or attacking.
You play in time with the musical beat – aided by a flashing border around the edge of the screen – and use the Pata, Pon, Chaka and Don drums to beat out different songs. So for the Patapata song you play Pata Pata Pata Pon using the Square and Circle buttons, and your army moves forward. Again, the explanation doesn’t really sell it, and perhaps it’s because it’s a little dry.
Half the fun is that your army of Patapon isn’t mechanical, with the plucky eyeball folk doing things at their own pace, burbling about, some catching on to the command moments after their comrades, so that when you attack there’s a flurry of activity, with archers unleashing their arrows from the back as soldiers rush forward to take the enemy head on.
Your army begins with only pikemen available to you, but soon expands to include archers, soldiers, horse riders and more. You expand your army by acquiring different materials during missions or by playing a trumpet minigame with a tree whose leaves are itchy and needs a good singsong to shake some branches loose. Yes, really. As you advance you find better quality materials, which in turn allow you to create more powerful Patapon. You end up with a really individual army, and when you combine that with kitting them out with better weaponry and armour there’s a deep vein of RPG levelling and growth that you perhaps don’t expect at the outset.
The only shame perhaps is that it also brings the grind of RPGs along for the ride. In order to acquire the right items or to earn enough Kaching to buy another unit, you’ll find yourself returning to missions over and over again. If you’re caught up in the game, with it’s music and aesthetic doing much to alleviate any boredom, then perhaps you won’t notice too much, but it is there, and those hoping for a constant rush of new levels and materials may come away disappointed.
The music though is really something else. Part tribal drums, part Haka, part dance party, with gibberish vocal lines soaring at the height of your attacks. Again it sounds like it shouldn’t remotely hang together, yet it does. There aren’t many games that boast didgeridoo and bagpipes, and carry them off, but Patapon manages it with ease – possibly based on pure saccharine delight. The vocals throughout are also brilliant, with the Patapon’s cheerful chanting and yelping lending them so much character, despite only being eyeballs with limbs. I particularly love their cheers when you complete a level, even if I think they’re saying “Mimriador! How’s the ether?”, which makes about as much sense as you’d hope for.
Everything that I’ve spoken about was the case when the game originally launched, and besides the ability to play it on a bigger screen – which all those lucky PSTV owners could already do – there’s nothing that’s been tampered with for the remaster. What you do get on PS4 Pro is a lovely 4K image – it’s 1080p on PS4 – and I can safely say that those circular Patapon have never looked smoother. The silhouetted art style holds up incredibly well, and the jump from the PSP’s 4.3″ screen to something many, many times bigger really allows it to shine.
Perhaps the only key negative, and it’s a self-entitled one, is that I just want more. The inclusion of hero characters in the sequels is something that I keenly miss, and I would have loved to see this being a Patapon collection of all three games. Still, I suppose that means we might see the other two appear in the next few years, or if the remaster does well enough, perhaps we’ll see a brand new adventure later down the line.
As special as it was ten years ago, Patapon Remastered is a glorious example of when art, music and gameplay coalesce into something far more intoxicating than its sum parts would have you expect.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 Pro