Few games can compare themselves to Patapon; it's an original concept designed specifically for the PlayStation Portable, relying on style and creativity to gain attention. The first two entries into the series delivered a stimulating experience by creating a little genre of its own, you could call it... rhythm action strategy. That fusion of genres is what gave Patapon an edge over pretty much everything else on the platform, but now we're onto game number three, and the cracks are starting to get a little deeper. Patapon 3 is everything you'd expect it to be; stylish, cute and quirky. It's also repetitive, boring and disappointing.
Patapon 3 ran out of steam sometime during the past year, because the concept isn't anywhere near invigorating as before. It's mechanically sound, but it's not very adventurous. Of course, you're still getting one of the most visually unique games on the market. Patapon 3 is art, take a screenshot and frame it. Seriously, this stuff could be put into a gallery in any major city. The character design is tremendous, all of the environments are stunning, the colour palette is rich and diverse, even the enemies are beautiful in their own strange way. Sony's PSP is made for games like this, and your eyes will never witness a dull moment. Vibrant and gorgeous; Patapon 3 pulls you into a stunning, imaginative world, which makes its not-so-great gameplay difficult to stomach.
Patapon 3 plays unlike anything else (except the first two, obviously). Your tiny characters can move, attack, defend, jump, etc., but this is only possible through timing with the beat. Each face button is mapped to a specific drum, each drum makes a different sound, and each combination relates to one of several commands. A white outline tells you when to start banging those drums, and Patapon 3 follows the same ground rules of alternatives in the genre - timing is key. Punishment for failure is dished out through frustration, even though the window for error isn't terribly tight. Struggling to remember the sequence you want is tiresome, mainly for newcomers, although having a list along the bottom of the screen definitely helps. It's just so darn difficult to look away from the lovely graphics. Patapon 3 is almost faultless visually; menus can become convoluted and the presentation quality can dip outside of the core missions, otherwise you'll nearly always have eye candy.
Gameplay is about flow, so if your sense of rhythm is equal to that of a drunken hobo, then you're not going to enjoy Patapon 3. Once the beat kicks in and you become familiar with the (also familiar) gameplay, it's a satisfying experience, albeit a rehashed one. Progression leads to increased power, which in turn leads to a more effective battalion and less of a challenge. Boss fights toss up the action and provide more fearsome opponents, but if you're playing the game properly and upgrading as you push forward, then you won't break a sweat. The upgrade system will be discussed later so until then, look at the screenshots one last time. We're not going to drift off along a tangent because we've already talked about the graphics, however, the work by French artist Rolito has to be plugged. Without him, the Patapon franchise probably wouldn't exist. If you want a reason to pick up this game, that's your excuse.
Following on from the concluding events in Patapon 2, number three picks up the story and does very little to develop it. Somewhere between being bombarded with dialogue boxes and helpful advice, Patapon 3 tries to weave the tale of your team fighting against magical spirits, meeting weird and wonderful characters on their journey. To be fair, you're not playing this game because of its alluring script, you're playing it for originality and its niche appeal. However, the positives suffer because of (yes, this word again) repetition. When you boot up Patapon 3, you need to skip past eleven pages of legal jargon that nobody reads. That's fine, until you do it again and again every time you turn on the console. It's a minor irk blown out of proportion, although the audio only makes matters worse.
Being a game focusing primarily on the use of sound, Patapon 3 is an 'intriguing' game to hear. Music aficionados won't be terribly keen on the unorthodox tunes, their charm quickly wears off and lingers around without much flavour. If you enjoyed the happy-smiley chirps from the first two, then you won't be too worried about the simple audio. It goes like this; "pata-pata-pata-pata-pata-pata-pata-pata-pata-pon." Well, maybe that was an exaggeration of the facts but the point is still valid, Patapon 3 is a repetitive game, and all the fancy graphics in the world can't veil the droning chants of your mini-army. Speaking of which, that's another change for Patapon 3. Large military units are no more, they've been replaced with four individual characters, and that's where the game begins to show what's really lurking beneath the colour.
Underneath the inviting glow of the pretty visuals is a deep, customisable strategy game. The gameplay can be summed up in a few commands, but the time spent between missions is statistically heavy and demands careful management. You can buy new items, upgrade weapons and improve your reinforcements, among other things; and this is going to be the turning point for most of you. Patapon 3 is fan service, but it's deceptively difficult and if you're not familiar with the series, then you're probably expecting it to be something completely different. The game doesn't shy away from delivering a robust package, it's one of the most complete on the system and there's plenty of stuff to get through. Job well done on that front, and the new online modes are a great addition to the series, increasing the lifespan for hardcore followers with their added variety, but only the dedicated need apply.
Try not to become too emotional with all this negativity; Patapon 3 is still a solid game and serves its purpose by giving fans more of what they love. But even with all of the content and all of the visual splendor, it's the gameplay that falls short and does nothing to help the concept evolve. There's enjoyment and gratification to be found behind a brick wall of repetition, so you'll need to commit some serious hours to get into the groove. Is that what you want from a portable game? Is that what you want from a game that looks so warm and welcoming? Not likely. You need to decide if you want more Patapon or if you want something refreshing, because you're not going to find both in here.