A lot of people will never understand PaRappa The Rapper. Beneath the uplifting vibe and uniquely charming 2D visuals is a demanding, unconventional, and somewhat broken milestone for the rhythm action genre. Still, after twenty years, the two dimensional beanie-wearing pup is still one of PlayStation’s most fondly remembered mascots, despite the series’ admittedly niche appeal.
Even if rhythm games are your jam, PaRappa doesn’t exactly line up with the modern standards set by Guitar Hero, Amplitude, and Thumper. Set across six stages, players need to match the button prompts displayed on-screen to the beat of the track. Sounds easy, sure, but in practice it can be perplexing, often leading to bouts of frustration. Sometimes, when a button press lines up perfectly in your head, the game will register it as a fail. The real problem is never knowing what went wrong or, more importantly, how to avoid those pitfalls in future playthroughs. At times, PaRappa The Rapper can be a game with no rhyme or reason and, some twenty years later, nothing has changed.
When I first played the original game on PlayStation, I assumed that either the game was broken or that I just sucked big time. I still remember getting to the fourth stage only to hit a brick wall. For the best part of a weekend, eight-year-old me tried over and over to clear Cheap Cheap’s kitchen but failed every time. I swapped televisions, controllers, and memory cards, thinking that a change in configuration would somehow make a difference. How wrong I was. Turns out I just didn’t get PaRappa.
Fast forward almost two decades and I found myself in the exact same scenario, in all its remastered 4K glory. I’d managed to complete the first three levels without much difficulty before strapping on my apron for the impending kitchen nightmare. After all those years, I was still stumbling over the same bars. This one innocent rap about baking a cake had destroyed me as a child and here I was again, ready to throw in the towel.
Where it’s easy to dismiss failure as a kid, the thought of PaRappa getting the best of me in 2017 – as a seasoned, borderline obsessive gamer – haunted me. I honestly couldn’t stop thinking about stage four. So, after an early start, I pulled up a chair and went at it again. This time, instead of simply watching the prompts on-screen, I began to think more about the flow of the track and how I’d rap along if the mic were in my own hand.
It took a while for this change of mindset to gel, but the results were there. My timing suddenly improved, my score rocketed, and I even found myself freestyling, tapping buttons that weren’t even showing on the guide bar. I had become enlightened, discovering a newfound level of appreciation for PaRappa. Playing the remaster evolved from a simple trip down memory lane to confronting one of my biggest gaming challenges. Several hours later, with platinum trophy in-hand, I can safely say it’s one of my favourite releases of the year and one that has truly lifted my spirits.
It won’t have that same effect on everyone, however, especially on many newcomers looking to experience this PlayStation classic for the first time. To get the most out of PaRappa the Rapper, you need to achieve that same sense of enlightenment and that won’t come easily. It’s almost like opening a third eye. A lot of gamers nowadays just won’t have the patience if the solution isn’t spoon-fed to them by a wiki or a walkthrough.
With only six levels – each one taking no longer than several minutes – PaRappa The Rapper is also relatively short compared to most modern video games. However, like buying an album, you’re expected to go over the same tracks again and again. It’s a strange concept we’re not often used to seeing these days, but I can easily see myself dipping in and out of song, long after my platinum playthrough.
PaRappa the Rapper Remastered is a game we’d recommend to every die-hard PlayStation fan, but being a straight-up remaster is a double-edged sword. On one hand it preserves everything about the original game PaRappa fans love, albeit in a much higher resolution, but on the other, it shuns new features or a revised approach to its rhythmic gameplay. There’s a lot of history there as well as some great tracks and one of gaming’s most iconic art styles. PaRappa can be as punishing as it is unconventional but, with an open mind, it may also be one of the best games you’ve experience on PlayStation 4.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 Pro