Parappa the Rapper
The Ducktales theme song. Journey's Don't Stop Believin'. The Fresh Prince theme song. Call me Maybe. I Want it That Way….
There's a list of catchy songs that I personally can't get out of my head that I can spontaneously sing (or rap) at the drop of a hat. Most, I think, people would have in their heads as well. I know I'm not alone with Ducktales, certainly. But I have one that most don't. I have one that only the cool kids at the cool table in the cafeteria would get. Welcome to Chop Chop Master Onion's dojo.
Parappa the Rapper was a game released in the the late 1990s on the Sony Playstation. It's about a dog (?) that has a girl he likes and has to learn how to impress her by going through a few stages of rapping. Chop Chop's dojo was the first stage. That song is pretty catchy as is, but one of the reasons I know it so well, and I think anyone from this generation of gaming probably still does, is that you play it. And play it. And play it. And play it….because that's the first level in the game and you'll be seeing it a lot.
When Parappa the Rapper was released, I was working retail and it was one of those titles that we just didn't order a lot of. I think we ordered one for rental and one or two to sell. At the time, it was niche. Well, it's still pretty niche, but at least if it were released today it would find a better audience with all the rhythm, guitar hero and rock band type of games across consoles and mobile. At the time, it was all pretty new, hence why we only ordered a few copies.
After opening one of them to prep for rental, I popped it in to the demo machine. It was a slow mid-afternoon, and slow mid-afternoons at a small game and movie store was always something I looked forward to because I got to play and test games. After about 20 minutes, I turned around, grabbed one of the few sales copies we had, and bought it at cost (admittingly, it was pretty cheap at cost, first-party games tended to be). I was hooked, and a lot of that was because of Chop Chop Master Onion's first level where I found myself still singing it, humming it throughout the day until I finally gave in and just bought the game to play in full. I just loved the music and, to this day, still do. They were simple, but catchy and the rapping was actually pretty good, especially for such a niche, broad game.
Once home, I was able to give Parappa the Rapper the attention it deserved. Plus I felt less embarrased playing it in front of everyone and sucking completely because I can't figure out the difference between a triangle and square on a controller, apparently.
The second level song I loved even more. After the Dojo, Parappa has to learn how to drive. If I recall it was to take a girl out on a date, so he's gotta prepare while he's gotta believe, right? I think I liked this song as much as the first, I certainly the liked whoever the woman is that did the rapping for Instructor Moosolini, a rapping moose. Hey, not much weirder than a rapping onion, is it?
After that was the first level that I found a bit difficult, and was also another song I really enjoyed. It was Prince Fleaswallow, and he was a total stoner. The "Reggae rap" stye was kind at popular at the time, and I just throught Prince Fleaswallow was pretty awesome and had a great design.
After that it kind of gets a little fuzzy, though I know I was determined to beat the thing. It was so simple, but frustratingly so because you say to yourself "I know I can friggin do this" then you miss one button...one beat...and it all just spirals out of control like a once-teen star at the VMAs.
It's been a while, and aside from that frustrationg, I remember the levels and the songs even though I can't quite remember the order, only that it all ends with a big Rap scene with everyone you've met across the stages so far. I know Cheap Cheap was the last individual rapper level and I rarely got past her. I hated Cheap Cheap. It was the accent: a proper English women's accent just doesn't go well with rapping, even if it's about cooking. Plus the rhythm and the meter was a little out of whack.
After her, there were two others but I don't recall which was which. I know I liked the earlier songs more, though. Wasn't there one where he had to use the bathroom or something? That had the group as well, probably hated Cheap Cheap in that too. Stupid Cheap Cheap. She was like Julia Child trying to gain admittance to be in the Wu-Tang Clan.
I liked to pretend there was a secret level that involved Cheap Cheap, her frying pan and Parappa with a meat cleaver and seasoning.
Seriously, **** Cheap Cheap.
I think I still have my copy somewhere. Parappa wasn't necessarily one of my favorite Playstation games, but there's something so undeniable charming about it that it turned in to something I'm at least a little sentimental about. Or maybe it's because it was really the first rhythm and music-based game that had the sense of creativity to it - creativity slowly growing absent as the years strolled by for rhythm games. Story? Charming characters (except Cheap Cheap)? I guess nobody wants those anymore, they just want another DLC pack of songs by Rush. I like Rush, but wouldn't you want an original game with original music and characters? Rhythm games, especially on consoles, aren't concerned about originality because players are more concerned about playing pretend.
That's why rhythm games burned themselves out so quickly a few years back. There were a ton of them with more instrument peripherals than Parappa the Rapper had stages, but they ran rough-shot through it all, shoving more and more music out there for people to pretend to play and eventually people just grew out of it. Fun songs and characters are far more sustainable in the long run.
Of course, I say that and there really hasn't been another Parappa game, or spin off, in over ten years. Maybe it was too "cheery" with it's message and characters for the Playstation audience that was looking to "grow out of" Nintendo style games - which I think means well designed, polished and fun games but for others, especially during this era, meant really colorful and not gory enough. Maybe it was a game that was ahead of its time, or maybe it simply wasn't what the audience wanted because Guitar Hero gave them the chance to be the character and play pretend than to play as a made-up character with songs you've never heard of. "A chance to play Baba O'reilly? Yes please!"
That's fine, it's a great song, but give me Chop Chop's Dojo song anytime. At least I know the lyrics to that one. Maybe Sony will take a stroll to their IP graveyard and dig up Parappa for another go at some point with a new game.