"You gotta do what?" "I gotta believe!"
PaRappa the Rapper is the PlayStation game that is considered by many to be the founder of the music genre of video games. Released in 1996 in Japan and in 1997 in North America and Europe, the game was developed by Nana-On-Sha and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. PaRappa was a huge hit, which led to its spin-off Um Jammer Lammy in 1999 and the sequel PaRappa the Rapper 2 for PlayStation 2 in 2001. A 30-episode anime series also aired in Japan on Fuji TV from April 2001 to January 2002. The game was ported to the PSP in 2006, this year will have a remastered version for the PS4. PaRappa himself even became a playable character in the 2012 game PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale.
The gameplay of PaRappa is very basic. The player must input button commands at the right timing; the performance is rated with "U-Rappin'" at the right side of the screen. The player must be rappin' Good in order to clear the level. If not, then (s)he must start all over again from the beginning. There is a two-strike system in place whenever the player slips up in rhythm; when one mistake is made, the lower rating starts flashing. If another mistake is made, then the rating will drop down one stage and the music will change and the background becomes weird. Below Good is Bad, and below Bad is Awful (In later stages, if two strikes are made while in the awful stage, then it's an automatic failure). Likewise, if two successful input patterns are done, then the rating will improve. In the initial playthrough of the game, the player can only clear the game on Good. However...
Replaying the levels requires the player to go beyond Good: the COOL mode. Cool mode requires the player to freestyle and ad-lib new sets of lines, which can get pretty funky. While Cool mode can happen at almost any point, it is better to activate it earlier in the level to rack up more points. The player can't just button mash through the whole thing like in a Mario Party game, but press any of the command buttons at least to the beat of music. Most of the ending cutscenes will also change when Cool mode is cleared.
PaRappa the Rapper actually has a plot, which occurs in six stages. It's about a dog named PaRappa who goes through various (mis)adventures as he raps his way past obstacles to win the heart of his girl. He learns many skills such as martial arts and cooking as he matures in the eyes of Sunny (and the audience).
The presentation for PaRappa is creative and unique, all designed by graphic artist Rodney Greenblat. Most of the characters are 2D (physically flat), while the environments and objects are 3D. This gives the game a layer of quirkiness and surreal quality for how it handles the characters.
The characters may be physically flat, but they're certainly not forgettable.
PaRappa- the protagonist. He is an adorable dog who raps to accomplish tasks and solve his predicaments. When things get tough, he will not give up. His catchphrase is, "I gotta believe!" He has an unlockable mode in Um Jammer Lammy dedicated to his own plot of wanting to start a rock band, with all levels (sans the first).
PJ Berry- a bear who's obsessed with food and is somewhat lazy. However, he is a very skilled DJ by night. In Um Jammer Lammy, he has no idea what rock-and-roll is.
Katy Kat- a smart and fashionable feline. She is very upbeat and also the tutorial character of PaRappa the Rapper. In Um Jammer Lammy she is the leader of the girls' band MilkCan as the bassist and vocalist and also the final boss.
Sunny Funny- PaRappa's love interest. She is sweet and innocent. Maybe not so much for the latter considering the way she finds PaRappa manly...
Joe Chin- a rich, jock rival to PaRappa for Sunny's affections. He tends to boast/ramble about his abilities and accomplishments, which becomes a sped-up gag. He gets demoted to extra in every game after the first.
The teachers are bosses of each stage.
Chop Chop Master Onion- a karate master with an onion for a head. He is the most recurring boss as he appears in the first level of every game, always beginning his songs with "Kick, Punch!" In PaRappa, he helps the title character learn how to be hero by teaching him martial arts.
Instructor Mooselini- a moose driving instructor and second boss of PaRappa the Rapper. She is very serious about her work, though she does occasionally forget to close the car door and her antlers get stuck in the roof. The sequel reveals that she has a sister named Moosesha is a drill sergeant. Yes, Mooselini is named after an infamous dictator...
Prince Fleaswallow- a frog who runs a flea market and is the third boss. He preaches the value of business as love and helps PaRappa earn enough money to pay for a new car, but his business practices are unscrupulous...
Cheap Cheap the Cooking Chicken- a hen who hosts her own cooking show, she helps PaRappa bake a new birthday cake after Joe Chin made him smash the one he bought. She is the fourth boss.
MC King Kong Mushi- the final boss of PaRappa the Rapper, he is a bug and host of Club Fun.
As expected of a music game, the soundtrack of PaRappa the Rapper is catchy as heck. Once you start with the first couple of lines, you can't help but sing. The game has nice clean raps, though it does sneak past the radar at times, especially in the fifth level. There's also a lot of potential to sentence mix some lines that probably shouldn't be in the game...
While PaRappa does have a lot to enjoy, there are still some aspects that can get on players' nerves, myself included. The input detection can be hit-or-miss, which leads to the game being very unforgiving and frustrating when it seems like the buttons are pressed at the right timing. This is especially true for the fourth level; while the button inputs themselves aren't difficult, PaRappa's words seem cut off when doing the patterns right. It's no wonder that the boss is called Cheap Cheap, and it doesn't help when she's raging right next to PaRappa. Not to mention her giving birth to an angry chick that demands you to try again should you fail. This stage is not a cakewalk, I'll say that.
And don't even get me started on the fifth level, which is a boss rush consisting of all four teachers in line for the bathroom (it makes sense in context). The first half isn't too bad, but the second half is a nightmare with the multiple precise inputs required and strict demand for a perfect run. I spent hours upon hours trying to get past this level as a kid, and the failure screen is even more humiliating than in others as PaRappa would crap himself. According to TV Tropes' YMMV page on the game, this level is one of the reasons why the sequel is much more forgiving in button presses.
No censorship for the most part, but in the PSP re-release Katy and PJ's food order at the very beginning of the game removes "frosty" because of trademark issues with the shake from Wendy's.
Overall, PaRappa the Rapper is a classic video game that cannot be missed. The eye-catching art style, engaging soundtrack, quirky characters, and fundamental gameplay make it a captivating if challenging experience. Modern music games like Guitar Hero, Dance Central, Rhythm Heaven, Dance Dance Revolution, and Taiko no Tatsujin owe a lot to this little puppy.
Watching: PaRappa the Rapper LP