Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a dog, a cat, and a lamb walk into a burger joint to discuss their band’s next gig. While they are talking, a couple of guys show up and start harassing the trio. These fellas figure that the animals are gonna buy them food, seeing as how they are the manly, muscular sort of humans. Suddenly, the cat throws a guitar to the lamb; the sheepish creature transforms into an unstoppable force of pure rock, and proceeds to beat the crap out of the two jerks standing before them. Then the cat says, “See, the guitar rules again!”
Hmm, tough crowd. Alright, let me tell you the one about the dog who raps to win the heart of a sunflower. Everybody loves that joke.
It is hard to believe in our music-peripheral filled culture that the very first rhythm game did not feature any instruments or accessories at all. Back in the early days of the Playstation, an odd little title known as Parappa the Rapper featured a cartoon puppy and his quest to impress the love of his life. Over the course of six strange levels, Parappa has to get a driver’s license, earn money for a date, bake a cake for a picnic, and finally perform a live concert to woo Miss Sunny Funny. In order to accomplish all of these goals, the player must rap along with various teachers using nothing more than a plain controller. Looking back, this title featured crude paper-craft animation and rather simple “Simon Says” style gameplay, but a combination of loveable characters and a memorable soundtrack guaranteed Parappa a place in video game history.
Now, what I am about to say may be considered blasphemy to many initiated Playstation Acolytes, but Parappa’s spin-off/pseudo-sequel Um Jammer Lammy is a superior game in almost every aspect to its predecessor. Cease your gasping and search your hearts; you know it to be true!
To start, Um Jammer Lammy features cleaner animation and sprites than Parappa. This is especially noticeable whenever a character speaks/sings, and their mouth actually lip-syncs, instead of opening and closing like a fish gasping for breath. Lammy also brings a new instrument to the party: an electric guitar. By slightly changing the basic gameplay from rapping to playing guitar, the developers drastically improved the option to improvise. In Parappa, players were limited to creating silly and incoherent raps made up of stock words for each stage. But in Lammy, players can take advantage of the versatility of synthesized guitar and craft wicked solos unique to each level. All of these updates, however, are mostly cosmetic. The greatest improvement from Parappa to Lammy was the inclusion of multiplayer modes.
Once the second solo stage of Um Jammer Lammy is completed, a rival character shows up for multiplayer shenanigans. A second player can take control of Rammy, the literal black sheep counterpart to the protagonist. Unlike so many other games, where the Player Two option is merely a pallet swap, Rammy actually figures into the main story as Lammy’s competition for the main stage at a huge rock concert. Players can work together to rock faces in cooperative mode, or engage in dueling guitar solos in competitive mode. But if rock music just isn’t your game, don’t worry: after the multiplayer campaign is finished, a familiar rapping canine shows up for yet another mode of play. In a surprising twist, Parappa shows up in Um Jammer Lammy to provide players with remixes of all the main stages as rap songs instead of rock music. There is even an option for a Lammy versus Parappa battle, to finally settle the age-old argument of which is greater: rap or rock?
By now, many of you may think that I am trying to throw Parappa to the dogs (HA!), and completely disregard his contribution to rhythm gaming. That is hardly the case. Parappa the Rapper still holds a special place in my heart as not only the first rhythm game I ever played, but also one of two games my siblings and I purchased with our original Sony Playstation. To this day, each of us can still sing all of the six stages from Parappa without fail (challenge us!). But Um Jammer Lammy offered one of the most important options I consider a game should have: the chance to share in the excitement and joy of playing with a friend… and then royally destroying that friend in a wicked guitar battle.