As tense and fraught as most rap battles are, the edge is taken off slightly when the competitors are a dog in a beanie and a six-foot karate instructor with an onion for a head, or a grinning Rastafarian spider wearing oversized sunglasses and a dinner jacket. Rap battles in the world of PaRappa the Rapper are much more fun and hilarious affairs. You see, rap affects everything in PaRappa's world. The different levels are based around PaRappa's attempts to woo his sweetheart Sunny Funny, and the various ways in which rapping helps him achieve his aim.
So, when PaRappa needs a car to impress Sunny, he has to take driving lessons. This involves following his driving instructor's rap to perform the usual mirror, signal, manoeuvre routine. Naturally, being a dog, he crashes the car, so it's off to the flea market to earn some money to repair it, by rapping with Prince Fleaswallow, reggae frog king of second-hand goods. It's a joyously random and entertaining experience, and you'll want to get through the levels to find out what happens to PaRappa and his gang of brightly coloured friends.
The way it works is simple. Each of the PSP system's buttons corresponds to a small portion of spoken vocals that are triggered when they are pressed. Press the buttons in the correct order, with the correct timing, and you'll let forth a flawless flow of rap rhetoric, but press the buttons in the wrong order, or mess up the timing and you'll sound like a stuck record, much to the amusement of the level's rap master.
Points are awarded for your accuracy and how stylish your rapping is, and you're graded on a U Rappin scale from AWFUL right up to COOL. Sink below AWFUL and you'll fail the song, usually with disastrous results for poor PaRappa. You can even freestyle on the tracks, and if your rapping is good enough, the level's master will leave and let you rap on your own, letting you create entirely new versions of the songs.
This visual style of the game is brilliant, endearingly weird and totally unique. Each of the characters is a paper-thin 2D cutout, and the backgrounds are colourful and full of lively action. Of course, the music is all important, and each of the six levels has a great musical track accompanying it that is tremendous fun to rap along to, ranging in styles from 70s funk to reggae to J-Pop ballads.
What's more, downloadable content means that you can get remixed versions of the original songs and levels, letting you play through the levels as before, with remixed backing tracks, giving you a whole new rap challenge to overcome.
There's a whole host of new PSP exclusive features too, including the ability to let up to four players rap head-to-head in Ad Hoc mode. You can also share a demo level wirelessly with other PSP systems, to let everyone know just what all the fuss is about, which is perfect as PaRappa the Rapper is simply one of those games that you have to experience for yourself to appreciate just how fun rhythm action games can be. The gameplay, music, graphics and story all add up to one of the most unique games on PSP, and one you'll definitely be coming back to time and time again.