Pata, Pata, Pata, Pon! Get ready to make yourself heard in this remaster of the classic rhythm game.
Rhythm and games have gone hand in hand for a long time. As the somewhat elegant cousin of the action genre, it's not just about reaching the end but rather reaching it with style. Rhythm games work best when you get into the flow, which usually causes the music to blend with the gameplay. Whereas a failure in action games usually means the loss of HP, a failure in a rhythm game can be devastating and prompt you to start all over. This is the case in Patapon 2. However, it never ended up being truly devastating here as the tunes never get us in the mood.
Patapon 2 starts out simple enough. As the god of a group of one-eyed creatures, you receive a pair of drums early on in the game, as a god should. This allows you to play two rhythms for your subjects. When pressing square, you hit the 'pata' drum and when pressing circle, you hit the 'pon' drum. To send your troops onto the battlefield, you have to give them commands, which you do by drumming "pata, pata, pata, pon". After giving your troops their commands, your small army will proudly chime in while executing that order. When the singing and chanting has simmered down, you give the troops their next order, which must fall in a rhythmic manner. If you break the rhythm, the music, along with your troops, will stop. If you hit the wrong drum, the music, along with your troops, will stop. In the latter half of the game, a single mistake can lose a battle that was previously going quite well.
The game is effective at layering in new elements. Once you become familiar with the first two rhythms, a third drum is introduced, giving you a new tune to play, and, with that, a new song for your troops to sing. The commands never get too complicated, even when you receive a new drum. You always have to tap to a rhythm of four beats, and as we had some past experience playing rhythm games, we felt that the game was a tad too simple in its first few hours. However, we were quickly grateful for the dull start, as it's not just about learning the various rhythms; it's about learning them well enough to be able to easily switch between them according to the situation you find yourself in. If you have to think about what you're doing, you've already lost the battle. If an opponent suddenly storms ahead of you, you should be ready to play the 'defence tune' instead of just wandering aimlessly into an incoming attack. It takes time to get into the groove of things (no pun intended), but it's fun to master.
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However, defeat is imminent. When we first realised that defeat was a core fixture in the game, we found that it also became easier to deal with the loss. Not only could we keep the rhythm going for longer each time (well, most times), we could also prepare ourselves with greater insight. Patapon 2 is not just a rhythm game; there's an RPG system in place that allows you to collect tools that you can subsequently use to upgrade your troops. Therefore, it can be worthwhile carrying out your missions more than once - both for you to get better at the rhythm aspect and to make your army stronger. Going out to hunt food to feed your troops with? Equip your troops with spears. If swords fit the situation better, switch to those. Maybe it's a mix of both that's required? You get to customise your troops as you go and it's never complicated, although there is depth to it and you need to approach each mission tactically.
Having said all that, Patapon 2 runs into a problem almost instantly: the music isn't great. A good soundtrack can elevate any game, but for a rhythm game, soundtrack quality is essential. The music is meant to carry the player forward and motivate them through tough yet enjoyable experiences. The soundtrack here, however, is noisy and repetitive - it's a persistent recording of your commands that lingers in the old internal jukebox long after you've turned off the game. You can choose to turn the audio down, sure, but that means you'll have a hard time following the rhythm and therefore not being able to play it properly. This made us hesitant to play for too long at a time and we're not really looking forward to returning either.
When you've put together the perfect army for the challenge ahead and hit the rhythm of each drum beat, prompting both the main soundtrack and the troops to play along perfectly, we can clearly see why the series has such a passionate fan base. There is, however, a lot of moments where we felt more trapped than anything. In the end, however, we're glad we tried the game out.
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6 / 10
When it clicks, it's great; new challenges are layered in effectively, distinctive style.
Too punishing at times, we didn't enjoy the musical side of things and that made it harder to enjoy.