When the first Parappa game arrived on our PlayStations a couple of years back, we were drawn by the wonderfully stylised characters and graphic style, and subsequently hooked on the catchy tunes and frenetic, cunningly simplistic button-bashing gameplay. Although it proved to be somewhat short-lived, Parappa The Rapper established the standard for others to follow when it came to music-based games. Now Parappa is back, this time on PlayStation 2, but can he live up to the expectations of fans in a genre that has advanced so much in his absence? The answer is, in a word: no. Parappa 2 is essentially the same game as its predecessor. The ridiculous storyline is played out in the same garish "2D in a 3D world" graphics, even though the style is helped greatly by the improved resolution, and the gaming mechanics are exactly the same. We never expected Parappa 2 to be some kind of pioneer in deep, cerebral storytelling, but what they've actually come up with is borderline insanity. To be honest though, that's where the game's charm stems from... Parappa's had his fill of noodles ever since he won a contest to win a year's supply of the things. Unfortunately, for some reason all the food in Parappa's town is mysteriously turning into noodles of its own volition. Of course Parappa and his mates take it upon themselves to get to the bottom of the mystery, by rapping with a series of "teachers" who can each help Parappa in their own special way.
The controls are incredibly simple to grasp, and the gameplay is Simon Says. The words in a line of rapping are represented by symbols corresponding to DualShock functions. You simply have to repeat the sequence of buttons relayed by the other characters in time to the music. If you happen to slip up a few times, you start to lose points and you're on the slippery slope to being completely overrun by noodles. The skill level monitor at the bottom of your screen starts out at Good and can drop to Bad and then Awful, with the music shifting in style to a slower, sloppier rendition accordingly; any lower, and you have to retry the stage again. However, getting the meter higher than Good and up to Cool involves some quick thinking and cunning button tapping on your part. To be really proficient, you need to not just rap with but also outclass your opponent, which involves ad-libbing your words as the stage progresses. This is achieved by adding flurries of button presses in time with the beats, adding a superb sense of tactics to what could otherwise turn out to be a quite predictable affair. If you perform especially well in a stage, you're whisked off to a special bonus section reminiscent of the bonus sections of International Karate+ on the Amiga [there goes your token Amiga comment for the year - Ed], where you need to smash blocks held out randomly by four small onion characters. It's a nice diversion from the main game, and there should have been more of this kind of dynamics to break up the main story. It's unfortunate then that while Parappa 2 is so much fun, it's astoundingly short. Within three hours of opening the package I'd finished the game's eight stages on its default settings, and was left wanting a great deal more. This was a criticism levelled at the original game as well, and it's criminal that there isn't more here to keep you coming back. There is the Battle Mode, where you can either play against the computer or a human player in a game of freestyling mastery, but the novelty wears off remarkably quickly.
What little there is of Parappa The Rapper 2 is superbly charming, funny and downright entertaining. The music had my foot tapping for the majority of the game (even if the training stage music did begin to grate) and the cinematics are on a par with your average Saturday morning cartoon. I could wholeheartedly recommend Parappa 2 to any PS2 owner were it a bit cheaper, but the shocking lack of replay value really does set it back, and that's a real shame.