Pump Pup The Volume
Did anyone realise how odd this game was at the time, or is it just with hindsight that it seems like a fever dream in a vet’s waiting room? Maybe we’ve just become used to so many grim-dark shooters and serious RPGs that the hint of anything like colour or unbridled fun is disorientating. Is this really what games were like in the past? If so, we need more remasters.
Game: PaRappa The Rapper
Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided)
Enter the return of PaRappa the Rapper, a rapping cartoon dog who somehow still has more urban credibility than PitBull. Presumably having fallen into the usual post-success musician cliches of rehab and poorly-received follow-up albums, he now makes his way back to consoles in a remaster of the original 1996 Playstation game. Perhaps this is the equivalent of when bands do twenty year anniversary tours of their debut albums because no one liked the other stuff after that. You know exactly what you’re getting here before you begin; a sharper, smoothed-out version of what you originally fell in love with when you were younger and had hopes, dreams and disposable income.
Seeing as there are seven dog years to every one human year, I was mildly concerned about how this would have aged. This was not helped when things began with cutscenes in cut-down, bordered screens looking not much different to how they did twenty years ago. I was concerned I had been promised a remaster and had been ‘sold a pup’, both figuratively and literally.
Thankfully, when the rhyming starts things improve vastly. The gameplay segments themselves are full of wonderfully sharp, lurid shapes and colours as you’d expect from such an off the wall concept. The work on the remaster is evident here, very much looking how I remember it looking and not how it actually looked at the time. Ironically, all this colour would be lost on PaRappa anyway because dogs are colourblind. It’s nice for the rest of us, though.
It is in this setting that aforementioned hip-pup artist PaRappa goes through life like a remake of Glee at Battersea Dog’s Home, aiming to impress a girl by learning skills such as karate, driving and how to queue for a bathroom (genuinely) through rhyming. It’s worth pointing out (this may count as a spoiler if you’re really not that smart) that he does indeed woo the girl, a sacharine sunflower named Sunny Funny, even though she never shows any sign of being that interested. It’s as if she just relents so he’ll stop rapping at her, like she’s taking a bullet for society at large.
PaRappa himself is something of a blank slate; a fairly quiet, unidentifiable breed who shouts things like “I gotta believe!’ whenever there’s a problem rather than actually considering the complexities of the issue, like a Facebook meme. Far more memorable, however, are his various teachers and stage partners through the adventure. Weirdly, most of these are animals except a karate teacher who is in fact an onion. Each has their own style, a particular favourite of mine being the flea-market owning lizard who sounds like 90s lothario Shaggy and says he has been working at said market since his ‘mother was a baby’, surely one of the most ridiculous lies ever spoken in a game.
The songs really have endured. I had remembered, despite not playing for almost two decades, the wonderful pastiches and head-in-hands daftness of it all. It’s impressive how much these have weaved their way into gamers’ collective conscious, and how warmly familiar it all seems. What I didn’t remember is how short the game is. It makes Journey seem like Skyrim, and I’m sure I cleared it in about half an hour. There’s arguably some replay value there through the catchy tunes and achieving the timing required to be graded as ‘cool’, something I found oddly difficult. I was convinced at points that the button presses seemed entirely arbitrary to what score I was receiving, although haters may say this is down to my flow getting whack in recent years.
What you have here, then, is a short blast of fun from the past. Sort of like Yo Gabba Gabba before that was a thing, PaRappa taps into that vibe of being so colourful and childish it’s hypnotic and charming. At £11 it’s right on the edge of acceptable pricing, clocking in some way under an hour depending on how good your rhythm skills are; if this was a new title I’d have expected it to be around £7.
Enough life in the old dog for a fun diversion.