The Patapon series is, easily, one of the highlights of Sony Japan Studio’s long history—but it wasn’t until I played Patapon 2 Remastered that I realised this. I never played the originals on PSP, and even Patapon Remastered passed me by amid a crowded release schedule. But Patapon 2 Remastered landed at just the right time to catch my attention, finally showing me what I’ve missed out on. Therein lies the true value of remasters: it’s not even about the “remastering” itself, nice as that can be, so much as keeping classics alive on current platforms. It’s about giving plays a chance to discover (or rediscover) gems from a bygone era.
Patapon 2, like its predecessor, is a rhythm game—but not your typical rhythm game. It’s also a strategy game, and an action game, and a god game, and an RPG—but not your typical strategy game, action game, god game, or RPG. There’s nothing else like it, aside from the other games in the same series.
In short, you play as the almighty deity of the Patapons, a tribe of hunters and warriors on a journey in search of something simply called “It”. Rather than controlling any of the Patapons directly, you command them by playing a set of mystical drums, each corresponding to a different button on the controller and making its own unique sound. The sequence you choose for each four-beat measure determines what your army of Patapons does in the next—drum “PATA, PATA, PATA, PON!” to order the group to march forward, or “PON, PON, PATA, PON!” to tell them to attack, or “CHAKA, CHAKA, PATA, PON!” to call for a defensive stance, among other patterns that you learn along the way.
While simple in concept, this setup leaves the door open for an impressive amount of depth. Maintaining a good, consistent rhythm is vital to success, but so is knowing when to attack or defend. Using a boss’s visual cues to know what attack it’s about to unleash is age-old action game design, but having to match your defensive moves to the rhythm of the music adds a new twist. Choosing the right assortment of different units for the whatever specific challenges each level presents is also key; bow-wielding Yumipons can dish out heavy damage, but they’re useless in narrow tunnels that don’t let their arrows fly free.
Growing and strengthening your army is crucial. You start Patapon 2 with just a few weak soldiers, but by hunting monsters and gathering materials, you can level up existing Patapons and create new ones. Reaching specific level milestones within each class of Patapon unlocks new classes to create, further expanding on the strategic options. It’s easy to get lost in farming Patapon 2‘s many bosses in the constant journey to greater strength, aided by the relative brevity of each individual level and the satisfaction inherent in the rhythm drumming at the game’s core.
Patapon 2 is, for the most part, a light-hearted and whimsical adventure. The Patapons and their enemies are an expressive bunch, silhouetted forms set against colourful backdrops to underscore their bold animations. Their high-pitched voices, chanting along in a call-and-response to your drumming, would almost be annoying if they weren’t so charming, and war-cries like “Spank their bottoms!” never get old.
For all it’s surface-level whimsy, Patapon 2 touches on some rather solemn and complex topics. It’s a game that casts you as the god of what is, essentially, a colonist army—after all, it opens with the survivors of a shipwreck washing up on an unknown land, only to start amassing an army and waging war on the locals in search of some vague, undefined goal. In doing so, Patapon 2 isn’t shy about questioning whether its “heroes” are heroes at all.
It has a nihilistic streak, too. The Patapons’ entire being is defined by their quest for some prize that none of them could actually describe, and every time they think they’ve found “It”, the wonder quickly wears off and then it’s back on the road in search of the next vague, undefined mcguffin. The Patapons dedicate their lives to searching for a sense of satisfaction that forever eludes them, but the search is also the thing that gives their life meaning. That a game can explore such complex themes with the nuance that Patapon 2 does, and with just a smattering of dialogue, is impressive.
For those who’ve played the first Patapon (whether in original or remastered form), Patapon 2 is very similar in its core design. The most significant addition is the Patapon Hero, who joins your army as an extra unit. You can freely change the Hero’s class before each mission to any of the others that you’ve unlocked, with each having a unique Hero ability that triggers when you do a perfectly-timed drum sequence. Patapon creation has also been reworked to make it easier to customise your squad and change units between different classes and to keep track of what materials are needed to level up.
Sadly, the original Patapon 2‘s multiplayer mode has been stripped back for Patapon 2 Remastered. In the original, up to four players could cooperate on boss hunting missions using their respective heroes. Those missions are still present in Remastered, but can only be played with AI-controlled companions, which removes the main appeal of them in the first place; instead, they mostly just feel like watered-down versions of regular missions where you can fight the same bosses with the full might of your Patapon army.
The remaster itself is a good one. Patapon 2‘s art style, defined by bold lines and bright colours, lends itself nicely to upscaling, and it looks stunning even in 1080p resolution (if you have the hardware for it, Patapon 2 Remastered supports 4K as well, though I couldn’t try that out). There are a few brief pre-rendered that haven’t been given the same treatment, presumably for technical reasons, but they’re few and far between.
But as I said at the start, the main appeal of remasters like this aren’t the visual enhancements so much as just having old classics conveniently available on current platforms. Patapon 2 Remastered gives a new breath of life to a wonderful game.