It's been two decades since PaRappa the Rapper first appeared on the original PlayStation in 1997. As one of the first rhythm games to make a dent in the public consciousness, the poetic puppy was instrumental in paving the way for the music-based games that would follow in his wake: Amplitude, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Hatsune Miku, and, erm, Wii Music can all thank PaRappa to varying degrees for some measure of the success that they reaped while PlayStation's rapping dog was on hiatus. But with Sony deciding to bring PaRappa out of retirement in a remastered role, can the old pooch keep up with the new blood of today – or would he have been better off taken out back and shot like Old Yeller?
PaRappa the Rapper tells the story of a two-dimensional rapping dog living in a three-dimensional world, striving for the affections of a walking, talking, sunflower named Sunny Funny. After a trip to the cinema and an encounter with some local bullies, PaRappa realises that he must man-up if he ever hopes to have a girl like Sunny on his arm, and so begins his journey of important life lessons and self-discovery all via the medium of decidedly un-gangsta rap. The story is lighthearted and silly, but it's thoroughly charming from start to finish with an anarchic sense of humour.
Even with the fresh lick of paint that Sony has had applied to the game, 20 has taken a toll on the mechanics of poor PaRappa; as far as rhythm games go it's as basic as they come. You're thrown into a rap with a teacher in which he'll rap a couple of lines and then you'll follow suit. An icon of PaRappa's head will float across the screen, and when it touches triangle, you press triangle. Square, circle, X, L1, and R1 all eventually get in on the act, and while the number of button prompts you'll need to hit will increase, the game never introduces any other mechanics throughout each of the six stages.
Each stage is presided over by a different rapping teacher, from a kung-fu master onion to a driving instructor moose. PaRappa must rap along with his tutor in order to reach the end of the level with a rating of 'Good' or 'Cool'. Hitting too many bum notes will result in your rating dropping to 'Bad' and eventually 'Awful', and if your run of dour luck continues your rap will be cut short. Going off book and freestyling will allow you to reach the 'Cool' rating, and given the short running time of the game – it'll take around an hour to see it through to the credits – experimenting in order to achieve the 'Cool' rating in each stage provides some much needed replay value.
Mechanically, the game doesn't hold up too well, especially when put in comparison to more modern rhythm titles like the Hatsune Miku series. There's not much in the way of wiggle room when it comes to hitting or missing notes, and the proliferation of high definition and ultra-high definition televisions – and the input lag that comes with them – means that it might prove tricky to get the timing down, even for seasoned veterans of the game. This author nearly put his controller through the window on the seventeenth attempt at getting past the infamous chicken chef level, and while it would be unfair to suggest that it was entirely the fault of lag, a little leniency in this regard would have been helpful.
But despite some of the technical shortcomings and slightly archaic design, PaRappa shines in other regards. While the cut-scenes between levels appear a little blurry and stretched out, the presentation during gameplay pops, with PaRappa and the colourful cast of characters he meets appearing more vibrant and charming than ever.
The main draw here, of course, is the soundtrack, and thankfully it's in this regard that PaRappa the Rapper Remastered really sticks the landing. The lyrics might be utterly nonsensical, and PaRappa's contribution to each rap might be little more than garbled, awkward attempts at repeating the words of his various tutors, but there's no denying the quality of the tunes on offer here. Each song is catchy and memorable, and you'll likely find yourself humming along before you've reached the second verse. Rock Band might let you play songs by The Killers, but PaRappa the Rapper Remastered features a banging rap-off between the customers of a gas station trying to decide which one of them gets to skip to the front of the queue for the toilet. We won't get that one out of our heads for days.
PaRappa the Rapper Remastered is a time capsule from the late 90s – warts and all. The high-definition gloss might make the game look better than ever, but it can't mask how the genre has moved on in PaRappa's absence. The mechanics don't hold up against the competition of today, but the fantastic soundtrack, charming characters, and budget price should prove more than enough to get the nostalgia juices flowing in anyone who remembers the old dog's first outing 20 years ago. You gotta believe!