Digital Gems is our weekly column where we highlight contemporary and classic downloadable games that we think are worth your attention.
When I got my license at the ripe age of 18, I couldn’t help but think of when a certain cute little rapping dog got his. That dog was Parappa, Playstation’s former golden child of the hit 1996 rhythm game Parappa the Rapper. (I was literally a kid when it came out, if you wanna feel old for a second.) Luckily for my driving test, my instructor didn’t forget to close the door, but that didn’t stop me from internally humming the catchy tune.
In the year 2017, I never thought I’d be talking about Parappa the Rapper in a fresh context ever again. But alas, we live in a world where Final Fantasy VII is getting remade, Shenmue 3 is happening, and Crash Bandicoot is even crashing back onto the scene with a remaster, so it’s only natural that a Parappa the Rapper remastered edition would join the nostalgia party too. And Parappa the Rapper Remastered is more of the same Parappa, for better or for worse.
Parappa has never looked better, even after a crisp version of the PS2 sequel, Parappa the Rapper 2 being widely available on PS4. But sadly, that beauty only extends the gameplay itself that is. The game’s cutscenes are sadly left untouched, letterboxed into an itty bitty lo-res box. Then the game tilts to another song, and the screen opens up, welcoming you into its flat, cartoonish world of anthropomorphic dogs and flowers. As I played through the game’s six tracks, beholding the ultra lo-res cutscenes all along the way, I remembered what I loved so much about Parappa: he never was cool except for in his mind. In reality he was always just a teenager: one who’s clumsy and relatable, with an innocent crush.
Aside from the game's quirky humor and iconic Rodney Greenblat art design, Parappa the Rapper has always felt timeless in a way few games have. It's poppy hip-hop still bears a whimsical glee with each rhyme, as various critters endearingly bob along to the beat. The youthful Parappa, rapping along with miscellaneous authoritative figures, remains the constant hymn through the game’s few tracks. We watch and play along as little Parappa raps his way through life wielding sheer will power (“I gotta believe!”). Parappa is a positive force to be reckoned with, overtaking any problem that tries to tie him down.
Parappa the Rapper is also a frustrating game, even so many years later. Your input has to be devilishly precise, where even when you think you’re hitting a note, you’ll soon be rappin’ awful. I flew through all of the tracks in my playthrough of the remaster, until I hit the diabolical “Cheap Cheap the Cooking Rap.” And here I was, for nearly an hour, glaring vehemently at the Chicken Cooking Show Host, as she squawked at me for being bad at baking cakes. Despite feeling like I was hitting the notes as they needed to be tapped, I was being punished regardless. Eventually, on honestly what I felt like was a fluke, I made it through miraculously. That chicken be damned.
Parappa the Rapper wasn’t immune to criticism upon its release, despite all its charm. Some complained it was too short. Some, like my qualm above, noted that there seemed to be a latency issue within the game, as if every button pressed wasn’t registered at precisely the same moment. Parappa the Rapper, despite its middling reviews, stuck out in players’ minds though. The hip dog mascot ushered in a wave of creative games like it, not just in the rhythm game genre, but beyond as well.
Parappa the Rapper popularized what we know today as the rhythm game genre. Long before the many Dance Dance Revolutions, the cult classic Vib-Ribbon, the addictive Project Diva series, there was just a lone little pup with a fresh rappin’ attitude. After playing a remaster of Parappa the Rapper this past weekend and the hi-res bump of Parappa the Rapper 2 last year, I sure could go for a Parappa 3 right now. A sequel rid of frustrations, with more rappin’ onions and good tunes to tap along to. I gotta believe.