Like Puzzle Quest before it, Patapon is a game that grabs key features from existing genres, squishes them together like different-colored balls of Play-Doh, and then turns them into something far more special than you might expect. For example, if you combined a ball of red and ball of blue you might expect to get a big lump of purple, while a rainbow-colored re-creation of the Venus de Milo would seem unlikely. But Patapon is just that special. Puzzle Quest's nontoxic, nonstaining ingredients included a Bejeweled-style puzzle component used for combat, as well as a character advancement system and storyline that belonged in a role-playing game. Patapon's recipe, on the other hand, blends rhythm-based controls with a horizontally scrolling real-time strategy game. Then--as if that combo wasn't already enticing enough--it sprinkles plenty of RPG-style gear collection and some fabulous visuals from French artist Rolito on top. In short, Patapon is unlike any game that has come before it, and with a retail price that's half of what many PSP games sell for, our recommendation of this ingenious recipe that has been masterfully realized is a no-brainer.
The Patapon won't let you rest until you've guided them to Earthend.
Developed by Interlink, the same studio responsible for 2006's LocoRoco, Patapon casts you in the role of a deity who is worshipped by the titular tribe. The Patapon have fallen on hard times since being forced from their homeland by the evil Zigaton army, and you're their best shot at ever reclaiming it. Since you've showed up in their hour of need, you've also been tasked with leading the tribe to a mysterious place called Earthend so that they might gaze upon a sacred object known simply as "IT." The Patapon are a tribe of adept warriors, but they're clueless without someone to lead them and won't do anything without first being told to by The Almighty. That's you.
You interact with the tribe using a set of four battle drums, which are mapped to the PSP's face buttons. Orders must be given to the tribe in time with a beat that's constant throughout every mission using different sequences of four drum notes. Simple orders, such as "advance" and "attack," are enough to get you through the early levels. But you'll learn others, such as "charge," "defend," and "retreat" as you progress through the game. Furthermore, you'll learn to use your godlike powers to perform four different weather-changing miracles that can be used to give your archers' arrows a tailwind or to unsettle a boss with an earthquake among other things.
Archers, which are known as "Yumipon" in-game, are one of six different unit types that you'll be adding to your army's ranks as you battle your way toward Earthend. The others, which also have different names that will mean nothing to you, are essentially foot soldiers, spearmen, cavalry, musicians (whose tubalike instruments launch deadly projectiles), and heavies armed with oversized maces or hammers. You can only take three different unit types with you on each mission, and you can use a maximum of either three or six of each of them depending on their size. Inevitably, you'll have favorites, but choosing the correct units for a given level is every bit as important as giving them the right orders once a mission is underway.
The 30-plus missions offer plenty of variety and come in three distinct flavors: hunts, battles, and bosses. Hunting levels are a way for you to gather resources from the occasionally bizarre and mostly harmless indigenous creatures of the Patapon's world. Battles against the Zigaton army are objective-based (rescuing a captured Patapon or escorting a catapult to and then destroying a Zigaton base, for example). Because you get to pick up any weapons dropped by fallen enemies, battles are also a great way to improve your army without spending resources. Boss encounters are the most challenging missions the first time you play them because you need to figure out and memorize the bosses' attack patterns before you really stand a chance of issuing the right orders to your forces in a timely fashion. Bosses modeled after dinosaurs, giant crabs, sandworms, and carnivorous plants make up much of the roster, but even those with similar appearances offer quite different challenges. Furthermore, after beating a boss you have the option to go back to face it over and over again. And it gets tougher each time you do.
Boss encounters can be tough first time around because you need to formulate a strategy.