I Gotta Believe
When I first booted the later I was, well, bewildered. The concept seemed beyond comprehension; apparently all you had to do was press buttons when indicated. It seemed way too simple, how in the world could anyone cultivate this concept into a playable, mass marketed product? Years later DDR and Guitar Hero would push the rhythm genre to the front of casual gaming popularity, but, at the time, PaRappa was a serious fish out of water. I played it once and cast it aside as mindless, Japanese flavored nonsense (mind you, before I reached the age where I could appreciate such chaos). Only later, after I watched the interview portion of PSU and saw how passionate Masaya Matsuura was toward his opus, did I discover a newfound appreciation for his gaming/music hybrid.
And, for PaRappa, not a lot has changed since then. This is nearly a pixel per pixel port of the 1997 groundbreaker. For those who either didn’t exist or didn’t catch it back then, here’s a quick rundown. You’re PaRappa, a dog demihuman adorned in skater attire of the late 90s whom happens to idolize and envy superhumandog, Joe Chin. Or, more appropriately, PaRappa admires Joe’s uncanny ability to impress women and wants to apply the same skills toward his special lady friend, Sunny Funny. Thus, PaRappa seeks out six neighborhood rap battles in his quest to obtain Joe-like smoothness and win the heart of his beloved Sunny. Yeah, it’s a little hokey, but a story so squeaky clean and full of heart is hard not to love.
Of course, the bulk of your adventure is spent battling five rap masters over six stages for coolness rights. By now this type of gameplay is standard; your teacher raps a verse while a meter at the top of the screen indicates when to press a particular button. After his verse, you’re expected to mimic his timing, which is expressed by the accuracy of your flow and delivery. A small icon flows over the rhythm meter, which you sure as hell better stick too, because the game, at times, is mercilessly unforgiving on normal difficulty. Some of this difficulty surely comes from lack of skill on my end (which is puzzling, I’m not terrible at GH or Amplitude), but most of the blame lies with the idiotically proportioned rap meter; my eye sight is top notch and I could still barely see the thing. One might argue you’re supposed to go with the flow, so to speak, and play the game by ear, but for those simply trying to learn how to play and memorize the button combos, it’s unjustly difficult. While the game now runs in 16×9, this port takes fails to take advantage of the added screen space for a presumably required element.
Anyway, there’s four lessons to each song and in order to advance you’re going to need to not slip into “Bad” or “Awful” territory. Keeping the flow in “Good” should be your all consuming goal, though the curious “Cool” seems to be an unreachable farce on your first go around. On additional playthroughs, however, you’ll learn to start experimenting and improvising by dropping in your own, unassigned raps in-between your required verses. There’s a lot of trial and error involved, but once you memorize a songs beat, throwing in additional lines is second nature. While you never truly get to freestyle your way through a song, this added bonus does help extend PaRappas legs.
Unfortunately, the “added” multiplayer is a ruse. I was expecting the chance to simultaneously blast through a song with another human, but was quite disappointed when I discovered the exact nature of this alleged four player experience. No, you can’t rap with your friends, try and copy their beats, or Mario Golf-style screw up their timing with distracting one liners. Sorry folks, the only form of interaction you receive comes in the form of a display of your opponent’s scores. It’s far from the largest squandered opportunity in gaming, but it’s still a disappointment.
The Next Ya Jockey? What?
The actual raps range from moderately wacky (driving lessons from a moose) to certifiably insane(bathroom stage, anyone?). The tunes have aged well and, while they lack their freshness, are still a pleasure to sit through during the 5-30 times it takes you to nail a song. Lyrically, the verses manage to establish a connection with the overall narrative while simultaneously suffering from acute dementia. Still, it’s fairly catchy and some of the verses, despite their bizarre composition, are utterly hilarious. That being said, there’s only six of them. Six. Though the difficulty ramps up pretty quickly, it’s possible to blow through the whole game in less than an hour.
To make up for a fairly short experience, Sony dropped some additional content for this version of PaRappa. Using the PSP’s wifi connection, you’re given free access to download additional beats for the game. For each stage (provided you’ve beaten it) there is a handful slightly new music (read: remixes) to back your raps. It doesn’t actually change anything related to the game, PaRappa’s lines are still the same, so this update is rather plain, which is quite a shame. Failed humor aside, the beats I spent the time downloading are lackluster at best. Also, why in the hell do you have to download these? If developers can shove Liberty City on a UMD then surely there’s room for a couple extra songs.
The visual side of PaRappa lies somewhere between pre-cel shading and post-pixels. The 2D paper cut out style was distinctive in its day, but the visuals fail to look quite as inspired in 2007. Still, the game manages to not look as dated as some of its PSX brethren. The color pallet, in particular, is actually quite vibrant as bright shades light up the PSP’s screen like a Christmas tree. Backgrounds are usually full of activity and feature cues in perfect sync with the music, but on the whole, the graphics are still a far cry from some of the more busy and intense games in the present tense.
Did you Check the Toilet on the Right?
PaRappa’s main fault, however, lies with its content. While far from flawed, there simply isn’t enough of it to feel like a complete game. In an age when we’re packing two Dreamcast games on a UMD (Hello, Powerstone Collection), you would think combining PaRappa and its sequels, UmJammer Lammy and PaRappa the Rapper 2 on a single disc would be the ideal way to market this forgotten franchise. No such luck, however, as we’re all we’re granted is a meager helping of additional content. I would accept this lack of polish if PaRappa were released from the Playstation Store for $5-$10, but trying to milk $30 out of this game is borderline ridiculous.