PaRappa the Rapper
I would like to say I have an eclectic taste in gaming. Though I’ve written about a rhythm game before (you remember, don’t you!?), it’s been quite some time since I’ve picked one up. I’ve played through Gitaroo Man, but I never picked up PaRappa the Rapper, what I would call the first modern rhythm game. I remember hearing people dismiss it as Simon spruced up to be a videogame, and although I had a friend who I saw play it and liked it, I just hadn’t given it a play through myself… until now.
The storyline of this game is simple. The game opens with a scene of a movie that you and your friends are watching, Jet Baby, which you vocally bash but secretly wish that you too were a super hero. You play as Parappa, a young rapping dog who has a crush on one of his friends, a sunflower named Sunny Funny. In most of the stages, you’re joined by your other friends Katy Kat, a bass playing cat, and P.J. Berri, a mellow bear skilled at mixing turntables. Within the first few minutes after grabbing some food (and in your case, a fresh tall glass of free water), a couple of bullies come in. Rather than standing up for himself and his friends, Parappa quietly tries to think about what to do while Sunny Funny tells them to get lost.
Then, out of another room bursts Joe Chin, the opposite of Parappa in every way – a rich dog, who loves to talk about himself, has been on many grand adventures, and is a big hulking bruiser who will go out of his way to show off to impress Sunny Funny. The problem for poor Parappa? Most of the time, it looks like it’s working. He decides he wants to become like a superhero, and get some self confidence, so he starts things off by going to Chop Chop Master Onion’s dojo to learn some martial arts.
…and that’s where most people I’ve met seem to have stopped playing the game, with the end of this stage, where it finished up on the demo disc. The next five stages include Parappa learning how to drive in order to impress Sunny Funny and take his friends places. His rap under Driving Instructor Moossolini, a moose traffic cop, is easily my favorite of the bunch, although they’re all pretty good. Once you can show Moossolini that you can drive (which really involves rapping while swerving dangerously to-and-fro on the road), you… crash your car. So that Parappa’s dad doesn’t bite him, he gets a job working at a flea market under Master Prince Fleaswallow, who teaches him how to hustle and sell anything. So now, you have a driver’s license, you have a job, but… you can’t figure out exactly how to impress Sunny Funny.
Katy Kat call in Parappa and P.J. Berri, and sits them down. Sunny’s birthday is coming up, and it’s time to divide up the duties. Parappa is stuck trying to get her a birthday cake, and after his cake is ruined, he is completely intimidated by the ridiculously over-the-top cake that Joe Chin comes up with to impress her. He decides to watch a cooking show with Chef Master Cheap Cheap, making an impressive seafood cake (even as a fan of seafood, this sounds dubious. It’s not just you). When Parappa proceeds to eat too much of it while out on a date with Sunny, he gets a stomach ache, and needs to use the bathroom. Badly. Willing to stop at the sketchy gas station bad. In order to use the gas station’s bathroom, he has to outrap his four former rap masters, one after another – Chop Chop Master Onion, Moossolini, Fleaswallow and Cheap Cheap, all in a row. I’ll leave the last stage and the end of his epic saga to your own gaming ability, but it fits in well with the rest of the storyline.
I go so far as to describe the story in detail because it helps to drive home the games actual underlying themes: sure, it’s an artsy rhythm game that most people dismissed as Japanese weirdness, but it’s all about getting the self confidence to deal with every day situations, to believe in yourself enough to take risks and do what you want – take that driving exam. Ask that girl out on a date. Get that job and make money. You gotta believe! It’s a pretty positive message wrapped up in some challenging gameplay in a bizarre setting. The game has a good sense of humor to it on top of the storyline itself: as a prime example, the only time that Sunny Funny seems to actually be enamored with Parappa is when his face is screwed up in this odd grimace as he stoically and quietly tries not to go incontinent before reaching the gas station bathroom.
The music in this game is awesome, and was created by Masaya Matsuura. It’s part of the reason I’ve deviated from the typical screenshots approach and linked to youtube videos of the stage playthroughs – the music makes the game as much as the gameplay, story and art. Its art style is distinct, the product of an American artist popular in Japan by the name of Rodney Greenblat. I enjoy the world he’s created. It’s not wacky just for the sake of being wacky; almost everything is animated and alive. It seems incidental rather than intentional – for example, he didn’t just draw Sunny Funny for the sake of having a talking sunflower, it feels more like he was drawing a character for Parappa to have a crush on and it just came out that way.
Many of the complaints against this game were for the difficulty level. It’s a love hate gameplay style – you have to have rhythm, and know the buttons on your controller like the back of your hand. It’s easy to learn and difficult to master, which I find to be enjoyable, though I can see why it’s not for everybody. It spawned an anime franchise for young children in Japan, which I have been told is not the most enjoyable thing to watch, even for kids. It spawned two other games, one of which was a direct sequel that was regrettably lacking in every aspect of the original game – the art was worse, the game play was dumbed down, the music only had one track I can remember liking, and the game had an over the top wacky storyline that was definitely written for the sake of being wacky, in a weird aping caricature of the original game. The series did not go out with a bang, but with a whimper.
PaRappa the Rapper is a classic, plain and simple. If you can’t get your hands on the original game, it was re-released on the PSP, and has finally been put on the Playstation Network as well. I had read there were problems with the emulation of the game being difficult to pull off due to timing issues. It’s worth picking up though, and I recommend you don’t just watch playthroughs: give the game a try yourself.