Patapon proved to be an incredibly charming game on its release in 2008. Essentially a 2D RTS controlled by beating drums, it more or less stands alone on the PSP and all other platforms. The sequel's arrived quite soon after though, and considering part of the appeal was the unique gameplay mechanic, does Patapon 2 have the same impact as the original?
Quite predictably, it simply doesn't. Part of this is because the novelty value of beating a drum (the four face buttons each correspond to a drum) no longer exists, and this sequel also appears to be largely the same as the original for the first 30 minutes or so you'll spend with it. If you've never played the original, this will be a moot point, and you're likely to get an extra dose of enjoyment from discovering how to play the game, but drumming veterans will feel like they've picked up an expansion pack.
This sums up Patapon 2 quite well. Considering the core mechanics in place there wasn't much that could have been done to make a sequel feel too different to the first game (side-scrolling with rhythmic drumming controls). For those new to the game, you control an army of cute little soldiers, sent out in battle after battle in order to hunt for meat, save Patapolis and try to reach Earthend.
Rather than having any direct control over your little soldiers, you issue commands by beating a drum in time with a beat. There are four-note little ditties for various commands, including march forward, attack and defend, and it's up to you to make sure you perform these at the right time. For example, the most basic chant, PATA PATA PATA PON (or Square, Square, Square, Circle) is needed to advance your troop, whereas the more complicated, but not too tricky, PON PON PATA PON (or Circle, Circle, Square, Circle) tells them to attack.
Performing a series of commands in succession activates a more powerful Fever mode, while perfect timing allows your special soldier (new to Patapon 2) to perform a special attack. This doesn't really change things over the original to any significant degree, but it's a nice addition all the same. These special moves do come in handy though, especially against some of the massive, quite beautifully drawn bosses.
While out on the battlefield you collect items that can be used to improve your Patapon soldiers: weapons can be equipped to increase their attack power, while helmets increase their HP (health). Before each mission you can choose how each soldier is kitted out, but there's a handy optimise command that does all the hard work for you. The Evolution Tree adds some more depth to the whole experience, allowing you to evolve your soldiers by trading items you’ve collected. This added depth will please gamers who like RPG-esque elements, but for others this levelling up will simply be a distraction from the core gameplay.
There are a smattering of mini-games to tackle too, plus some solid multiplayer co-op, but it's hard to shake the feeling that we're just playing a slight upgrade to what we spent a lot of time with last year. This doesn't take away from the fact that the visuals are stunning, managing to make the most of the simple art style in a similar way to LocoRoco. Seeing as the game is built around your little guys chanting catchy marching tunes, the audio is key to the whole game and before too long will be engraved on your brain for weeks to come.
So, whether you should buy Patapon 2 or not is a fairly simple question to answer. If you can't get enough of the original, you'll love this. If you've never played the original, but like music-centred games, you'll love this too. If you wanted the developers to make strides with the gameplay and are expecting a true sequel, and not what feels like an expansion, you might be disappointed. There's no denying this is a great game with bags of charm, just know what you're getting before you pick it up.