Um Jammer Lammy
With my last article, I talked about a well known title that is much beloved, little understood or a frustrated mixture of the two, PaRappa the Rappa. It’s the first modern rhythm game, and really started a genre all of its own. I mentioned the fact that it’s direct sequel, PaRappa the Rappa 2, was a damn tragedy in comparison. What I avoided discussing was the spiritual sequel, a game that takes place with some of the same characters, in the same town and strange universe: Um Jammer Lammy.
Much like it’s spiritual predecessor, they decided to keep the storyline of this game simple. Once more, the game opens to a group of friends watching a movie, this time Jet Baby 2. Lammy tells her friends, Katty Kat (the bass-playing friend of PaRappa’s) and Ma-san, a small bear with dynamite for hair who speaks in weird buzzing sounds, about how she wishes she could be strong like Jet Baby. Katty tries to tell her that she’s always strong, and just needs to be more confident – nobody can beat her when she’s on guitar. Ma-san is a little less encouraging, and tells her that otherwise, she’s a wimp. The drummer of Milkcan is not the nicest woman in the group, by any means. While sitting down and eating at a burger joint, the same bullies from PaRappa come in, making it look as if things will play out like the first game as they spot Ma-san, and start making a pass at her. When Katty throws Lammy her guitar, she instantly gets her confidence and beats the tar out of the bullies, starting the game off.
While the game has parallels to PaRappa the Rapper, it is it’s own game. The gameplay story kicks off with Lammy mumbling anxiously to herself as she’s running through the back halls at the concert hall for Milkcan’s show, trying to think of plausable excuses to tell her bandmates about why she’s running late (including an amusing reference of needing to rap battle four people to use the bathroom at the gas station on the way over). When she finally gets on stage, she sees that not only do Katty Kat and Ma-san not care that she’s late, they’ve added a new singer to their 3-piece band: Chop Chop Master Onion. It seems that the martial arts master has fallen on hard times, since his clothing looks dirty, ripped and disheveled, and he has stink lines coming off of him. As he sings, the song is about fighting through anxiety by imagining that tasks are related to that which one is great at, helping Lammy realize: the guitar is in her mind. Not only does it reveal the martial arts masters downfall, it’s also a fun summary of the rest of the game coming up. After the song, he gives her a pep talk about how the dojo he teaches martial arts at is in his mind (it even has a casino). While she was on stage, she was playing a vacuum cleaner. But it’s alright; the guitar is in her mind.
After the song is over, she wakes up to realize… it was a dream. But she slept in late, and only has 15 minutes to get to the show. Listening to a recording of her voicemail as someone is calling to leave her a message, she frantically shuts things off around her house before running out the door… and running straight into a fire. The firefighter let’s her know that if she’s in such a hurry, she can help to put the fire out faster, and they’ll let her by. He hands her a hose, and though she starts to panic, she pushes away her anxiety: a hose, a guitar… it’s all in her mind.
After putting out the fire, the firefighters as so impressed they treat Lammy to a nice pizza from the pizza place that caused the fire. After eating an entire pizza, she’s got quite the large food baby going on, and realizes with a panic that she only has eleven minutes left before her concert starts, so she begins sprinting down the street… right into what is by far the strangest scene in a very strange game. There is a march of proud pregnant rabbit women and rabbit men straight through downtown, who are all heading to a commercial birthing facility to pop out babies. A horrible caterpillar nurse, wandering around and vomiting on babies and mothers and Lammy, is directing everything that goes on, and Lammy is swept inside with everyone. While the other mothers deliver their babies, Lammy uses the bathroom, and goes to sneak out, when she is caught by the terrifying vomiting nurse, who is angry that she doesn’t have a baby delivered like everyone else, and since she won’t be paying any fees for delivering a baby, she better help take care of the babies that are there. Throwing her an infant, Lammy at first starts to freak out because this woman just threw her a baby, but instead calms herself, and controls her anxiety. A guitar, a baby (!), it’s all in her mind – and she proceeds to jam out using the babies face.
After putting all the babies to sleep, Lammy starts to panic as she realizes that the time is ticking down until her concert, and she only has eight more minutes. Accidentally stealing someone’s guitar, she then proceeds to end up on a plane, and ends up taking on-the-job flying lessons from an old Air Force pilot. One upping PaRappa by learning to fly a plane rather than drive a car, she helps out this loopy pilot, since if she compares the controls of the plane to a guitar… you can just leave it to Lammy!
