I’m a recent and eagar convert to rhythm games so, while I haven’t played either of the original games, I jumped on the opportunity to review Patapon 2 Remastered. It’s a port of a popular 2008 PSP game with a facelift for the big screen. The premise for Patapon 2 is pretty simple. You play as a god who is rallying your tribal people towards victory, and reaching the promised land of Earthend, through well timed drum beats.
Despite being a game about waging tribal war, Patapon 2 Remastered is delivered in quite an adorable package. Your tribespeople are essentially giant, monochrome eyes with various accessories – which I appreciate sounds like a scary description – but they’re actually very cute! Your little fighters work in tandem with you, their god, following your rhythmic orders in high pitched voices. You’ll have their mouse-like chorus of ‘Pata Pata Pata Pon’ stuck in your head long after you’ve finished playing. It’s never very clear why you’re fighting other tribes. Presumably they were simply in the way of the promised land, the fabled Earthend, and going around didn’t seem like an option. I found myself briefly questioning whether we were the good guys or the bad guys, but then realising my teensy eyeball army was too cute to be evil.
There seem to be two layers to the gameplay. You start off with a few simple commands – walk forward, fight and defend – and the gameplay is simply remembering and applying the right command for the situation. Commands are issued by tapping four drum beats – which map to controller keys – in the correct order. If you get perfect timing and avoid making mistakes, you’ll enter fever mode and get bonuses to attack and defense.
Eventually muscle memory kicks in and the commands become more intuitive than conscious, at which point your focus will most likely switch to the second layer – staffing your army with the right mix of competencies. As you pillage and plunder, you’ll gather various resources which can be exchanged for various units with their own strengths and weaknesses. Each level brings its own, unique challenges so it’s important to go into it with the right troops for the job. This means you’ll often end up replaying levels – one playthrough to find out in which unexpected way you’ll die, and a second playthrough to bring the right mix to the match. At this stage in the game, grinding is often required. You can grind either by returning to previous levels, or by playing a multiplayer mode where you fight a dragon and steal her bountiful egg of resources.
The act of grinding brings out what I think is a weakness of this game on a platform like the PS4. Once you’ve mastered the drum commands, the gameplay can feel a little repetitive, and this is unsurprisingly, particularly pronounced when replaying levels or fighting the dragon. I’m not sure I’d mind this repetition so much if I were playing on a portable device, say on public transport, and craving something mindless to distract from the commute. On the PS4 however, the mechanic feels a little dated for our modern, busy lives and declining levels of patience.
The updated graphics look very nice on a larger, higher resolution screen – simple and clean – although a few of the cutscenes are at the original PSP resolution and look extremely blurry. The port generally seems fine and not overly buggy but it does feel like a fresh coat of paint on a game designed in a different era. The UI for training troops for example feels a little cluttered and could have benefited from a redesign. I also really wish they’d added an autosave, or at least highlighted the absence of autosave. I discovered this fun fact after quitting the game two hours in without saving!
I think Patapon 2 Remastered is great for hitting that sweet nostalgia spot if you’re a fan of the original and want to play the game with updated graphics and on the PS4. It has a lot of charm in the cute characters and catchy beats, and the blend of strategy and rhythm elements is unique. But I could feel that I was playing an older game beneath the beautiful facade in a few rough areas. I’d call it a charming remaster that is a little rough around the edges.