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Patapon 2
Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Japan Studio
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Rhythm/ Action/ God Games

Graphics & Sound:
If you aren't a person that enjoys or adapts easily to change, Patapon 2 is a great sequel for you. Firing this game up is like taking a trip down Memory Lane; was it only a year ago that we saw the first release of the series? The creative minds behind Patapon surmised correctly that the number of things needing to be fixed was exactly equivalent to the number of things "broke" in the first game, and steamed ahead as if releasing a series of add-on levels. Nothing has changed perceptibly from the first game in a design sense, but new backdrops and characters are introduced in this installment. The addition of more weather effects is nice, and there seems to have been more focus on weaving story into the game through breakaway dialogue sequences in certain levels.

Music is a huge focus in Patapon 2; there is a visual cue that you can use to keep time during play, but your ears and sense of rhythm are the most important elements you'll need to succeed in the game. The experience of listening to someone play Patapon 2 is still pretty awful, because of the tremendously repetitive soundtrack - when you are immersed in the game, you don't notice as much - but there seems to be more variety now than before. Songs actually build and change their texture depending on the action in the game, plus there are fun sound effects that come in with bosses and opposing armies. The distraction of these other sounds becomes a real impediment to your progress at times, but this just comes with the territory. It seems intentional, a way to throw you off if you aren't really dialed into the action. That visual cue mentioned earlier is a good reminder of where the beat actually is, if you begin to get lost for any reason. Much like any rhythm game, losing the beat is more than just an inconvenience in Patapon 2; it can literally mean the difference between success and failure in a level.

Patapon 2 also picks up where the previous game left off in terms of the narrative. Not that the first game is a prerequisite or anything, but you'll appreciate the sequel more if you play its predecessor. Returning characters include field units such as Yaripon, Tatepon, etc. and, of course... Gong! New field units are introduced along with a hero that accompanies your field force and can take the form of any standard unit. The overall format of the game remains the same, where you play through a series of levels containing unique missions, then come back to replay levels for resources or story items. Patapon 2 does a better job weaving replay in as more than just a way to kill some time. You'll need to revisit some levels to capture items that move the story forward, and there is a much larger emphasis placed on gathering resources that you'll use to strengthen your units. Some levels can only be played after hidden maps are uncovered in other levels, for instance. After a level has been played, it reappears on your list as either a hunting area or a boss battle. Each time you fight a boss it levels up, making these great places to gain experience, credits for spending, and unique items. Hunting grounds will also yield special items and contain many staple resources needed to upgrade your Patapon army.

Upgrading is a huge part of the gameplay, this time around. Where you were consigned before to set units that would grow in experience and could be equipped with items, you now have all that plus a tech-tree style of unit development that is every bit as deep as the deepest RTS or strategic RPG you've played recently. Customizing your characters through leveling up or evolving them to more advanced forms is a critical choice you'll make as you play, but you always have the chance to reroll the dice and move your character to another part of the tree without penalty. Leveling up once you reach a form that works well with your style of play is a luxury you can't afford early in the game, if you hope to play a strong offense and defense against elemental enemies and strong boss opponents. You'll also have your hero development, but most of the advantage gained by having a hero along comes when you master special beats. Learning all the beats and knowing when to use them is a must. You'll have some new moves at your disposal this time around, and be tasked with making quicker decisions in response to the shifting tide of battle. Bosses especially require careful strategy; luckily, failing a level just means a play-over, not complete loss of all progress. The best new addition in Patapon 2 is multiplayer, using the hero characters for escapades with friends or with CPU compatriots. You'll earn special items during boss battles that can be used to grant powers to your heroes during these multiplayer sessions.

There are some pretty epic boss battles here, and other more deceptively challenging engagements with enemy troops. Evolving and leveling up isn't enough... you'll have to really master the various beats this time in order to get the most out of Patapon 2. Beats like the "pata-pata-pata-pon" and "pon-pon-pata-pon" make up the early stages, teaching new players the basics of movement and attack. Special juju makes an appearance early into the game, forcing you to master some new and different combinations of beats that you'll tap in using the same basic combinations of "pon" and "pata." Where things get interesting is in the introduction of "chaka" and other beats you'll use in combination with your attacks and troop movements during battles. Positioning troops is at least as important as arming them, as is knowing which troops to bring into battle and which to leave at home. Each unit has advantages and disadvantages; learning the difference will make a big difference in your gameplay. Part of the reason Patapon is so celebrated as a series is its accessible gameplay. This continues to be a game that is easy to learn and simple to play, nothing that a novice gamer can't master. Lots of hidden stuff is only available to core players that come to Patapon 2 armed with a year of playing experience and the determination to earn every rare item and max out every soldier's abilities. The great and unusual thing is that Patapon 2 can offer these folks something while remaining perfectly suited for first-time players.

Game Mechanics:
Much like LocoRoco, this is a game that does more with less in the Controls department. Just because the PSP has tons of possible button combinations doesn't mean every game is in competition for using them all. Patapon 2 understands that we like just playing without referring to the manual some days. There isn't any barrier to entry on this one; if you can press four buttons in a rhythmic sequence, there's a fun experience here for you, just like anyone else. The combinations are sometimes hard to execute on the first go 'round, but practice makes progress, and perfect practice makes perfect. Patapon 2 is well-balanced enough to allow sloppy commands to register, while rewarding players for precision. The big reward is watching your hero unit tap into his secret ability and bust out a big can of Patapon whoop-ass, right there on the battlefield. Some other units can charge attacks later in the game, but everything hinges on your mastery of the basic button combos.

Skilled players may find they've blown through the main story too quickly, but the hidden items and branching paths in Patapon 2 make it a title with some significant replay value. Multiplayer is a tremendous gift, but single-player additions such as the evolution of units also add a lot to the game. Tightly designed levels, kooky mini-games and characters, plus adherence to a formula that served us well in the first Patapon installment make Patapon 2 a must-have for fans. This sequel is also a great place for newbies to jump on and get the full Patapon experience. The fact that players can grab a copy through the PlayStation Store for only twenty bucks is like icing on the proverbial cake.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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