Most of our reviews here at Source Gaming tend to be of the Nintendo or fighting game variety, as that tends to be what resonates the most with you, our Source Gaming readers. Some games, however, have a special sort of crossover appeal. I believe Parappa the Rapper to be that sort of game. This is a game with a colorful, cartoon sort of aesthetic. It is an extremely influential rhythm game that is considered by most to be a Sony classic. It is also a game that recently had a remaster release for the Playstation 4. So, how does this game hold up after all these years?
So what’s this about?
Parappa the Rapper, originally released on the Playstation One in 1996, is often considered the first modern rhythm game. The game presents you with various situations which transition into songs that the player has to rap along to by correctly following on-screen button prompts. If you hit the buttons with the right rhythm at the right time, you can maintain a “good rating” for the song and will be able to complete the level. If you do not, the song meter will drop down first to bad and then to awful, and you will have to repeat the stage. Interspersed between these songs are humorous cutscenes which advance the game’s story. The plot itself is paper thin. You play as the titular Parappa, a teenage rapping dog whose only in-game goal is to supplant the square-jawed Joe Chin as the object of Sunny Funny’s (an anthropomorphic sunflower) affection. This leads to situations such as Parappa joining a dojo or appearing on a cooking show to bake a cake, each of which our positive hero tackles with gusto and his trademark shout of “I gotta believe!”
What does it do right?
I have played very few games with as much charm as Parappa in my near 30 years of gaming. The characters in the game are absurd but amazingly likable and memorable, as are the situations that our titular rapping dog finds himself in. I still remember how ridiculously awesome it was the first time I beat the cooking chicken stage and found myself having to rap my way to the front of the bathroom line in gaming’s most hilarious boss rush. The game can be tough, but if you give it enough time you’ll eventually find the funky flow of each one of the game’s six songs. Those songs are really the highlight of this package, as they are fun, silly things that will stick in your head for weeks if not years. Don’t be surprised if, after playing this game, you start singing “butter, butter, butter, joins the bowl,” next time you’re in the kitchen.
The game is short, but once you have successfully completed all six songs you unlock the ability to attain a “cool” rank for songs by improvising during raps. This leads to a freestyle segment… which is an odd feature as Parappa is still stuck saying the same stock phrases over and over. Still, it’s a nice extra after the game is completed. The remaster also has a remixed version of songs (basically different background music) that can be selected for extra replayability. Thankfully, a stage select is accessible after a stage is cleared, meaning you do not have to go through the song you may find frustrating (looking at you cooking chicken) just to play a favorite. The in song graphics look very sharp. It’s night and day between this game and the original release, with the 2D characters looking especially sharp and crisp.
But is it Good?
It has good elements to be sure, but the game also has its fair share of issues. In regards to the remaster, I find it odd that the cutscenes did not receive the same graphical overhaul as the game itself. It’s a bit jarring switching from one to the other as they just don’t quite match. The game itself also shows it’s age. It’s a fun game, but with six songs it is also a short game. More importantly, though, it can be very a clumsy and infuriating experience. The on-screen prompts don’t actually match the song rhythm. You still have to pay attention to the prompt, though, as you will not know what button to hit if you don’t. It’s a frustrating design that is either the result of poor execution or a willful ploy to make the game more challenging due to it’s short length. Also, while the songs are excellent, Parappa’s rapping is pretty choppy and awful. At least he believes, though.
The final verdict
This…was a hard question for me to answer. I have a lot of nostalgic love for Parappa the Rapper, but in trying to see this game through the eyes of a new gamer I could see that it has not aged gracefully. There have been many, many rhythm games released in the twenty-one years since Parappa debuted, and they have improved on the game in almost every way. At $14.99 it’s a cheap buy, and the songs and world of Parappa the Rapper are as engaging as ever. Still, the game is clunky and unforgiving, and the game really feels like the relic of an earlier age. The biggest impression this game left me with was how much could be improved upon for a modern iteration of the game.