Players of the original Patapon are guaranteed to feel a little surge of happiness when they begin Patapon 2 by beating out the familiar 'pata-pata-pata-pon' chant that makes their Patapon march from the left to the right of the screen. That's because Patapon is one of those games - much like its stable mate LocoRoco - that's infectiously feel-good. Returning to its toe-tapping tunes and weird little one-eyed dancing warriors is like coming home after a spell away.
Game sequels traditionally do one of two things. They either play it safe and give you more of what you enjoyed last time, but even better, or they bring in major changes and hope that fans of the original don't get too upset. In the case of Patapon 2, the developer has gone very much for the option of keeping everything much the same as before with a few minor tweaks to try and justify a second game.
Army of Pon
So, you're commanding an army of Patapon on a march through one level after another filled to the brim with collectable spoils, obstacles, oversized creatures to fight and boss battles. For those unfamiliar with the first game, Patapon cleverly mixes strategy with rhythm (and a spot of resource management), calling on the player to command units using the beat of a drum. The PSP's four face buttons are turned into drums - 'pata', 'pon', 'chaka' and 'don' - and these, in turn, are used in different combinations to form commands. So, if you want your army to move forwards, you tap 'pata-pata-pata-pon'. To defend it's 'chaka-chaka-pata-pon'. Providing you get the rhythm right, your Patapon respond and vocalise your command in helium-ingested high-pitch.
Some things have changed, but - aside from the introduction of an oversized Hero Patapon who comes with a special attack - there's nothing new that actually affects the core gameplay. Of course, there are fresh levels, and those levels bring new monsters and a higher level of detail and depth than before for both the visuals and tunes.
However, jumping into Patapon 2's opening levels is nowhere near as exciting as it is in fellow sequel, LocoRoco 2. Basically, you're doing exactly the same as you were before - attacking, defending and marching from one problem to the next. The new stuff is only noticeable once you start levelling up your Patapon and collecting heroes.
This aspect of the game is where things have really evolved - literally, with the introduction of a comprehensive Evolution Map that lets you create all sorts of different Patapon types by trading items you've collected throughout the levels. Here you can beef a basic Patapon up into a Pyopyo or Buhyokko, depending on which fighting style you want for your army, and recruit three new Patapon types as well as the new, but unimaginatively named, 'Rarepon'. As before, you can also equip your existing Patapon with all sorts of helmets, swords and arrows you've collected. Sadly, as it was in the first game, if you lose a pimped-out Patapon in battle and don't recover his body, then that little fella is gone for good.
From the menu screen, you also get access to the new 'Paraget' (described as a gateway to the Hero World) which gives you a load of sub-levels to play either alone or in the new multi-player mode (which comes with some fun mini-games, too) in order to earn Parachari and buy treasure chests filled with rarer items.
There are new features then, it just doesn't feel like they go far enough. While the sound of the Patapon chanting 'pata-pata-pata-PON!' felt invigoratingly original before, now it's starting to grate a bit. Change the tune, guys. And while LocoRoco 2 got the balance between old and new just right, Patapon 2 has nothing that matches up to rolling down a hill encased in a giant afro. Yes, it's a better game than the original - the fleshed-out levelling up system, meatier tunes and four-player mode see to that, but if you've already marched to the beat of Patapon's drum, you may find this sequel bores more than it thrills.
More things to do than the original but its similarity means it's lacking in novelty.