If you’re familiar with previous Patapon games, it might come as some surprise to you that in Patapon 3 you don’t get to command an army. You’re still a deity worshipped by the titular tribe, and you still get to issue the little guys orders by rhythmically tapping on sacred drums mapped to the PSP’s face buttons, but the army has been turned to stone, so you have far fewer units at your disposal. All is not lost, though; not only have you been summoned into the body of a reincarnated hero, but there’s so much emphasis on loot and leveling this time around that your small band grows more powerful practically every time you play. They can get so powerful, in fact, that where previous games have generally required careful strategizing to succeed, here it’s often possible to forgo defensive and evasive moves in favor of an all-out offense. Still, there’s plenty of challenge to be found in the colorful combat zones of Patapon 3, and even as you’re decimated by a dragon or digested by a demon it’s hard not to be won over by the game’s quirky presentation and succumb to its just-one-more-try gameplay.
After picking one of three Patapon heroes to play as (would you prefer a bow, a spear, or a sword and shield combo?), four training missions do a good job of familiarizing you with most of the commands in your repertoire. There are only seven initially, including “onward,” “attack,” “defend,” and the like. Each command is issued by hitting a different sequence of four drum beats in time with the music; you press circle, circle, square, circle to attack, for example. Those four beats compose one musical measure, and after you enter them it takes another measure for the Patapons to carry out your order. It’s an unusual and satisfying way to command your forces as they march across the screen, and it’s made less intimidating for newcomers by both a list of the correct inputs at the bottom of the screen and a flashing border that makes it easier to keep in time. String together a number of well-timed orders, and your units go into a fever that makes them significantly more powerful. Hit an unrecognized sequence of drums or miss the beat completely, and your troops just stand around looking confused. Patapon 3 is less punishing than its predecessors where the timing of your drum beats is concerned, but it also rewards you for perfectly timed beats by having them trigger your hero units’ powerful special moves.