Platforms: Playstation | PSP
Before I started my teenage hip-hop phase properly, back when I thought Will Smith was cool (I will still fight anyone who doesn't think Willennium rocks the house!), before I'd heard of Biggie or Pac, Snoop or Dre, before Jay-Z made his Blueprints and Marshall Mathers became a candy-covered chocolate sweet, there was only one rapper who really cut the mustard.
He rapped about real life situations and, just as his flow was tighter than the screw lid on a pickle jar, so too were his lyrics inspirational and educational. Thanks to PaRappa I learnt about one of the most important things a teenager can possibly know. A topic that, to this day, it's probably still impossible to know too much about: how to impress girls.
Through the eyes of this paper-thin, rapping dog, I witnessed the importance of knowing when to "Step on the gas!", I realised that when it came to my own driving test I'd need to "Check, and turn, and signal to the right". In the kitchen, he was a mentor and a friend, pointing out the importance of cleaning up after yourself while things were baking in the over: "Put the cake in the oven for a while / Leave it there, come on, clean the pile". And who hasn't benefited from his cake making expertise? You've got to look sharp and "crack crack crack the egg into the bowl", and then "M-I-X the flour into the bowl".
Seafood cake for your would-be-paramour's birthday? Genius.
PaRappa's story is, as so many stories are, all about a girl. A cheery, positive, ray of light called Sunny Funny. She's the love of his life and, if he can just get her to notice him, he's pretty sure they'd live happily ever after. Only there's a problem: he's not the only suitor. Enter Joe Chin, a flash git who's also trying to win Sunny's heart through overblown and expensive gestures. He's the type of smarmy, wealthy bastard who you just love to hate.
Thankfully, this is no obstacle for PaRappa, whose determination seems refuelled simply by shouting "I Gotta Believe!", whenever he feels down, and he sets out to win the heart of the love of his love in spite of Joe. Naturally, this leads to him learning karate from an onion, learning how to drive (because you've got to have a car to impress the ladies), crashing his dad's car, working in a flea market to pay of the debt to his dad, baking and then ruining and then re-baking a cake, and rapping his way to the front of a toilet queue.
No big, fat blunts stuffed with chronic here. No one rolling round the hood busting caps in people's asses. Just a Rastafarian frog and chicken with rage issues.
There are four mentors, and therefore four styles of rapping present in the game. PaRappa isn't afraid to diversify a little and can flow majestically to reggae, house, pop, and "old school" during the game. In order to do this, players must deliver a sequence of button presses in time to the music, in a call and response format. Get everything right and you earn a "U rappin GOOD" score, with "U rappin BAD" and "U rappin AWFUL" reserved for failures. The button presses sync up with a few key words in the rap. Get it right and the flow is tight, get it wrong and everything devolves into unintelligible nonsense. Which is often hilarious.
Once you've reached a "U rappin GOOD" rating, you can revisit levels for a spot of Freestyling, which involves going off copy, deviating from the given sequence and doing your own thing to the beat. Perform well and that GOOD gets upgraded to a COOL, with rewards later on if you manage it on all of the raps.
The gameplay, whilst fairly groundbreaking (particularly in terms of the freestyling), is not the main draw, though. The way the game looks at sounds is what will steal your heart away. The songs are all catchy, well-written and superbly performed, with some excellent voice acting. Visually, too, PaRappa the Rapper is stunning, thanks to the unique visual stylings of American artist Rodney Greenblat, who drew the characters in a 2D paper-style, with 3D backgrounds.
So does PaRappa get the girl in the end? Well you should probably play the game to find out, and a PSP version was released back in 2009 so there's no excuse! I, however, will always appreciate this game not only for delivering a shot of originality and charm to an industry sorely bereft of such inventive quirkiness these days; not only for ushering in a plethora of fantastic rhythm game titles, none of which would ever quite match the zaniness of the rapping dog's debut; but also because a little later it would prove to be a game that my girlfriend at the time would thoroughly enjoy. So thank you PaRappa - a true romantic, a consummate rapper, and a perennial wingman.