Patapon 3 review: Pata-Pata-Pata-Punishing

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Patapon 3 review: Pata-Pata-Pata-Punishing
When all the components of a game development studio share a singular, inspired vision, that spirit of cooperation shines through its products in a very real, very satisfying way. You can certainly think of a game you've played where you can just feel that the the team responsible for the game shared cogent, unique vision. On the other hand, when a studio suffers from an apparently severe split personality disorder, it's equally apparent, and infinitely more disappointing.

Patapon 3 suffers from seemingly being developed by two distinct sects of people subscribing to two different design philosophies: One group wants you to fall wildly love their product, and the other wants to use their product as a means to completely destroy you. Sadly, the charm produced by the first never quite surmounts the infuriation of the latter.
%Gallery-96053%The successes of the "Good Guys," for lack of a better term, are evident from the title screen. The simple, sillhouetted visuals are as sharp as ever, and the titular, sing-song soldiers are still capable of melting the hearts of the game's most callous players. There's more of each to go around this time as well -- Patapon 3 features more playable classes than has ever been included in the game, each more aesthetically diverse and sonically pleasing than the last.

These classes are broken down into three types -- the close-range fighter, the medium-range pikeman and the long-range archer. Your army has been significantly shrunken this time around, consisting of one of each of these different archetypes, the flag-bearing Hatapon and one "Uberhero," who also subscribes to one of the three types listed above -- albeit with better stats, more powerful skills and sharper duds than his cohorts.

Though your troops have diminished in number, there's more depth than ever when it comes to outfitting them. Each archetype can swap between different classes, filling more advanced roles like a heavily-armored defender or a healing-focused magic user. These classes are leveled up independently, meaning swapping from your Level 10 spear-thrower to your Level 6 chariot-rider is going to require a bit of an investment to get your weaker classes up to snuff.

It's good that there's so much depth in the game's character and inventory management systems, as the actual gameplay's just as simple as ever. As the omnipotent god-force, you'll guide troops using a four-measure series of drum hits using the PSP's corresponding four face buttons. Now, there's some strategy as far as getting that ideal placement on the battlefield, or timing your attacks so they really hit when it counts -- but at the end of the day, most of your interaction with the game will involve repeating the same three button sequences.

"Around every corner, it buckles beneath the weight of its own ambition, hoping that its catchy, four-measure jingles and visual charm can redeem its rage-inducing missteps."

Pyramid and Japan Studio have attempted to shake off some of this monotony by implementing an extremely ambitious multiplayer component. Not only allows players to form four-player lobbies from which they can go on co-op or competitive excursions, they can now unionize into even larger "Teams." This system almost resembles the guild functionality found in most MMOs -- players can invite one another to a roster, complete Team challenges to earn points and level up the group, and unlock bonuses to further customize their organization.

Patapon 3 has more ambition and depth than you'd expect out of a $20 product -- but unfortunately, each of its successes are countered by an equally defeating contribution from the "Bad Guys."
Take, for instance, the fact that the interface for customizing your fighters is one of the most nebulous and unwieldy systems ever included in an RPG. Selling, upgrading and equipping items takes place in -- no joke -- three different buildings in the overworld hub. The skill and class trees are twisting, indecipherable mazes that afford you no information on how to unlock the abilities and archetypes you want, making your progression in the game an aimless, unsatisfying journey.

That unneeded complexity is unfortunate, as you'll be spending a great deal of time trying to beef up your soldiers to survive Patapon 3's unimaginably frequent difficulty spikes. At certain points in the game, every single level will present you with a challenge that will stop your army like a brick wall, frequently killing everyone in your party with a single shot, forcing you to go back and grind away until you can survive the challenge. As earlier levels offer diminishing EXP returns as you level up, grinding becomes a more painful process the more you need it.

Oh, and all those neat multiplayer components? They work -- but the game's Wi-Fi-enabled Infrastructure Mode does not. After an hour of trying, I was never able to sync up with a PSN friend, and could only find my way into lobbies with a bunch of random players. Even then, I was never able to finish an entire level without experiencing an infuriating, game-crashing network error.

Of course, no game is the product of a struggle between "Good" and "Bad" development teams. That's not how it works. Ultimately, Patapon 3 is the product of big dreams half-achieved. Around every corner, it buckles beneath the weight of its own ambition, hoping that its catchy, four-measure jingles and visual charm can redeem its rage-inducing missteps.

They don't.

This review is based on a review copy of Patapon 3 provided by Sony.
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