Multi-genre games such as Patapon can be quite problematic to categorise, but here goes: it is probably best described as a rhythm/action/God game with strong real-time strategy elements. In other words, there’s something to please almost everyone except perhaps the staunchest of frag hounds.
As we enter the fray the Patapon folk are on the brink of extinction, having been forcibly evicted from their former lands and prosperity by a ruthless enemy tribe, the evil Zigotons. The situation seems pretty dire, and this is where you step in as an ancient deity who must shoulder the burden of restoring the Patapons to their former glory and give the Zigotons a richly deserved butt kicking. This is achieved by directing them through some 30 objective-laden missions of increasing difficulty.
So far it’s sounding like your typical strategy game format, but this is where things take an interesting and rather unique turn for the better. Instead of employing a standard ‘point and click’ system, commands are issued via a series of rhythmic patterns tapped out in time to a steady background beat. There’s a different pattern for each of the main actions, including march, attack, defend and flee, and if executed correctly your Patapon war band will chant the drumbeat back to you as they follow directions.
Accurate timing is essential to the success of each mission and the margin of error is not huge; if you don’t have a finger on the Pulse of the Earth, as it is known – or at least a reasonably good sense of tempo, you may be in for a frustrating ride. It’s not a bad idea to practise your drumbeats on the hunting levels (food gathering missions which, unlike most of the levels, are populated with harmless creatures and are replayable).
However once you gain an intuitive feel for the beat, timing errors will become a thing of the past. An unbroken chain of successful drumbeats will whip the Patapons into a state of battle frenzy known as Fever, which buffs their equipment and prowess - plus it gives you the ability to perform weather-based miracles to assist the little critters. Fever remains active for as long as you can maintain a steady rhythm. While it gives the Patapons a definite edge in combat, one mistimed drumbeat is all it takes to end the euphoria, which can be extremely costly in terms of troops lost or can even result in mission failure.
Once you’ve mastered timing, the challenge shifts to remembering which drumbeat matches which command (there are six in all) – and when to apply it. Such is the level of concentration required that you may well find yourself toe-tapping or chanting along to the catchy rhythms long after the PSP is switched off.
One minor drawback of having to keep your eyes glued to the screen at all times, ears switched onto the beat, and ‘drum’ thumb tapping away like clockwork, is that you can’t easily play Patapon in any situation where you might become distracted, for example the bustling, noisy railway station where you’d usually play PSP while you wait for the 5:30 express. Oh well… c'est la vie.