If you're familiar with previous Patapon games, it might come as some surprise to you that in Patapon 3 you don't get to command an army. You're still a deity worshipped by the titular tribe, and you still get to issue the little guys orders by rhythmically tapping on sacred drums mapped to the PSP's face buttons, but the army has been turned to stone, so you have far fewer units at your disposal. All is not lost, though; not only have you been summoned into the body of a reincarnated hero, but there's so much emphasis on loot and leveling this time around that your small band grows more powerful practically every time you play. They can get so powerful, in fact, that where previous games have generally required careful strategizing to succeed, here it's often possible to forgo defensive and evasive moves in favor of an all-out offense. Still, there's plenty of challenge to be found in the colorful combat zones of Patapon 3, and even as you're decimated by a dragon or digested by a demon it's hard not to be won over by the game's quirky presentation and succumb to its just-one-more-try gameplay.
6308536None Mashing a button to escape a monster's jaws can be tricky when you're trying to keep a rhythm going.
After picking one of three Patapon heroes to play as (would you prefer a bow, a spear, or a sword and shield combo?), four training missions do a good job of familiarizing you with most of the commands in your repertoire. There are only seven initially, including "onward," "attack," "defend," and the like. Each command is issued by hitting a different sequence of four drum beats in time with the music; you press circle, circle, square, circle to attack, for example. Those four beats compose one musical measure, and after you enter them it takes another measure for the Patapons to carry out your order. It's an unusual and satisfying way to command your forces as they march across the screen, and it's made less intimidating for newcomers by both a list of the correct inputs at the bottom of the screen and a flashing border that makes it easier to keep in time. String together a number of well-timed orders, and your units go into a fever that makes them significantly more powerful. Hit an unrecognized sequence of drums or miss the beat completely, and your troops just stand around looking confused. Patapon 3 is less punishing than its predecessors where the timing of your drum beats is concerned, but it also rewards you for perfectly timed beats by having them trigger your hero units' powerful special moves.
Although your chosen hero is accompanied on all missions by three other combat units, heroes are so powerful that it often feels like the other guys are just marching in the wake of your one-man army. This is certainly true early in your adventure, but as you unlock additional unit types and they gain access to more abilities and equipment, you definitely can't afford to ignore them. There are 21 unit types in Patapon 3, plus hero variants of all of them, and while it's possible to stick with the same team for extended periods of time, you inevitably encounter challenges that require a different approach. You might choose to replace a healer with an archer for a mission in which you're not taking a lot of damage, or replace all of your ranged units because their projectiles are falling short in an oncoming wind, for example. It's fun to experiment with different formations, and because leveling up units that you don't use regularly unlocks abilities that are shared with those you do (you can even change the direction of that wind), you handicap yourself if you stubbornly stick with your favorites. Unfortunately, leveling up units that you don't use regularly can be a chore if you leave it until late in the game to try to catch them up. Yes, you can give them high-level equipment, group them with your most powerful hero, and run them through missions that would normally be beyond them, but they still don't gain levels quickly.
Multiplayer bosses like this one can be taken down solo using leveled up units and the correct gear.
The occasional need to grind unit levels is at least acknowledged; missions that incorporate story events can't be replayed once you've beaten them, but typically upon beating said missions, you unlock one or two more in the same locale that can be replayed as much as you like. These missions even have descriptions that let you know whether they're particularly well suited for leveling or for collecting currency and crafting materials for use at the gear-upgrading blacksmith. Playing through most levels you also collect treasure chests that are dropped or even thrown at you by large enemies. You get to open treasure chests only upon completion of a level, but their coloring and a numeric value at least give you some indication of how good your loot is going to be when you pick them up. That's good to know when you're fighting your way through one of the new three- or five-floor dungeons, because at the end of each floor you have the option to either retreat to your hideout with your loot and start the dungeon over or proceed and risk losing it. Any loot that you don't think is worth keeping can be dismantled at your armory to gain more crafting materials and currency, though you shouldn't rush to get rid of any weapons and armor just because they're not immediately useful. Weaker items in your inventory might occasionally be needed for specific levels because they offer a resistance to or are highly likely to cause effects like burn, sleep, freeze, and poison.
It would be an exaggeration to say that you end up spending as much time gearing up for missions as you do playing them, but at times it feels pretty close. You can automatically optimize all of your units by putting them in the best gear available at the push of a button, but this option doesn't take your next mission into account and so isn't always as useful as it could be. So, if you've just completed a mission that pitted you against fire-breathing dragon puppies and you're headed into one where the weather alone is enough to freeze ill-prepared Patapons, you really have little choice but to manually swap out your ice armor for flame armor. In addition to weather conditions and potentially fatal status effects, it behooves you to consider your offensive options. Weapons that are effective against demons and dragons aren't necessarily the same weapons that are good for bringing down golems and enemy towers. Patapon 3 throws an interesting assortment of enemies your way, many of which are recognizable from previous games, albeit with new attack patterns. Bosses and their larger minions pose some varied challenges, and though most of them clearly broadcast their lethal intentions a measure or two ahead of time, they become less predictable as their health bars shrink.