Let’s be frank: bad games abound in this industry. It wouldn’t be imprudent to say that most titles that come out are poor creations meant solely to win a buck and not advance games as an art form or a mode of entertainment. The mountains of mini-game collections for the Wii, the endless hack-n-slash ripoffs that come out for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and even the computer titles that–even though some are decent–are shipped broken, requiring patches to fix. There’s a lot of bad stuff out there, and for the casual gamer, it can be quite daunting.
This shouldn’t get anyone down down. Having an art form buried underneath a pile of schlock is the hallmark of Hollywood, the music industry, and television. It means that the mainstream has finally discovered video games as a means of telling a story, for better or worse. Which means, indirectly, bigger budgets, bigger stakes, and more advanced titles, which translates into more scrutiny and better storytelling.
Until then, gamers will have to wait out the various bandwagon jumpers like they did the Tycoon titles. But, like my professors used to say (when they weren’t failing me for doodling in my textbooks), one can learn as much from a failure as one can from a success. It might have been that they were drunk at the time (they might have been; I was a handful, as I was myself usually inebriated), but there was something to what they were saying; look at the bad points of a bad title and you can see what went wrong and why. It’s sometimes hard to discern why a good title is good; it may just be a gut-level reaction. A poor game–with awful controls, hideous graphics, and unfocused gameplay–is very easily hung by its own controller cord.
So, then, after that lengthy introduction, let’s get to PaRappa the Rapper. For all of its popularity, it is perfect for this little demonstration: it is a horrible game.
Of course, that’s just a personal opinion. Nearly one million people bought the game in Japan alone, so obviously there was a lot of appeal to maintain the sequels and merchandise that came later. But it seems that an exaggerated Simon-Says game featuring quirky (read: poor) rapping and gameplay that–thanks to some ill-timed glitches in the controls–could send a player into disaster without reason just doesn’t justify its existence.
But, as previously stated, PaRappa the Rapper did get SOMETHING right. It hooked into a video game genre that was in its infancy but would later spawn some of the most popular titles ever produced: those of the Rhythm Genre.
Guitar Hero. FreQuency. Space Channel 5. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. All have their foundations in PaRappa, as do no-less-fun-but-much-more-maligned Dance Dance Revolution titles (and knock-offs). Sure, Nintendo’s Dance Aerobics came out almost a decade before, but PaRappa the Rapper is where its ilk started hitting stride.
This was just one of the innovations. The odd graphical style of PaRappa–2D characters in a 3D world–predated Paper Mario by several years. Thanks to Rodney Greenblat’s designs, the pixelated and often-hideous graphics of early Playstation games were ditched for something that can still be found pleasing on the Nintendo DS. The music wasn’t (too) tinny, either. The storyline doesn’t always make sense, but who said that video games always have to make sense?
This style and inanity helped push it through a crowd of gamers who, at the time, were just emerging into the first quality CD-based console games (that is, CD titles that had the benefit of a few years failures to see what worked and didn’t work in the new medium). This wasn’t Final Fantasy VII. It was NEW in almost everything it brought to the table. PaRappa managed to hook onto Playstation’s cool image just as Sony began to topple Nintendo from its long-held perch atop the gaming business.
Or was it the other way around? Did PaRappa help Sony break out as THE brand of mainstream video gaming?
Video games were just emerging from their infancy. Still viewed as kids fare in the mid-90s, the makers of PaRappa the Rapper captured a generation of fans just as they were moving out of the family-friendly titles of Nintendo. True, PaRappa was rated K-A. But it also featured (awful) rap, which certainly didn’t endear it to the heads of households used to Mario and Sonic, even if the main character was so soft around the edges you could sleep on his belly. PaRappa was subversive without being TOO subversive. So what if the game played like crap?
Now, of course, video games are much bigger and more visible than they were in the 1997. Nintendo, for all its problems, is one of the largest companies in Japan, period. Sony, although somewhat humbled by the Playstation 3, still rakes in the dough. And Sega has been replaced by the behemoth that is Microsoft on the console making scene. But the ripples of those early days of mainstream success can still be seen.
So, if you get a chance, find PaRappa somehow and throw it into your system of choice. Look past the glitches and see what it gets right. Then apply that to every game that you play henceforth. Like a foodie, you’ll begin to see BEYOND what the video game presents and into what it can mean outside of the gameplay. See how the newest Madden is pretty much the old one, repackaged? Yeah, it’s crass, but look at in its own context: it’s a pretty solid game, right?
So, yes, in summation, PaRappa the Rapper blows. But it can all teach us some valuable lessons on history, video game creation, and Onions-cum-Sensei Masters. And when the best Lair can do is be used as a Frisbee, that’s pretty good stuff overall.