PaRappa the Rapper is a rhythm video game (e.g. ‘Dance Dance Revolution’ and ‘Guitar Hero’) for the Sony PlayStation created by Masaya Matsuura (the former leader of the Japanese ‘Hyper Pop Unit’ PSY S) and his NanaOn-Sha company.
While the gameplay is not challenging for experienced gamers, the game is remembered for its unique graphic design, its quirky soundtrack and its bizarre plot. Despite being made in Japan, all of the game’s songs and dialogue are spoken in English in all versions. The game is named after its protagonist, Parappa, a 2D rapping dog with the motto, ‘I gotta believe!’ His name comes from the Japanese term for ‘paper thin.’
Considered ahead of its time in its day, ‘PaRappa the Rapper’ is somewhat similar to the classic 1980s game ‘Simon,’ in which the player is required to repeat a sequence of sounds and buttons. PaRappa the Rapper demands that the player not only get the sequence correct but also the timing of the sequence, in a call and response format. The game provides small portions of spoken vocals that are triggered when the appropriate buttons are pressed. Pressing the buttons in the correct order, with the correct timing, provides an intelligible imitation of the words spoken by the character; pressing the buttons in an incorrect order or with incorrect timing rewards the player with unintelligible gibberish.
Points are awarded for correctness and ‘style.’ By simply following the given sequence, the best a player can attain is the ‘U rappin’ GOOD’ rating. To get a higher rating, the player must ‘freestyle’; that is, to deviate from the given sequence but still keep in time with the song’s rhythm. Through this method, the player can attain a ‘U rappin’ COOL’ rating. Alternately, if the player continues to play poorly, they may lose points and attain ‘U rappin’ BAD’ and ‘U rappin’ AWFUL’ ratings. A player drops down a rank after playing two wrong lines in succession, or on occasion an utterly ridiculous line, and can only go back up a level by getting two consecutive good lines.
The player takes on the role of PaRappa, a paper-thin rapping dog, who is trying to win the heart of a flower-like girl named Sunny Funny. However, he is intimidated by the presence of Joe Chin, a rich, narcissistic dog who goes overboard with his attempts to impress Sunny. To impress Sunny Funny, PaRappa learns to fight at a kung-fu dojo, and takes a driver’s education course to get his license. However when he crashes his Dad’s car, he has to earn money at a flea market to pay for it. When Sunny’s birthday comes up, PaRappa has to get cake, but ends up ruining it after an encounter with Joe. He makes a new one by watching a cooking show, and proceeds to eat a lot of it on the day. When spending some time alone with Sunny, he is suddenly overcome with the need to go to the bathroom. PaRappa has to rap against his previous teachers in order to get to the front of the line to the toilet. Then one night, PaRappa is invited to Club Fun, and asks Sunny to go with him, to which she agrees. PaRappa then raps on stage with everybody, rapping solo at the end of the song and expressing his feelings for Sunny.
The unique visual style was designed by Rodney Greenblat, an American graphic artist who is popular in Japan. Like in the ‘Paper Mario’ series by Nintendo, all of the characters appear to be flat, two dimensional beings cut from paper while the surroundings are primarily three dimensional. Greenblat states on his website that the characters were hand-drawn, and that they were paper-flat to preserve the style of his artwork. While the setting is a bright interpretation of an urban city, the characters range from anthropomorphic animals such as frogs, spiders, and dogs, to lively versions of normally inanimate objects including onions, hammers, and flowers.
‘PaRappa the Rapper’ is regarded as the first ‘modern’ popular rhythm game. It was followed by a spin-off titled ‘UmJammer Lammy,’ which was released in 1999. The game featured a new cast of characters, multiplayer modes and focused on guitar play, but very similar game play. A bonus mode was included in which the entire game could be replayed with Parappa as the protagonist, complete with his own versions of the game’s stages. An arcade version of the game produced by Namco was also released. A direct sequel to ‘PaRappa the Rapper’ was released in 2001 for the PlayStation 2. The franchise has spawned a large range of merchandising and a children’s anime TV series of the same name.