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You Gotta Believe! PaRappa The Rapper Remembered

When Sony's original Playstation was first released, the stratospheric technological leap changed consoles forever. The move to 3D allowed for gaming experiences more sophisticated and advanced than ever before. For the first time gaming was cool and it became acceptable for adults to become interested in the medium. This time saw classics like Wipeout, Final Fantasy VII, and Resident Evil, yet for me the most fondly remembered game of this era is PaRappa The Rapper. Yes, while the rest of the world was fixated on Lara Croft's chesticles I fell under the spell of the two-dimensional cartoon dog. And I regret nothing.

One of the underappreciated advances allowed by the 32-bit generation was the ability to have CD-quality sound for the first time. It allowed full dialogue to be recorded and reproduced without sounding like it was being performed by robots. It allowed games like the Resident Evil series to become increasingly cinematic. And crucially for PaRappa, it allowed for music to be perfectly reproduced.

PaRappa was first released in Japan in 1996, and is generally agreed to be one of the first major rhythm based games. Gameplay was as straightforward as they come- players just had to press the right button at the correct time, in time to the music. If you get it right, the song keeps going. If you mess up, you lose. It gets more challenging as the game progresses,  but that's really all there is to it. Why, then is this game considered to be such a classic?

The game's appeal comes chiefly from two areas- the presentation and the music.  Created by  Masaya Matsuura and featuring characters designed by American artist Rodney Greenblat, the game has a unique and fresh visual style. The characters are two-dimensional and paper thin but move around a three-dimensional world. The game revolved around the titular love-sick puppy, who tries to win the heart of the girl/flower of his dreams- Sunny Funny. In order to do this, he learns self-defence, how to drive and even gets a part-time job, all through the medium of rap. As for the music itself- it is absolutely fantastic. Written and recorded in English despite the game's Japanese origins, the tunes are catchy as hell, and have permanently seared themselves on the brains of many a gamer.

From the moment the gong sounded on Chop Chop  Master Onion's stage, I was hooked, for Life.  Every time I hear "Kick! Punch! It's All in the Mind!" I'm magically transported back to that simpler time. The beany-wearing hound raps his way through further challenges, encountering tough driving instructor Mooselini ("I Forgot To Close The Door") and celebrity TV Chef Chicken Cheap Cheap. Best of all though is the smooth Reggae-loving frog Prince Fleaswallow, who bears an undeniable resemblance to "Mr Bombastic" Shaggy. The game takes an unexpected turn later, when PaRappa must rap against his previous teachers in an effort to make it to the toilet in time, before finishing in a triumphant concert. Alas, the fun is short-lived, and experienced gamers will easily power through it in an afternoon. Even back then, it managed to be probably the first game I completed single-handedly- and I'm terrible.

Although a sizeable hit, PaRappa never really seemed to get it's due. The franchise got a short-lived Japan-only animated series, and cropped up in Smash Bros wannabe PS All-Stars a few years back. Really though, it never got better than the first game. 1999 saw Um Jammer Lammy, a (much harder) spiritual successor featuring a guitar playing sheep, and a true sequel eventually arrived for PS2 in 2001. Yet neither really quite lived up to the original, and the tracks in PaRappa The Rapper 2 are nowhere near as memorable.

PaRappa the Rapper got a remastered downloadable HD edition for PS4 this year, but it was sadly underwhelming. While the levels themselves were remastered in HD, the video sequences were poor quality, and the content just didn't justify the asking price. Despite the slight disappointment though, I retain the hope that the love that remains out there for our Hip Hop Hero means that we haven't seen the last of him. The concept is perfect for a modestly budgeted downloadable game, perhaps even with extra tracks at DLC. Get the whole band back together and we could have a worthy follow up. Could this happen or is it just a foolish dream? Well as PaRappa himself would say: You Gotta Believe!