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Patapon (PSP)

Rated: 7+.

Story: You are the god of the Patapon - a two-dimensional race of stickmen vaguely resembling Mike from Monsters Inc. You must try to recapture the glory days of Patapon supremacy by using your divine powers of rhythm to lead them to a sacred relic at the edge of the world.

Gameplay: The Patapon move from left to right through the levels, taking on wildlife, monsters and opposing tribes. You must guide them towards the promised land by tapping out drumbeats on the shape buttons of the PSP in time with the beat. Different combinations of buttons issue different commands, such as advance, defend or attack. As the game progresses, you gain the ability to control various types of Patapon. Some have spears, some bows and some melee weapons. Different Patapon are more effective depending on which commands you give your army.

Between levels, it's possible to trade items acquired during combat for more troops and to select improved equipment and armour.

Save System: Manual save between levels only. The levels are pretty short, though.

Comments: Considering how many games I play, it's rather embarrassing how bad I am at them. I normally struggle through, though, quite often swapping perseverance and cunning for actual skill. By sheer force of will, I made it to the end of Tomb Raider III, which is probably a great deal better than most people managed, and, while ninja skills and twitch reflexes aren't my thing, if you want someone who's good at finding AI quirks or gameplay loopholes to exploit then I'm your man. Generally, I get by.

One genre that is pretty much beyond me, however, is rhythm action. I can't even clap along with a beat to save myself, so trying to press buttons in synch with music is harder than changing a nappy with one hand and feeding a toddler with the other. I just can't do it.

Despite this, I can usually have some fun with rhythm games by relying on the visual prompts. Which makes it a problem that Patapon doesn't really have any...

This is down to the game's relative complexity. It involves not only getting the timing right but choosing the bars of 'music' to command the Patapon in an appropriate fashion for their situation. Deciding what to do, remembering which sequence of buttons to tap and matching them to the beat is a lot of fast-paced multi-tasking. Other rhythm games give plenty of warning as a particular button press approaches but Patapon can't because it's up to the player which button to press. The only visual cue is that the border of the screen flashes with the beat. To the musically-challenged like myself, this is no help whatsoever.

I did OK to start with and, after a little practice, I even felt I was getting good at the game. Then, halfway through level five or so, the beat changed and I was totally unable to control my Patapon. At all. They just kept falling over and making sarcastic comments about how rubbish I was. The sad thing is, they were right. I had to give up.

This was a shame because the game has a refreshing visual style, decent sound and is quite fun. The length of time it takes to issue commands can be frustrating and there's a lot of replaying of levels required to build up resources but the idea of a rhythm-strategy game is unique. Whether the concept stretches for the whole game, I don't know... and I guess I never will.

Conclusion: A great and innovative game. Probably. If your percussion skills are limited, you might want to go with a rental rather than a purchase - there's almost certainly only so much being booed by stickmen that you can take.

Graphics Sharp, atmospheric and unusual. Like one of those silhouette puppet shows.

Length: A quick poll of people on the internet who have rhythm suggests Medium to Long.

Rating: 4/5 if you can clap to a beat and walk in a straight line at the same time. If this combination of activities is liable to cause you injury or misfortune, however, you might want to give the whole thing a miss.

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