The PSP’s status as the most powerful handheld gaming system on the market has somewhat backfired for Sony, resulting in a slew of derivative titles that feel like inferior spin-offs from those on a traditional console. “Patapon” is the rare PSP game that thinks completely outside the box, creating a fresh and original experience.

The PSP’s status as the most powerful handheld gaming system on the market has somewhat backfired for Sony, resulting in a slew of derivative titles that feel like inferior spinoffs from those on a traditional console. “Patapon” is the rare PSP game that thinks completely outside the box, creating a fresh and original experience. Though it’s an obvious successor to 2006’s “Loco Roco,” a similarly creative rhythm game from the same development team at Sony, “Patapon” adds a level of depth to the wackiness that should take it beyond cult favorite status.

“Loco Roco” blew apart conventions of gaming, particularly on the PSP, by forgoing the use of buttons to move or attack in order to create a world of gravity and harmony. “Patapon” does use buttons, but not in the way gamers have come to expect. The buttons are war drums used to direct cherub-like troops in a highly stylized world. Call it the first rhythm-war strategy mash-up.

Want the army to move forward? Play the “onward” song. The same goes for battle, where there’s an “attack” song for deploying bows, spears and axes. Each song has to be played to the game’s constantly flowing rhythm, an undertone made up of chanting, singing and bass set to a jazzy beat.

Music is integral to the “Patapon” experience, because as gamers tap out their orders in war-drum song, they build up combo bonuses, eventually setting their diminutive patapon army into a fever that boosts its movement and attacks. But once a single note or rhythm is flubbed, the combo resets itself.

While music is the blood of “Patapon,” the game’s art direction, which combines cartoon silhouettes with a shadow-puppet look at times, helps make it captivating. The screen fills with these little one-eyed creatures as a gamer progresses through 30 levels, culminating in sweeping battles that are nearly as fun to watch as they are to orchestrate.

Patapon

Rated E. $20

Production

A Sony Computer Entertainment of America presentation of a game developed by SCE Japan Studios for the PSP.

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