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PSP Fanboy hands-on: Patapon

Beneath its charming exterior is a complex, deep game. Patapon is not as simple as its childish graphics may lead on. The dying tribe of the Patapon need their God to command them, and after a mysterious absence, you are ready to return to their lives and lead them.

We've been spending some time with a localized near-final version of this PSP exclusive, and we have to say we're impressed. We wouldn't expect any less from the team that brought us LocoRoco. It's hard to pinpoint a genre to this innovative title, as it fuses elements from the music and strategy genre. At its core, it's a rhythm title, as you're required to input commands using various drums at your disposal. At first, you only have two: the Pata and the Pon drums. By inputting notes on the beat, players will be able to command their growing Patapon army. For example, by pressing Pata-Pata-Pata-Pon, the creatures will advance forwards. Then, attacks can be executed by inputting Pon-Pon-Pata-Pon.

There are a number of drum entires possible, and we've yet to learn them all. Eventually, you'll be able to tell the Patapon to hold, or retreat. We're certain that more advanced moves will be unearthed when we unlock the other drums. (Each drum is assigned to a face button, for four drums in all.) Crucial to successful gameplay is keeping with the beat. As you input commands in sequence, the combo meter increases. When a 10 combo is reached, the Patapon enter Fever mode, which greatly increases their killing power. The spears they throw, for example, can traverse from one side of the screen to the other (as seen in the image above). Timing is crucial, as telling the Patapon to advance at the inopportune moment can lead to a number of unfortunate deaths.

Gallery: Patapon

Seeing the Patapon join forces to take down such towering foes reminds us of the Gamecube classic, Pikmin. The two games share more than a few similarities. As mentioned earlier, Patapon is as much a strategy game as it is a music game. Before each mission, you have the ability to customize your outing, by choosing appropriate creatures, and equipping them with equipment. There are multiple kinds of Patapon you can create, and within each type, there are variations based on the ingredients used to concoct them. For example, one Patapon might use a small piece of meat to summon. However, throw in a fresher, larger piece of meat when creating the creature, and you'll get a souped up fighter, colored differently from the rest. Before each level, you're free to arrange your Patapon formation and change the weapons each type is carrying. You may want archers in the back, or you may want to protect a catapult-wielding soldier by placing spear-wielding Patapon around it. Each level will require some forethought in order to maximize your spoils at the end.

It's a bit jarring to see how much depth the character customization tools provide. Who knew that such a colorful, animated game would have us play in a similar style to a SOCOM game? Granted, there's also an "Optimize" feature, which allows the computer to decide what it thinks may be best for your current team. Hopefully, the game is balanced enough to be accessible to both casual and hardcore gamers alike.

The game appears to be quite lengthy, at least if we can trust the world map shown to us. In addition to standard kill-and-conquer levels, there are a few other diversions to take upon. Our favorite is a PaRappa-styled music mini-game, where you must listen to a song of a great deity, and you must play it back exactly. The art and animation of these segments are truly inspired, and the unforgiving gameplay makes it a fun challenge we love to try again and again.

Patapon isn't coming out to the US until early next year, but already we see it has the legs to be a winner. The localization of the title is superb so far, effectively capturing the game's unique spirit and mood. We're pretty sure that Patapon will get the same amount of love, if not more, as its LocoRoco predecessor.

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