Akihabara Dennou Gumi Pata Pies!: Making a little go a long way

This game, based on a single-series 1998 anime of (almost) the same name, first caught my eye thanks to its bright yellow case decorated with a neatly arranged collection of the titular Pata Pies. The design exudes a sort of stylish confidence, unafraid of drawing attention to itself without actually going to the trouble of explaining anything. Happily this citrus-fresh look doesn’t stop at the packaging: this is simply how Akihabara Dennou Gumi: Pata Pies! chooses to present itself. The art is consistently crisp, the colours pop like the pinkest bubblegum on a summer’s day, and the characters are energised by the clean lines, well chosen colours, and strong shapes they’ve been rendered with.

The game’s a joy to behold. The people and their Pata Pies you meet along the way are an odd bunch, a collection of football-loving athletes, ninjas, people obsessed with cuteness, study, and more. Their specialisms reflect one of the six different stats your own adorably oddball Pata Pi can gain experience in after charming the other via the ancient and noble art of minigames.

The aim is to assist the Pata Pi professor with his research by playing games with other characters absorbed in this fictional craze, the enjoyment and newfound friendships that blossom from this activity hopefully generating 500 hearts in under 180 days. This task isn’t quite as monumental as the numbers may seem at first, as after clearing an encounter with another Pata Pi owner I tended to be awarded around three to four hearts per game (sometimes more, sometimes less)—you don’t actually have to play five hundred minigames to see the ending.

Unfortunately there’s no getting away from the fact that these challenges are incredibly samey, with the only real difference between any two games being cosmetic. Whatever it looks like the Pata Pies are busy doing, from deftly leaping through a ninja’s caltrops to engaging in a butt-shoving contest to amateur photography, the only thing you ever have to do is input the directions shown at the top of the screen using the d-pad (no memorisation or rhythm required), and then press the A button when the thin line that constantly whips across the top bar passes through the thicker middle section. The longer you take to successfully hit that centre mark, the higher the “dislike” gauge on the left goes—if this fills to the top you lose. Get it right and you reduce the left gauge while boosting the “like” gauge on the right at the same time. As I’m sure you’ve already figured out, this must be filled to the top to win the game.

In an attempt to inject some variety into the “action”, if we dare to call it that, from time to time a screen-filling “SPECIAL COMMAND” message will pop up on the screen, signalling a slight (and temporary) change of task. You’ll either need to input a new, longer, command, or pick the correct response to a sentence from one of three choices. That’s literally it. 

Do well enough at these uninspiring chores and you’ll level up the friendship level of the person you just played with, unlocking new nodes on the map—sorry, network—allowing you to… do everything you just did, only this time with someone else. It’s even possible to challenge a single character multiple times, pushing their friendship even higher and unlocking additional connections on the network screen.

It’s a very rigid game: pick a spot on the map, watch a single character be amusingly weird for a very short while in a highly isolated scenario, play a minigame that is very similar to the last one, repeat. But… it’s also a game that isn’t trying to pretend this is a deep and nuanced experience either. It isn’t a game that’d be fun to play for hours on end, but it doesn’t seem to be a game that was designed to be played with that degree of intensity in the first place. Some games are just more fun if you pick them up for a breezy ten minutes every now and then—there’s no reason why this or any other game has to be cleared in a day or two, even if it’s possible to do so.

As important as it is to judge games based on what they truly are (or at least are sincerely trying very hard to be), rather than what I incorrectly assume they are, that overly generous attitude towards Pata Pies still crumbles under the lightest scrutiny. There really is just too much of too little in here, the opening ten minutes not a taster of what’s to come but pretty much all there is to see. Everything repeats very quickly, even if you make a concerted effort to seek out new experiences—the pool of minigames really is ridiculously small. At intermittent points along the way special events will trigger, although as these look very much like all of the other character scenes you’ve been clicking through with increasing levels of disinterest, last about as long, and are of about as much consequence,  the positivity and enthusiasm you can muster for them is minimal.

Which is a shame because from time to time you can see that Pata Pies really is trying to do something, even if it does seem to be a demo disc masquerading as a full and finished release. There’s a downloadable VMU fortune telling game waiting on the disc for those happy to burn through a few batteries using the micro-portable away from the console, and from time to time you may receive emails from the people you’ve made friends with too, although any thoughts of making Burning Rangers-style connections with these people soon fade when you realise that even if these characters are full of chirpy zest and drawn in a truly eye catching manner, they unfortunately have all the depth of a desert puddle on a sunny day.

Pata Pies could have been a frantic Bishi Bashi style minigame collection, or at least something so short it felt like one: either approach would’ve surely been acceptable on a console created by a famous arcade gaming company and home to so many short and sweet experiences. It could have even been a Tamagotchi-like raising sim, putting you in the shoes of a new Pata Pi engineer experimenting with different parts or creating your own. 

It could have been, but it’s not.

What it is is a game that’s mechanically over before you’ve even realised it’s begun, a strange marathon of an experience made up of a thousand tiny sprints. I couldn’t stomach finishing it myself, which is an odd thing to say considering in many ways I already did, as I saw and played through almost every noteworthy aspect of the game within minutes of turning it on.

Pata Pies is certainly unique though, and if you’re looking for something that really isn’t like anything you’ve played before (for better or worse), well, this definitely fits the bill.

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