Few games have left an emotional impact on me as much as PaRappa the Rapper has. Growing up, I was a PS1 kid. Never having owned an N64 or even a GameCube, my childhood was filled with PlayStation until I received a Wii in 2006, so titles like Spyro the Dragon, Dino Crisis, and Oddworld shaped me into the gamer I am today. However, PaRappa the Rapper was one of those unique gems unlike anything else out there. From its paper-thin art style, to the first-of-its-kind rhythm gameplay, to the catchy original soundtrack it’s set to, PaRappa holds a special place in my heart. As such, I was thrilled when a full PS4 remaster was announced at the PlayStation Experience last year. I was even more thrilled when it was finally released last month. Unfortunately, my excitement turned to agony within a matter of minutes, as I watched my childhood come back to life a little worse than I remembered it, complete with clunky controls, stuttery visuals, and limited gameplay.
PaRappa the Rapper Remastered follows the same story as the original game, and still makes as little sense as it used to. You play as Parappa, an anthropomorphic Flat Stanley-esque dog, as he raps his way through the trials of life, hoping to win the heart of his crush, Sunny Funny. Each mission is prefaced with a cutscene that explains the story in question, and leads you into the next song. Most of PaRappa’s struggles come from his nemesis, Joe Chin, who frequently arrives to boast about his accomplishments. PaRappa’s jealousy gets him into some unique situations, such as learning kung fu so he can beat up bullies, and working at a flea market to earn money and fix his dad’s car. The plot is easy enough to grasp, yet you never really feel like you’re progressing through the gameplay. The raps and the characters who sing them are far more enjoyable than the overall storyline, which remains just as ridiculous as ever. For newcomers to PaRappa, the story may seem a bit forced, especially this day in age with such great storytelling in gaming. But you have to respect the effort, albeit minimal, put into creating a backstory for our hero.
As for the characters themselves, they’re just as memorable as ever. From the very beginning, the nostalgia came flowing back to me as I remembered it all from my childhood. The Jet Baby song made me smile immediately, and seeing PaRappa and his friends in proper HD is pretty awesome. However, the true joy still comes from the rappers, like Master Onion and Instructor Mooselini, the moose police officer (who still makes no sense; cops have never given road exams). They’re just as silly and love-to-hate-able as ever, and being transported back into that world was an amazing feeling. I say I love to hate them, because they will test your patience. PaRappa has never been an easy game, as I’ll get into later on, but the game succeeds in never becoming repetitive, even when you’re forced to repeat the same rap multiple times. The tunes stay catchy, and the characters, while extremely overbearing and occasionally downright belittling, never really get on your nerves (except for Cheap Cheap… I loathe that enormous chicken).
Before I get into the more upsetting aspects of PaRappa Remastered, I want to talk some more about the raps themselves. There’s a reason this game holds a special place in my heart. Not only did it train me to be the lover of rhythm games that I am today, but PaRappa also provided me with the soundtrack to my childhood. I fondly remember the days when my dad would walk around the house singing the flea market song, or shouting out “Kick! Punch! It’s all in the mind!” Hell, he does all that to this day. But seeing it again and getting to replay all that as if for the first time was a dream come true. I’m so excited to see PaRappa back in the spotlight again. Hearing the cheers from the crowd at the PlayStation Experience just proved this was highly-anticipated, and it succeeded in filling me with happiness once again.
It’s just a shame that eventually the illusion faded away, and I was presented with an enormous letdown in terms of gameplay and overall satisfaction. It pains me to admit it, but I couldn’t even finish PaRappa the Rapper Remastered. I played through 5 levels, and once I confronted that stupid chicken, I knew I would progress no further. Cheap Cheap was my downfall way back in ’97 (more like 2000, probably), and years later she still reigns supreme. I must say, though, it’s not my fault completely. Allow me to explain why.
While PaRappa Remastered flooded me with nostalgia at every turn, I could never overcome that same sense of dread I had from playing back in the day. My main concern is still the lackluster rhythm-based gameplay. PaRappa was a pioneer in the rhythm genre, alongside games like Amplitude and Um Jammer Lammy, also on the original PlayStation. But looking back, I’m beginning to wonder if my complete and utter failure with the game was due to my incompetent youthful mind, or because the system was broken to begin with. As I’ve said before, I’ve memorized nearly every song PaRappa has to offer. I also consider myself fairly musically-inclined. I have no problem following a beat, but PaRappa provided me with challenges that should’ve never been nearly as difficult as they are. Simple button presses to the beat of a song is old hat, this day in age, but for some reason it’s simply atrocious in PaRappa. The inclusion of stars along the track doesn’t provide any assistance, either. I found myself believing they were prompts to hold the note longer, but when that stopped being true, I just completely disregarded them going forward, and I’m still not sure what they do. It’s really just one big colorful mess.
Most modern rhythm games give players the ability to calibrate for audio/visual latency. Yet with PaRappa Remastered, that system is flawed as well. In the options menu, all I could find were options to “See the Beat” and “Feel the Beat”, but alternating these did seemingly nothing to affect gameplay. Also available is a “training” system, but it proved mostly useless. Within training, you are told to tap along to the beat like you would normally, but with failing turned off. I still found a way to fail, though, as the training system does absolutely nothing to “train” you. In fact, it encourages you to tap off-beat, and teaches you the sad truth that PaRappa the Rapper is and has always been completely broken. Yet as I reached this epiphany, and all of my childhood memories came to make sense before me, I couldn’t help but shed a solitary tear, knowing that one of my favorite games was perhaps not as great as I remembered. Then, after hours of trial and error, I asked one of my more technologically-inclined friends how to fix the problem, and he suggested calibrating my television. After switching to my TV’s lower-latency “game mode”, I was finally able to complete the level and move on. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder why the game itself couldn’t be calibrated, especially in this day and age.
This brings me to my final grievance with PaRappa Remastered: how is this even remastered? Okay, the resolution is obviously updated. It’s HD and fills my whole screen again. However, nothing about these graphics look updated at all to me. Yes, there is a certain style to maintain with PaRappa; everything is 2.5D and looks like Paper Mario. I’m not expecting some massive 3D rendition of PaRappa, which would lead to the butchering of a beloved classic. But I can’t help but imagine a complete overhaul of this title, and wonder what that game would be like. The game still stutters like it did back in 1997. Every cutscene looks as grainy and upsetting as it did back then, and not even nostalgia can cover up that mistake. To make matters worse, the gameplay is just as rocky and unforgiving. I mentioned earlier how quantity is lacking, but when there’s not much quality either, where does one draw the line? It’s near unforgivable.
I came away from PaRappa the Rapper Remastered disappointed to see such an amazing pioneer in gaming ported to a modern console in such an underwhelming way. I’m appreciative that Sony is trying to address hardcore fans’ desire to see these games again, but I want better for my PaRappa. This makes me worry for the fate of LocoRoco and Patapon, the next games to be remastered for the PS4. So I beg of you, please don’t let us down, Sony. I can’t have my childhood self be disappointed any further. Yet I trust you can make things right again. I just gotta believe.