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Ten years after PaRappa's PlayStation debut the original MC makes a PSP comeback...
- Uniquely wacky graphics.
- Stands the test of time.
- Tacked-on PSP goodies.
- Frustratingly difficult at times.
- Questionable reward system.
- Just a remake of the original.
He's Gotta Believe! And after five years in obscurity it's finally paying off as PaRappa the rapper has been granted a third coming for Sony - his first on the PSP...
In fact, PaRappa is one of a select few gaming characters to appear on all three Sony systems. That's ruling out the PS3, of course, but given the lifespan of this feisty little mutt (a spaniel perhaps?), you'd be unwise to completely rule out even that.
The original PaRappa on the PS1 was one of the first examples of rhythm based 'simon says' style gameplay. The formula has been much replicated over the years and it's reached a golden age these days with big name franchises such as Guitar Hero (as well as the imminent arrival of the much touted Rock Band) peppering the gaming charts.
So PaRappa was a sort of pioneer, then. What's interesting to look out for in this PSP remake is whether the formula has withstood the test of time. This PSP version is basically a remake of the PS1 classic, with the same characters and music on offer and some additional PSP goodies such as game sharing, four player ad-hoc multiplayer and up to eight downloadable remixes thrown in for good measure.
The trademark graphics of 2D characters in 3D environments, creating a kind of doodle that's come to life style world, works perfectly on the PSP. The game was never going to feature the stunning visuals of, say... a GTA Stories game, but that's really not the point. Incidentally, the word Parappa means paper-thin in Japanese and it was precisely this graphical style that added to the weird and quirky characters of PaRappa, his teachers and other individuals who featured in the stories. In short: yes, the brill PaRappa visuals remain fully intact, and yes, they're as cute and brimming with Japanese wackiness as ever.
Speaking of the characters, they really are something to behold. They remind me of the sort of unique childhood cartoons I watched such as any number of Nicktoons programs, but with a sprinkle of Japanese gaming fairy dust thrown in for good measure. For example, the tutorial features a Kung-Fu teacher with an onion for a head; another level has a frog who's a flea-market salesman assuring you that his skunk will "show you love" (there's a nice touch of adult humour here and there); the Cheap Cheap Chicken is an anal TV cook. All the brilliance of the original characters by Rodney Greenblat remains and it does make you feel like all is good with the world after all.
Similarly, the catchy and entertaining music by Masaya Matsuura is once again alive and kicking. Not only are they genuinely good pieces of music in the context of the game's style, the learning curve of the vocal parts that you must rhythmically respond to are quite well written too. The verse and rhythm of the rapping borders on the poetic at times and it's a joy to nail-down correctly.
So, what of the actual gameplay? There are two difficulty levels: 'easy' and 'normal'. This, however, is a blatant lie. The difficulty levels should instead read: 'easy' and 'THE HARDEST THING EVER DEVISED BY MAN'. Think the ('mayhem'?) difficulty setting on the original Lemmings, 'realistic' on Deus Ex or 'deity' on Civilization (okay, maybe not deity, but monarch at least). Put another way, even the most rhythmic amongst us will be replaying levels 10 or 15 times before they can be completed.
The easy level is distinctly unchallenging, but operates more as a sort of gentle introduction to the normal setting as only three of the game's stages are made available. The focus is on the normal setting and it's hear that the pulling out of hair starts.
For anybody who hasn't played PaRappa before, here's a basic overview: each level has a teacher character who dances and raps. After each line it's PaRappa's turn to repeat the teacher (you do this by tapping a series of buttons at the right time). If you get it right then he'll dance along to the beat and rap all the right words and syllables with perfect timing.
The game judges your rapping ability within four parameters: cool (nigh on impossible to achieve), good, bad and awful. Once you're stuck on awful it's game over and you have to start again. Be aware that you'll have to play a level through a few times just to get used to the rhythms on the various sections. Once that's done, it takes another few attempts to try and perfect these rhythms. Only then do you have a chance of stopping your rating from quickly slipping to awful.
While there is generally a good correlation between getting the button commands right and your rating going up, there are times when you get credited for clearly being out of time, which seems a little strange. Conversely, you can find it equally perplexing when it seems like you've just nailed a section and you get penalised for it. Overall though, the reward system holds-up throughout.
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