If you were ever fortunate enough to own a PlayStation Portable console in its heyday, chances are you have had some experience with Patapon. If not, you missed out on one of that platform’s best games, and one of the best rhythm-based games to date. Luckily, Sony’s somewhat spontaneous new initiative to re-release some of its quirkier back catalogue on the PlayStation 4 means that everybody gets another chance at experiencing this absolute gem.
For the uninitiated, Patapon is somewhat of a mash-up of rhythm-based gaming and the ‘god game’ genre. The Patapon are adorable, round, tribal cyclops creatures seeking the help of an almighty deity (surprise, it’s you!) to save them from an evil army of the much less round Zigotons. As The Almighty, you’re tasked with using the power of tribal drums to lead the Patapon warriors into battle to fight back against their oppressors and find a fabled object simply known as “IT”.
Say no more, big boy
Patapon’s 30-odd missions task the player with learning simple sequences of drum beats with which to command their squadron of warrior circles. Hitting four beats in a certain order in time with the music results in your rotund platoon chanting in turn, and following an order – be it pressing forward, mounting an offense or taking a defensive stance. Performing well results in a chain combo, eventuating into a fever pitch that amplifies the actions of your band of merry marbles. Executing the correct commands and building up these Fever combos is integral to taking on the many enemy soldiers, obstacles and bosses threatening to come between your team of bloodthirsty buttons and the end of each mission.
Between quests, visits to the Patapon village reveal the game’s surprisingly robust RPG-lite elements. Loot collected during missions can be used to fill out your army with stronger and more varied Patapon warriors, who can then be equipped with a variety of weapons and armour and arranged into appropriate formations. Missions can’t easily be replayed if more crafting materials are needed, so instead a danger-free hunting ground is accessible at any time to farm for base items, which can be then be used or traded for other materials at the Ubon Bon Tree – potentially one of the most entertaining sentient pieces of foliage in gaming history.
Me too, thanks
All of this comes together to form an early-era PlayStation classic truly deserving of finding a bigger audience, new and old, on modern hardware. The unfortunate reality, however, is that very little effort has been made in porting Patapon to the PlayStation 4. Naturally, the core visuals are rendered now in high definition, including 4K support on the PS4 Pro, and the simplistic nature of the core art means that the game at least looks fantastic on a big screen. Less impressive, though, is the treatment of the audio, which comes across just as compressed-sounding as it did on the PSP. Worse still, the volume levels between different scenes and elements in the game vary wildly – with no audio mixing options to speak of. In a game so focussed on audio cues, and especially one with such charming and infectious sound design, it’s disappointing how little care Patapon Remastered was given in this department.
This lack of care extends to one of the most frustrating and bewildering things about this remaster: a complete disregard for the issue of audio/input lag. While the original release had no problems due to being designed for a console with its own display, the player experience in Patapon Remastered is subject to the input lag introduced in modern display technology and has absolutely no in-game option to tweak the response time – a standard quality-of-life feature in contemporary rhythm games. Playing in 4K on the PS4 Pro especially creates so much of a delay between button presses and visual and audio cues that the game is essentially unplayable on a lot of modern televisions without dropping the resolution down to 1080p. The fact that this port specifically supports 4K resolutions but offers no option to make this a feasible way to play the game is preposterous, and lazy.
I can tell you right now that this is untrue because I rap with impeccable timing
While Patapon remains one of my favourite titles from Sony’s first foray into portable gaming, the lack of any fanfare or extras in Patapon Remastered, and the careless way in which it was ported to the PlayStation 4 mean that I can’t easily recommend dropping any cash on this release. There’s an opportunity here to play a brilliant game that may have been missed the first time around, but there’s an equal chance that glaring mechanical oversights might stop players from even making it past the tutorial screen.
Patapon Remastered should have been the definitive version of a cult classic, and a chance for new players to experience one of the finest examples of the rhythm genre. Instead, it’s a lazy port that does the bare minimum in bringing the game to new hardware and in some cases actually plays worse. If you have access to a PSP and the original Patapon, that may still be the best way to play.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro