Long before Harmonix formed their Rock Band, Red Octane became a Guitar Hero and everybody ignored Frequency, there was PaRappa the Rapper. Released almost exactly ten years ago, PaRappa the Rapper was one of the very first rhythm games released in the United States. But if you're one of those people that missed the game the first time around (or you love the game enough to take it with you) there's good news, Sony has decided release a portable version for their PSP. What am I ever going to do with all of those crazy characters, levels and rap songs in my pocket? Oh wait, I know, I gotta believe!
PaRappa the Rapper tells the timeless story of a paper-thin dog (PaRappa) who falls in love with a paper-thin flower (Sunny Funny). Unfortunately our young hero isn't nearly as smooth as he would like to be, so he sets off on an adventure to become the kind of man (dog?) that the woman (flower?) of his dreams will fall in love with. Along the way he will meet up with a bunch of musical strangers who will teach PaRappa a life lesson, from karate to driving to selling junk to cooking seafood cakes.
The PaRappa story is presented in short (and often comical) cinemas full of memorable characters, great voice acting and giant cliffhangers. If you were just to listen to the songs in the game it might be hard to figure out just how each of these tunes fit into a larger story, but Sony has crafted a story that is not only weird, but also funny and endearing. While it's not the kind of thing you can make a feature length movie about, the PaRappa story is cute enough to warrant a play through from beginning to end.
PaRappa the Rapper is essentially an elaborate game of Simon Says. Before you start each of the six levels you will be introduced to a different colorful character who will want you to rap about something that is important to them. Once the song starts your teacher will start off by saying one thing and want you to repeat it using the four face buttons (triangle, square, circle and X buttons). Hit the buttons at just the right time and you'll be rewarded with points (and a congratulatory record scratch), miss the beat and the game will take points away.
In each song you will have a four-tier rating meter to deal with. When you start the song you will be on the second best rating ("GOOD!"), but if you start to miss notes you'll get bumped down to "BAD!" and then the, heaven forbid, "AWFUL!" rating. On the flip side, if you manage to play the songs perfectly you will be upgraded to the "COOL!" rating, which will allow you to freestyle and earn extra points. One thing that is especially cool about the different ratings is that they actually change the way the songs sound and how the teacher character reacts to you. For example, in some levels if you are doing poorly parts of the background will fall down on you or the other character will come out of the television set and scold you. And if you do too poorly the teacher will stop the music and tell you to try again. Some of the changes are a bit subtle, but they definitely add a lot to this simplistic music game.
If there was ever any problem with PaRappa the Rapper it was the game's short single-player mode. With only six songs it's conceivable that somebody could go through the game in around twenty minutes, which is definitely on the short side. Of course, most players will take a little longer than that because they'll have to play through the songs more than once, but there's no denying that this is a short (albeit interesting) game.
Unfortunately this PSP PaRappa the Rapper isn't any different from the original game. You still only have six levels to play through, which feels awfully short considering this is a $30 game. Once you've finished the levels you can play through your favorite songs again, but outside of that your options are a bit limited. There is an option to download a number of song remixes off of Sony's website, but these remixed songs range from mediocre to just plain awful. What's more, these remixes don't actually change the levels or gameplay any, they just add in slightly different music. And to make matters even worse, these remixed songs aren't even on the game disc. If you want to experience these new renditions of the classic PaRappa songs you will have to download them from the internet, which makes absolutely no sense to me. You would think that a UMD disc containing nothing more than a ten year old game would have enough room for a few extra remixes.
One thing the PSP game does have going for it is the inclusion of a four-player mode. Unfortunately this multiplayer mode is relatively simple and only score based. This is the same sort of thing you could do by simply passing the controller from one person to another; there's no doubt that this multiplayer mode is a major disappointment. I'm not sure what Sony could have done to make the Ad-Hoc four-player games more fun, but since this is the only real addition to the ten year old game it just seems like they missed a golden opportunity.
Thanks to advancements in polygonal counts and 3D effects, most ten year old PlayStation games don't look very good when put up against contemporary titles. Oddly enough, this common problem doesn't apply to PaRappa the Rapper, which still looks great all these years later. A large part of this is because PaRappa uses a unique art style that you don't see very often, it features paper-thin 2D characters living in a fully realized 3D world. The objects that are in 3D all look remarkably good, and the 2D characters are so cute and endearing that it's hard to fault the art style. Throw in the widescreen support of the PSP and this game is, dare I say it, a really good looking portable game.
The music is also top notch, with great songs that cover a wide selection of different rap styles. While the 50 Cent-loving hip hop fans may scratch their heads at the rap songs featured in PaRappa, these six songs are accessible to just about everybody ... even people who normally don't care much for rap music. It doesn't hurt the music any that the lyrics are often hysterical and you'll love the crazy scenarios that PaRappa gets himself into.
But despite the strong presentation and fun (also shallow) gameplay, PaRappa suffers from not being a very good value. It won't take you long to beat the single player game and after that you probably won't come back to it as much as you would Guitar Hero, Amplitude or any of the other music games. This $30 PSP game could have used a few more bells and whistles, perhaps some extra levels or something. It would have been nice to feature both PaRappa the Rapper 1 and 2, or maybe throw in the pseudo-sequel, Um Jammer Lammy. Considering that you can buy the original PlayStation games off the PS3's network for $24 cheaper, PaRappa the Rapper just feels like it's horribly overpriced.
The good news is that PaRappa the Rapper, along with Gitaroo Man Lives!, proves that you can have solid music games on the PSP. Hopefully this is just Sony testing the waters to see if they should invest their time and money into re-releasing games like Frequency and Amplitude. Even if we never see those types of games on Sony's handheld, the good news is that PaRappa the Rapper is a solid PSP game that is worth checking out. If you're one of those people who missed PaRappa the first time around then there's no excuse not to check this game out (or at least find the original PlayStation disc), fans of the series may want to just hold on to their ten year old copy and wait for Sony to give us something brand new.
PaRappa the Rapper is just as much fun on the PSP as it was ten years ago on the PlayStation, unfortunately it's also the exact same game that we played all those years ago. Even with a strong presentation and great music, this "updated" PaRappa just feels like a missed opportunity to give us some extra content and a reason to spend $30 on the game a second time around!