"Before Um Jammer Lammy, before Parappa the Rapper 2... well, obviously... there was Parappa the Rapper! The original adventures of the rappin' hip hop canine hero weirded their way onto the Playstation in 1996. Too original, too insane and too charming for anyone to deny, the game proved massively influential for all musical and cartoon games to follow. It also became an instant cult item of such endearing strength that to this day, it remains difficult to find a copy if you..."
Before Um Jammer Lammy, before Parappa the Rapper 2... well, obviously... there was Parappa the Rapper! The original adventures of the rappin' hip hop canine hero weirded their way onto the Playstation in 1996. Too original, too insane and too charming for anyone to deny, the game proved massively influential for all musical and cartoon games to follow. It also became an instant cult item of such endearing strength that to this day, it remains difficult to find a copy if you weren't one of those in on the original spree. I know about this trauma very well, as I only just recently (January 2002) managed to acquire my own copy after at least a year of scanning second-hand shelves, and sadly returning faulty discs not once but TWICE!
The core gameplay is incredibly simple. Tap the controller buttons in time to the various catchy tunes as you follow the lines of notation delivered by your 'teachers', and you'll make Parappa rap his way through the levels and succeed in romance, in his burgeoning musical career and in life! But to pare it back to such a basic analysis as I just did denies eighty percent of the experience of the game.
Parappa's success grows out of the hilarious and unique cartoon world it establishes in the space of minutes, as soon as you switch it on. You would think that a style this psychedelic would take a lot of getting used to, but the magic of Parappa is that anyone who plays it apprehends the whole bizarre logic of it right away, and for no good reason. You'll instantly understand and laugh at this world where dogs, cats and vegetables can be friends and go to see movies about a hero called Jet Baby, and where everyone is a 2D paper cutout and will disappear when they turn sideways. The hero's girlfriend is a flower named Sunny, though she eats salad, and any interesting situation is fair game for any character to burst into a groovy song in the middle of it, especially if it will allow them to teach their friends something.
Just finding this game for myself, having been a huge fan of the sequel Um Jammer Lammy for so long, was a massive personal triumph. But it proved impossible for me to play Parappa without constantly comparing it to the flashier moves of its sequel, which I know inside out. The truth is, I was disappointed that Parappa's gameplay was so incredibly simple in the light of Lammy, and that it was all over way too soon, with little to no scope for improvement. The game shows me where the greatness originated, and is a joyous trip back into the Parappa universe, but... what can I say? The sequel improved on the gameplay drastically.
Parappa VS Lammy
In Um Jammer Lammy, you play a very anxious young lady sheep named Lammy, who wants to make it as the guitarist with her friends' rock band Milk Can. Lammy blushes and is overcome by feelings of doom an awful lot (like myself, which is your pop psychology reason for my strong attachment to her, see?) but throw a guitar into her hand and she is transformed into a musical juggernaut of courage.
In gameplay terms, Lammy has all the features you might expect of a sequel. More songs, and more variety in that you can play the songs either on guitar as Lammy, or as raps with Parappa. It also has cooperative and combative modes. But I can't hold those things against Parappa for coming first. The biggest development between the two games and the one to wreak the most damage is this: Lammy is more challenging. Infinitely more challenging.
In Parappa, if you mess up, the Coolness meter is way too forgiving, letting the song plough on for verse after verse even if you're doing almost nothing. Lammy proves to be more engrossing as it will cut you off quick-smart if you're playing abysmally, and force you to tackle the song again from the top. This encourages you to learn the notes and finetune your moves, and also increases your sense of accomplishment when you finally beat a song. Parappa's one of the great guys, but they let him off too easily. The rhythmic qualities in Lammy and its musical engine seem to have at least twice as much resolution, making for far more interesting and challenging button tapping. The raps in Parappa were all doable in a few passes, or in more than one case, on my first go.
'Alright,' you could say, 'You've practised with Um Jammer a whole lot, of course you'd be expected to be good at the first game.' Well, it disturbed me that when I first tried to get to 'Cool' in each song in Parappa, which means improvising enough with the rhythm to induce a freestyle mode which can rack up huge scores, I made it to 'Cool' within the first two lines of each song... on the first attempt! Every time!
Blitzkrieging all of the game's levels and the entire score list in just a couple of sessions was a humbling experience, given the anticipation I'd had for the game. In Lammy, trying to get to 'Cool' and holding to it remains a nerve-wracking challenge, one which I've still not completed for a couple of songs in certain modes.
Parappa, The Universe and Everything.
The thing is, the entire story I've just told you is probably moot. If you liked any of the sequels, you'll be pining to get your mitts on Parappa just as I was, and there's no way I'd recommend against it. And if you've had no experience of this game at all, well, I bet you'll still find it too easy, but then you could be easing yourself into the less merciful Um Jammer Lammy. I loved the story in Parappa, which is probably the one part of it that's tighter than in Lammy, and I had the rewarding experience of going back into a favourite world and seeing more of it. Some of the humour and situations, like rapping for a place in the toilet queue, or the way Parappa orders a glass of water (you have to be there for that one), or the way his pained expressions during a diarrhoea attack are interpreted as 'manliness' by his flower of a girlfriend, are priceless. The songs are all excellent as well, though the Jamaican frog who raps like Shaggy drives me nuts. Just like Shaggy.
Everyone wonders about the potential meaning of the Parappa games, though I think most of the dog's fans would agree on this much: Parappa says, believe in yourself when the chips are down and you will overcome. You might be a runty dog or an anxiety-ridden sheep, but if you chase your talent and you have passion, and you treat people better than they treat you, you can put something special back into the world. These old good guy motivations have been made stale and pathetic by thin-tied slime in the self-help industry, and the surprise is that it takes a videogame as ludicrous as this one to instill them with fresh meaning. Then again, with its seafood cakes, bizarre literal wordplay, onion-headed teachers and flat out madness, Parappa is equally a black opal of unfathomable meaning, and maybe if you stare into it for long enough you'll go CRAZY, or paradoxically feel depressed. Perhaps the best thing about Parappa is that it is a game and world which really forces each player to think about what it means to them, while never failing to be enjoyable.
Implications for the universe aside, I'm just here to tell you that I was shocked at how short and overly easy the whole game was, coming from the direction of Lammy. If you don't arrive with high expectations of the gameplay you'll be fine, because the Parappa universe is one of the great creative achievements on the Playstation, and this game is where it was born.
-- Parappa the Rapper -- 7/10 --
Community review by bloomer (March 08, 2004)
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