Once she finishes her metal set in the sky, she realizes the time is ticking down fast; there are only three minutes left before she has to be on stage. What’s worse? She Lammy left her guitar on the plane. Thankfully she spots a guitar shop right across the street, where she realizes they are out of all of the stock they had as she tries to describe the cool features she absolutely needs in her guitar to buy from him. What starts off as a creepy insinutation by this weird buck-toothed beaver suddenly becomes terrifying when he pulls out a chainsaw and tells her if she wants that guitar, she’s gonna have to put in the work for it and help him cut down trees and build it from wood. Truly, one of the more interesting techniques to create an electric guitar that I’ve ever seen.
Once she’s done playing a chainsaw like a guitar, the beaver has finished making her solid wooden guitar, and she dashes out the door with only two minutes to spare… only to get her belt caught on the doorknob, flinging her all the way back through all the stages, past her own dream and onto a desert island, where there is a strange tiki bar with a sinister snake woman as a lounge singer, an ominous crowd that looks very much like the scales of a snake, and creepy demonic skull themed decor. I’ll get back to discussing this stage in a bit.
Once she’s done, the Snake Idol Singer offers to send her straight to the concert using her secret teleporting machine (known to us in the real world as a fax machine, referencing the strange paper doll flatness that makes up everyone in this universe). Just as she’s about to step in, she sees her shadow self, Rammy, who starts to angrily yell at her about all the things that she’s missed out on because Lammy was too meek and anxious, and demands that she rock battles her then and there. Lammy, having found her confidence, gives her a smile and a nervous laugh and says “Well, maybe next time, but I’ve got a concert to get to!” and leaps in to the fax machine.
I’ll leave what happens next a mystery, though I’m sure you can figure it out. Much like the first game, there is a heavy message attached to this one: if you push through your anxiety, you can do anything. Unlike PaRappa, she has something she’s great at already, and she has her confidence… but only when she’s doing that one thing. It’s obvious that Lammy has some lousy anxiety issues, and having known many people with anxiety issues, I think it’s a good message wrapped in a fun package. The storyline in this one is less cute and much more straight forward, but it works. It continues the weirdly whimsical and artistic themes instead of trying to go for wacky for the sake of wacky. As an added bonus, it tries to take that 90’s edginess and apply it to a sort of feminist rock version of it’s predecessor. Instead of most games featuring women, especially in pseudo-modern settings, where they are on the prowl for love, she’s just… trying to get to work, to get to her concert, and be the best she can be. One could even say the surreal mommy march that she ends up in is her version of declining having a family to pursue her career. I think it’s an awesome message for women, and I’m always surprised not to see this listed as one of the more progressive games, especially for it’s time.
The gameplay is more refined than PaRappa’s, while being more challenging. They added a versus mode between Lammy and her evil twin, Rammy (eat your heart out, Scott Pilgrim!), and even a sort of New Game + mode where you could play through the same songs and scenarios as Parappa. Sure, it didn’t make any sense storywise, but it’s fun to play the quirky rap versions. Doing well once you’ve unlocked these features will cause Parappa to join Lammy, or Lammy to join Parappa, where they start harmonizing in a rock-rap fusion version of the song. The updated gameplay can be great for people who liked PaRappa, but I can’t imagine it won the game any new fans, especially if they just thought of it as a follow up game, unless they really hate rap. Musically, this game also has extremely catchy songs – the music to the end credits has legitimately been stuck in my head for two weeks now as I’ve tried to beat the game.
Reviewers were pissy when the game came out, outraged that they edited one of the stages of Lammy. The sixth stage of Um Jammer Lammy was originally hell before it made it over to the states, instead of a bizarre desert island tiki bar. They thought her getting hit by a car just as she was almost inside the concert and then entertaining the masses of the fiery downstairs was too much, and changed it to the version that’s currently in the game. Really, they changed the song a bit, and they changed the lead-up video to it. It was an odd choice, I admit (you can even hear Chop Chop Master Onion warn you how you can even play in hell if you’re confident enough), though I didn’t think it ruined the game.
Um Jammer Lammy is a lost classic, for sure. It’s a game you can grab on the Playstation Network for only $6. Go on, grab the game and give it a play. Don’t be anxious about playing that challenging rhythm game. The controller is in your mind.