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Critical Reception: Sony's/SCE Japan's Patapon

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Patapon, Sony's PSP action/rhythm hybrid that "is arguably one of the best titles to appear on the PlayStation Portable platform to date" - full rundown inside.
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Patapon, a PSP action/rhythm hybrid that "is arguably one of the best titles to appear on the PlayStation Portable platform to date," according to reviews. Described as a spiritual successor to 2006's team-based platformer LocoRoco, Patapon debuts this week on the PSP in North America, after previously seeing release in both Europe and Japan. Though Patapon and LocoRoco share a similar aesthetic and squad-based mechanics, gameplay in Patapon is focused on issuing commands to an army through a series of rhythmic button presses. Patapon's unique gameplay has won over many critics thus far, and it currently earns a review score average of 87 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. GameZone's Michael Lafferty is impressed with Patapon's clever genre blending, and scores it at 9.3 out of 10. "[Patapon] is arguably one of the best titles to appear on the PlayStation Portable platform to date," he writes. "It is entertaining, charming and highly addictive." Lafferty additionally praises Patapon's art direction. "The characters are drawn from the works of French graphic artist Rolito," he says, "and rather than use rich texturing, the game uses stark contrasting colors that almost give a silhouette feel to the entire game." "Music plays a vital part of this title and the musical score is very nicely handled," Lafferty continues. "You learn the beat that drives your army forward to start. Then you will learn alternative rhythms, like the one to attack (circle, circle, square, circle), or to defend." Lafferty describes the game's challenges as satisfying, and claims that its series of uphill battles will leave players with a sense of accomplishment. "It does not take long for this game to weave a spell of its own and draw the player in," he remarks. "If you have a PSP, you owe it to yourself to play this game." Over at GameSpot, Justin Calvert rates Patapon at 9 out of 10. "Like Puzzle Quest before it," he begins, "Patapon is a game that grabs key features from existing genres, squishes them together like different-colored balls of Play-Doh, and then turns them into something far more special than you might expect." "Patapon's recipe," Calvert explains, "blends rhythm-based controls with a horizontally scrolling real-time strategy game. Then--as if that combo wasn't already enticing enough--it sprinkles plenty of RPG-style gear collection and some fabulous visuals from French artist Rolito on top." Calvert claims that much of the fun in Patapon comes from its optional collection elements and minigames. "When you're not leading your Patapon army on a mission, there are a number of things to keep you occupied back at the tribe's home base," he writes. "A handful of rhythm-based minigames that are unlocked during missions can be played here to earn extra resources and, in one case, to prepare attribute-boosting food for your army." Additionally: "Collecting armor and weapons is one of the more compelling features of Patapon. Your army of eyeballs will look mighty impressive by the time you reach the end of the game. Because the game's loot selection is so large and varied, it's also unlikely it will look the same as anyone else's." Calvert warns that Patapon may prove to be overwhelming for those who lack a sense of rhythm, but assures that the game's soundtrack is entirely likeable nonetheless. "In short," he notes, "Patapon is unlike any game that has come before it, and with a retail price that's half of what many PSP games sell for, our recommendation of this ingenious recipe that has been masterfully realized is a no-brainer." Gabe Graziani at GameSpy awards Patapon with 4 out of 5 stars. "Patapon is about as charming a game as you could imagine," he praises. "Patapon lulls you into a state of zen focus as your every synapse locks onto the rhythmic pulses, never allowing you to rest for a moment." Like other reviewers, Graziani reports that Patapon's rhythm-based gameplay is fun and satisfying. "Some gamers may be turned off by by the odd combination of cuteness and challenge," he cautions, "but those who give it a chance will be rewarded with a game that is beautiful in its simplicity yet staggering in its depth and difficulty." However: "You'll rarely get a moment to enjoy the cute songs of your Patapons because you will be too busy trying to maintain their feverish state," he says. "Patapon is extremely unforgiving of even the smallest diversions from its pulsing beat, so that zen focus that we discussed earlier is not just a side effect but a requirement for players who want to progress." Graziani's opinion of Patapon is positive overall, though he expresses difficulty in recommending it as a portable game. "Patapon is like a cleverly designed trojan horse, built to sucker you in with cute graphics and then beat you down with its primal, rhythmic challenge," he concludes. "It's great fun, but you may find it tough to actually play the game on the go considering the amount of attention it requires." Other reviewers cite Patapon's lack of a pause function as a possible turnoff, particularly for gamers intending to play it while traveling. Otherwise, Patapon's gameplay appears to be garnering near-universal praise thus far, and thanks to its budget price, many reviewers claim that the title is a worthwhile venture for a majority of PSP owners.

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