On Dec. 6, 1996, Sony released a revolutionary video game that single-handedly created a new genre. Rhythm games had existed in small numbers up until that point, but it took a rapping dog and the most outlandish cartoon graphics to push rhythm games into the limelight.
PaRappa the Rapper was actually a very big hit for Sony despite its quirky and extremely Japanese presentation. It might not have put up the same numbers as Super Mario 64, but it appeared all over the place in magazines, commercials, television shows, and even on the front shelf of Blockbuster Video! The hit game set a technical standard for streaming music samples directly into a video game, and more importantly, it was released at $39.99!
One reason PlayStation was able to topple Nintendo back in the day was because its games could easily compete with $69.99 cartridges. PaRappa the Rapper was one of these first quirky games to test the lower pricing point, and it proved to be a huge success.
PaRappa the Rapper stars its titular rapping dog, and it chronicles his attempts to learn new skills and overcome obstacles through the gift of music. While learning how to drive and fend off bullies with karate might be his short-term goals, the true object of his affection is a girl by the name of Sunny Funny, a talking flower.
Sunny and PaRappa also have a group of friends who they hang out with on a daily basis, and PaRappa’s adventures usually stem from problems that arise when he is with them. Car accidents, bullies, picnics that induce the need to go to the bathroom. For some reason, launching into nostalgic 90’s hip-hop will solve any problem thanks to PaRappa’s catch phrase.
“I gotta do what? I gotta believe!”
Ahhh, remember when video games were about more than shooting monsters and soldiers in the face?
PaRappa the Rapper was developed on a budget of roughly $1 million, back when you could make a hit game with a price tag like that, by the company NanaOn-Sha. Trust me when I say the company has the best soundbite accompanying its logo at the start of the game.
NanaOn-Sha was founded three years before the game’s launch by designer and musician Masaya Matsura, a graduate of Kyoto’s prestigious Ritsumeikan University. Before video games, he helped create a popular and addictive J-Pop band by the name of Psy-S in 1983, and it became a critical and financial hit until it disbanded in 1996, the same year PaRappa the Rapper launched.
The company worked hand in hand with American graphic novel artist Rodney Alan Greenblat, who had a rather large presence in Japan as well thanks to a few of his early works.
PaRappa the Rapper was an even larger hit in Japan than it was in North America, becoming the 7th best-selling game of 1996, no small feat considering the competition of Super Mario 64 and a blooming, young franchise called Pokémon.
The game blossomed into a full-fledged multi-media sensation with its own anime series, merchandise, and of course, a sequel. PaRappa the Rapper 2 launched for the PlayStation 2 on Aug. 30, 2001, a full five years later! Unlike its predecessor, the sequel never became a sensation, possibly due to how far the rhythm genre and video games had moved on thanks to advancements in gameplay and depth.
The original game was ported to the PSP in August 2006, and it arrived in North America in July 2017.
And of course, PaRappa the Rapper just scored a brand new remaster on the PlayStation 4 this past weekend at PlayStation Experience. Those who missed out or possibly weren’t even alive during his original reign can experience PaRappa’s charming adventures next year like they are new and fresh.
I just wonder if the youth of today can appreciate it’s bright outlook on life and the progressiveness of the 1990s. We’re a long way from the peaceful era of accepting other cultures and being free from the cynicism that targets every corner of our society, and a talking dog telling kids they gotta believe doesn’t exactly sell video games anymore.
If only… just once. I’d love to see PaRappa be a hit again.
PaRappa the Rapper 2 might have failed to become the sequel that the original deserved, but many other games and even its own spiritual successor followed in its footsteps. Without question, the best game to follow PaRappa the Rapper also came from NanaOn-Sha, the studio’s true masterpiece UmJammer Lammy.
UmJammer Lammy was released in 1999, accounting for the huge difference in time between the two PaRappa games, and it somewhat perfects the goals of its predecessor. The game sacrifices the rapping dog for Lammy, a rockin’ lead singer of an up-and-coming girl band. Much like PaRappa, Lammy solves her everyday problems by bursting into song.
Only, her exploits are much larger than fixing a broken car. Over the course of her game, Lammy puts out a destructive building fire, survives a plane crash, and even escapes from Hell after accidentally slipping on a banana peel and dying!
Talk about dark!
Chop Chop Master Onion isn’t the only recurring character from PaRappa the Rapper to show up, either. The ultimate secret in UnJammer Lammy for those who perfect the game is the ability to unlock PaRappa himself. After rocking through each of the levels, this secret essentially opens up an entire new game, remixing the rock songs into hip-hop versions for PaRappa.
Kudos to Sony also for keeping this a secret during UmJammer Lammy’s marketing campaign, if it even had one. Keeping his presence under wraps might have caused the game to miss out on a few hundred thousand copies, but Sony believed enough in its new character to let her and her multi-cultural band headline their own game.
UmJammer Lammy is available on the PlayStation Store in its original form, but I would suggest tracking down a physical CD. The input lag, thanks to the emulation and transition into HD, throws the game’s rhythm off, making it almost unplayable for those looking to get perfect scores.
Outside of these two PlayStation classics, the console overflowed with other rhythm games with Bust a Groove proving to be the most popular. However, it wasn’t until the PlayStation 2 that they found their true successor.
Oh, this game is so special…
Gitaroo Man launched on the PlayStation 2 on June 21, 2001 in Japan and Feb. 8, 2002. Koei stepped in to publish in North America, but it was actually an unknown company called iNiS who headed up the development. iNiS would go on to develop the NiIntendo DS import hit Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! and its North American counterpart, Elite Beat Agents.
Gitaroo Man stars a young boy by the name of U-1, a fun Japanese pun on the name Yuuichi. As you might expect, he’s the ultimate underdog. He’s terrible at his true passion, skateboarding, the girl he likes is way out of his league, and a mean bully terrorizes him everyday. However, discovering he has superpowers through the use of his magical guitar gives him the confidence to overcome his problems.
And then, he is whisked away to his people’s homeworld, the planet Gitaroo, where he liberates them from the evil prince Zowie.
Gitaroo Man is loaded with some of the best music you’ll ever find in a rhythm game, and its emotional highs and lows continue to go unmatched to this very day. We’re talking genuine stomach churning and goosebump-raising moments.
And of course, a guitar is the true secret to obtaining love.
After Gitaroo Man, Dance Dance Revolution caught on in Japan, and Guitar Hero and Rock Band took over the music genre in North America. Both effectively killed off the decade-long trend of character based rhythm games and their messages of how music can give you the confidence to succeed in life. Without PaRappa the Rapper though, Rock Band and Guitar Hero might not have ever happen.
We own him thanks for the mountains of plastic instruments littering our basements. Who would have thought a rapping dog would be this popular and influential twenty years after his inception?