Patapon is an interesting franchise. Here at IGN, we gave the last two installments of the series PSP Game of the Year nods and even declared one of them the greatest PSP game of all time. However, if you're not dialed into Sony's handheld, there's a good chance you've never heard of this exclusive series.
Hopefully, that'll change. Patapon 3 is an amazing game, and it's the pinnacle of the series to date, even if it does get tripped up on things that should've been ironed out years ago.
Patapon 3 is a musical role-playing game. Using the four face buttons on my PSP, I pound out drumbeats in four-beat patterns. These songs are listed at the bottom of the PSP screen and command my warriors to attack, defend, jump and more; these songs are also catchy as hell as the tribe sings back whatever I enter. On a 2D plane with colors and animations that look like a cool cartoon, I drive my Patapons forward to knock down enemy forts and collect treasures.
Most of that could be applied to the Pata-games that came before Patapon 3, but this threequel makes some interesting changes to keep things fresh. For starters, you're no longer an all-seeing god. Instead, you're an Uberhero who has the ability to revive himself in battle, unleash uber-powerful attacks, and summon ancient spirits to aid the team. I like this change as it makes more sense and got me to care about the Uberhero. When you're playing by yourself, this Uberhero will be joined by three other computer-controlled warriors. You'll have the ability to pick equipment for these guys and they'll follow the commands you deal your Uberhero, but the real way to play Patapon 3 is with friends.
For the first time in franchise history, there's online multiplayer in Patapon 3, and it's really sweet. You can form 20-person clans, set goals for your team, decorate your hideout and a whole lot more. This is the way the game was meant to be played. Your songs only affect your character, so when the team comes to a lava pit it needs to shoot over, the archers do the attacking and let the melee men chill out (this isn't an option in single-player as the whole squad follows the same command and will run into the lava). Plus, having three additional characters with super-powers never hurts.
When you're stuck on a mission, you can pop online to grab a player who is a higher level than you. When you start unlocking new warrior classes, you can join a match with a seasoned vet and level super-quick. The online missions are the single-player story missions, so it's easy to jump back and forth and maintain the comical narrative.
The only downside to online -- other than the fact the PSP has to jump through hoops to access it and that there's no voice chat so preset phrases carry the load -- is that the character progression isn't entirely balanced out. This whole game is about leveling up and earning loot, but online dilutes it a bit. If you joined my game and we played for hours, you'd get the experience points and loot, but you'd have to re-play those missions in your single-player story as only the host progresses his or her story. I'd have gained all that experience and advanced my tale, but my AI teammates would be the level they were before our adventure. As such, they wouldn't be able to help me out in whatever mission I was at as they'd be lower levels.
That stuff is minor -- I'd hate voicechat while playing as the game is all about staying on rhythm -- but it can be annoying. The silver lining is that you're unlocking classes that need to be leveled up, so you're going to be going back to old levels a lot and won't be fighting over who gets to host those sessions. While replaying levels sounds terrible to some, that's really what Patapon is all about as you need to level grind to take on bosses. Plus, doubling back through low level missions with a high level character is a blast as you'll beat the hell out of whatever gets in your way.
Patapon 3 First Impressions
See, you earn experience points for a given class as you use that class. When you hit certain levels with a certain classes, you earn additional roles that you can switch to and begin leveling. Exploring these evolution trees leads to you learning new skills that you can equip and use to turn the tides of battle. Part of the fun of Patapon is doubling back, trying new classes, and making your Uberhero strong on all fronts.
If that sounds complicated, I can assure you, it gets crazier. I have a blacksmith shop where I can level-up weapons and armor. When I get to a certain level, I can choose a specialization for my blacksmith and give him the ability to level-up one of my weapons beyond the usual level cap. (I chose the ice bow and got to name it after my real life dog.) If you came to my game, you could use the blacksmith to level your crossbow to that super-level (and in turn earn me money). So, if we collaborated, you could specialize your blacksmith in swords and I could come use him to level my sword to the super-max while you used my crossbow specialization.
Patapon 3 is packed with minutia like that. As a hardcore fan, I love it. I'm happy to sit there and scroll through Tip screens trying to figure out why the hell this giant enemy crab isn't taking damage 30 hours into the game, even though I have a level-17 ice bow and a level-10 ice helm with a hit point boost, but that's not everyone's cup of tea. Although it's more streamlined than the titles before it -- you can now buy raw materials instead of dancing by a tree and hoping you get what you need -- Patapon 3 still leaves deciphering the game up to you.
Another welcome addition is the ability to pause the game. That's right, you couldn't pause the two games before this one to answer the phone or talk to your significant other. Trouble is, to unlock the pause function, you have to snag the pause song from a tutorial. A tutorial you'd need to pass and come back to when your characters were leveled up enough. Even once I came back and got the song, the game didn't explain to me what I had just grabbed and didn't add it to my onscreen song list. Instead, I accidently found it when I entered a different song wrong. Then, hours later, the Tip screen about the pause song popped up. It's great that pausing is finally a feature, but it could've been implemented better.