PaRappa the Rapper is a rhythm game developed by NanaOn-Sha and published by Sony Computer Entertainment for the PlayStation, having a Japanese release in 1996 with other countries having to wait til a year later. In celebration of its twentieth anniversary, a remastered version was released in 2017 on the PlayStation 4, although, I will be specifically talking about the original PlayStation port in this review. An anime series also eventually came to fruition in the turn of the millennium that lasted for thirty episodes, along with a direct sequel and a spin-off.
If there is something I took away from my experience above all else, it’s most certainly the art-style created by Rodney Greenblat, which depicts the characters as paper cut-outs in a three-dimensional world. The visuals which, admittedly, sometimes feel finnicky and even headache-inducing, are vibrant and enthusiastic, and they feel uniquely realized. The same can be said about the music as well, which is catchy, while, simultaneously, carrying an eccentric weirdness. Although, upon inspection, the lyrics are simple and superficial, with a rap-style that feels like most would only listen to ironically, it’s memorable and has a distinguishable charm.
As far as criticisms are concerned, I will admit that I leave Parappa the Rapper more charmed than disappointed, but that is because through its aged charm and through my disconnected anticipation for it, I overlook its flaws, not because they don’t exist. The story-line itself, while streamlined by the colorful visuals and music, isn’t fleshed out enough to justify a full-fledged, full-price release. If Parappa the Rapper was released today, putting aside the fact that rhythmic video-games aren’t as fresh as they were, I think many would criticize its short-length, even if it was marked down more than half the average video-game retail price. The story itself feels more like an episode of a show than something whole or standalone. Add in the fact that, despite the spectacle of its weirdness, the moral message of PaRappa is cliched and heavy-handed. And, while the quirky lyrics and funky beats entice, the actual rhythmic game-play incorporated feels very awkward, delayed, and lacking in polish. In only took me a couple of hours to play through the story, and basically, while I played it, my fiancée Beccah and I, more-or-less, progressed through by playing it practically the opposite way of how we feel it should have been played. When we try to play it in a way that has PaRappa appropriately rhyming and spouting lyrics that sound the way they’re supposed to, we would fail, but if we mashed them in a strategic fashion to manipulate the system, that’s when we found it easier to progress.
If I’m honest, I think that PaRappa the Rapper hasn’t aged very well. I think I would honestly go as far as to say it’s a bad video-game that’s propped up a lot by its charming visuals and music but is still a below-average video-game when the smoke settles. Perhaps the remastered version fixed some of the criticisms I had, although, from what I’ve heard, the PlayStation Portable and remaster had problematic releases. I think, really, playing made me wonder whether the anime for this series might be more gratifying, because, provided it still incorporates music, then, that will, theoretically, allow it to narrow in on its best traits. PaRappa the Rapper likely deserves the nostalgia it carries with some, and I smile when I see the character pop-up in things like PlayStation All-Stars Battle-Royale, but, at least for the first video-game, the legacy seems to be in the charm, not quality game-play.