Vault Play: Parappa the Rapper

Perhaps you’re newer to games, with “new” meaning you started playing games in the 2000s or later. If you fall into this category you might be wondering where the hell all these so-called “All-Stars” are coming from in the PlayStation 3’s mascot-fueled brawler PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. You’ve got a God, some treasure hunter with a few guns, a devious raccoon, a scary looking clown, and a dog that can rap. That’s right, a dog that can rap! Man, you’ve got to love gaming in the 90s.

Of course I’m speaking of Parappa from the early PS1 game Parappa the Rapper. Before he was kicking ass with Kratos, Parappa was just like you and me: he had girls to impress, bullies to overcome, and car problems. But unlike us, Parappa could somehow conquer all these obstacles through the power of rap music. I don’t mean rap like Ice T and Snoop Dogg, I mean rap with anthropomorphic onion karate masters and Rastafarian frogs that work in flea markets. You know, that kind of rap.

The story has you playing as Parappa, a spirited dog with a penchant for believing in himself and solving problems through song. Throughout the game’s six stages, Parappa is trying to impress Sunny, a female flower. Getting in his way are a variety of problems, including the aforementioned bullies, as well as Parappa’s inability to bake a cake for Sunny on her birthday. The story is completely off-the-wall and loopy, but that’s what makes the game fun. It feels as if you’re watching a Saturday morning cartoon instead of playing a game. A lot of that is thanks to the game’s unique visual style.

I’m pretty sure when the developers were designing the game their pallet of usable colors was devoid of anything but neon hues, as everything in the game is excessively bright. It adds to the cheery atmosphere of the game. Characters are as thin as paper, so when they turn to the side they’re nearly invisible (kind of like the visuals in the more current Paper Mario series). All of these elements come together to create a game that looks and feels wholly unique.

Parappa the Rapper is a music/rhythm game, and it’s actually one of the earliest games in the genre. The gameplay is similar to current rhythm games like Rock Band or Dance Dance Revolution, where buttons will flow across a bar and you must time your presses with the beat of the song. Timing is key to the game, but if you want to get the “Cool” rating in each song you have to freestyle rap each song. Instead of simply pressing X when it lines up on screen, you can repeatedly press X in beat with the rhythm before and after the required pressing of X to add in some extra lyrics to the song, therefore entitling Parappa the moniker of Rapper. Beating each stage, hearing each song in the game, and creating your own rhymes within each level are both challenging and fun.

Parappa wouldn’t be much of a rapper if he didn’t have some great jams to accompany him. Though there are only six stages/songs in the game, they’re all incredibly varied. Most of you that have played the game will likely recall the first stage, with Chop Chop Master Onion teaching Parappa how to kick and punch, but every stage is just as memorable as the first. The mellow rhythm of Prince Fleaswallow the frog’s stage is in stark contrast to the pop beat of the final song. Some songs are more difficult than others and you’ll likely have your favorite, but nonetheless each song is technically well done. And the cornerstone of any successful music game: the songs will be stuck in your head days after you’ve stopped playing the game.

Not everything is a great as the music and presentation. Though the controls are simple with only six different combinations of buttons to press, I found the timing to be rather difficult to get down. I missed my fair share of notes even though I was clearly pressing X when I was supposed to be pressing X. You have to listen more to the rhythm and press the corresponding button to get the timing right rather than follow the notes on the bar and try to time your button presses correctly. It can get incredibly frustrating failing a song over and over even though you’re hitting each note when you’re supposed to. This may be due in part to HDTVs and their running of older games like Parappa, so to get a more accurate feel for the game I recommend playing on an older, non-HD TV. While I liked the song selection, it is on the slim side, and you’ll likely finish the game in one sitting. There’s replay value in trying to achieve a higher score, but beyond that there’s no reason to play the game again after the credits roll. A spin-off and a sequel were made after this game, so if you need more retro video game rapping you can get your fix there.

Overall I liked Parappa the Rapper and am upset I waited this long to play it. Memorable music and a crazy storyline outweigh the issues of dodgy controls and brevity. It’s short but sweet, and a game that is sure to please if you give it a chance.

I wish I could solve all my problems by rapping like Parappa:

Boss: Jason, you were late for work today.
Jason: I gotta believe! *bursts into rap about being late*
Boss: Raises for everyone!

About Jason Jasicki

Jason Jasicki is co-host of the Recurring Bosscast podcast.
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