Home 593 - PaRappa the Rapper

593 - PaRappa the Rapper

Best Games - PaRappa the Rapper

Hit buttons in time with the music. That’s the pitch. That’s PaRappa. It shouldn’t work. It shouldn’t be fun. For a time, rhythm games were the biggest thing in the world. Dance Dance Revolution, Beatmania, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and on and on. They still exist, of course. No real arcade would be complete without some sort of dance based rhythm game at this point. They aren’t as prominent as they once were, but it’s almost difficult to imagine the world before rhythm games. Back when the most rhythm adjacent game you could find was Simon.

I’m not sure if the core gameplay of PaRappa the Rapper would have worked if it had been as lean as many DDR games. Had the presentation of the game been as spare.

At its core, Parappa is a timeline with timing marks on it. An icon travels along the timeline and when it is over certain segments, it prompts you to press a button. That’s it. That’s the game. When the icon reaches a certain point on the timeline, a timeline that corresponds with the beat of the music, you press a preselected button. You can play around with other buttons at different points on the timeline, but the game really only requires you to press a button at that one particular moment.

All of the things that videogames are known for, freedom of movement, improvisation, variable interactivity, those aren’t required in PaRappa. Just press the button when you are asked to and the game will be satisfied. Now, you can improvise, and you can play with the beat outside of the required hits, and the game will reward you for that, but you don’t need to. You can just hit the beats, and you will progress.

If you aren’t familiar with rhythm games, I can imagine that this description doesn’t sound very fun. You’re right. It shouldn’t be. But it is.

Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising. After all, playing music is fun. In some ways, a game like PaRappa turns the PlayStation controller into a musical instrument. When you hit a button the game will make a corresponding sound and it is up to you then to make those sounds rhythmic. The game is asking you to do the fun part.

There is another aspect of PaRappa the Rapper that I should probably touch on. It’s the part that most commentary on the game would probably get to first. PaRappa is completely unhinged.

The game plays out in a series of animated skits populated by a cast of paper thin characters. Each skit concluding with a song for you to play along with.

The skits typically involve the title character, PaRappa the Rapper, rapping along to some sort of skill building life event. Learning Karate, taking a driving test, learning to bake. It’s all very simple and silly, but every aspect of the game is painted with levels of bizarre and surreal. Character dialog is often nonsensical. Line deliveries are spectacularly odd. Considered motivations are usually nonexistent. In PaRappa’s world things happen simply because things happen. You just have to go with the flow, and, as you are constantly reminded, you ‘gotta believe’.

The packaging of this very simple gameplay loop is lively and odd and perfectly charming. If rhythm games needed a kickstart, PaRappa was designed to deliver.

Now, decades later, PaRappa doesn’t really compete with the Rock Bands and Guitar Heros of the world, but it is still a very special game. As goofy as it is challenging and without a doubt, one of the best games.

This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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