PaRappa the Rapper‘s original release was a PSOne gem. Tightly designed, focused, and very bizarre, it ignited in many people not only a love for rhythm games, but also for some of the creative colour and flair that could only come from somewhere like Japan. PaRappa summarised the best PSOne had to offer.
Now PaRappa has returned. In an industry that has perhaps matured to accept and embrace smaller, independent titles as part of its backbone, PaRappa the Rapper feels more at home in the current market than ever before. Masaya Matsuura’s directorial debut, in collaboration with the wonderful designs of Rodney Greenblat, has laser focus in what it sets out to do, and it feels decisively modern in design. That just goes to show how far ahead of its time PaRappa truly was.
PaRappa feels decisively modern in design.
As far as touch up jobs go, PaRappa takes the approach of leaving the original mostly intact. The biggest differences from the original are the visual enhancements during the actual rapping stages, now wide-screen (though it does give you a 4:3 option) with ultra crisp graphics. PaRappa has never looked so vibrant. The track remixes originally exclusive to the PSP rerelease make a return here, as well as brand new controller vibration to the beat, which seems to fit perfectly.
The CG cutscenes have not been enhanced (this would have required them to basically remake them), but nevertheless retain a certain old school charm. PaRappa’s story is at once both absurdly surreal, and also profoundly realistic. PaRappa is a young dog who just wants to impress the girl he likes (though unbeknown to him she already likes him anyway). He struggles in trying to better himself, and with feelings of inferiority to others. To get over this he “has to believe”, rapping his way through strange scenarios. It’s a relatable and very human story (even though it’s a romance between a dog and a sunflower), told through the medium of rapping onions and very suspicious chameleon salesmen (“The skunk over here will bring you luck”??).
The loose design of the system embraces the loose nature of actual rap and hip hop.
PaRappa learns his life lessons from various sensei, who, as well as dishing out wisdom, also make with the rhymes. This plays out through a series of “call-and-response” lyrics, the sensei spittin’ over button prompts at the top of the screen, with you then having to repeat that back to the beats afterwards. This seems pretty simple and in-keeping with other games in the genre, but that’s just the surface of PaRappa’s mechanics. The loose design of the system embraces the loose nature of actual rap and hip hop — just matching the button presses will only get you a passing grade.
You can add your own flourishes to the lines to come up with your own flow. On replaying the stages, this can earn you a “Cool” ranking, initiating a freestyle section where you alone dictate the rap, outside of your sensei’s guidance. It’s a wonderful system that celebrates creativity in creating music. If anything, only sticking to the dictated button presses can sometimes leave your raps a little stiff. While mixing it up can often result in nonsense, it can be some pretty catchy nonsense.
Going back to the original version of the game, people have already been sharing their own takes on the songs for quite some time now. Listening to their own unique takes on each song is a joy. In terms of rankings, though, the way it decides whether you’re “cool” or not still seems like a bit of a mystery at times, with it sometimes rewarding what feels like pure mashing. But it does encourage playfulness and experimentation with what initially seems to be a very simple system.
PaRappa the Rapper does still show its age in places, but far more it shows just how forward thinking it was back in the day. Perhaps more of a curio on its initial release, when judged by today’s standards, PaRappa showcases some truly modern design sensibilities. At only six songs, it does feel a little short, but this remaster is at a budget price, so it’s hard to complain. Every one of those songs is great though — both criminally catchy, and narratively superb. You’ll find yourself revisiting PaRappa in short bursts, not just to try to nail down all of those tricky Cool rankings, but just to lay down some fine verses once again.
If you’re looking for more like this, Gitaroo Man will be right up your alley — read about why its style of story-telling through music is the best way of making a rhythm game here.