One of the most feared phenomena in the entertainment profession (be it sports or music) is the sophomore jinx. It basically entails that after a stellar first year or album, the second go-around is (in comparison) a sharp disappoint. It is perhaps the starkest reminder that there are no guarantees in the business and that one great success does not necessarily deserve another. A case in point is Hootie And The Blowfish. Hootie arrived on the scene with popular songs like I Only Want To Be With You and Hold My Hand, only to fall right off the map after their lackluster, follow-up release: Fair Weather Johnson. The album sold relatively well, but never did match the inflated expectations of the industry. This now brings me to Um Jammer Lammy (whose name sounds just as funny as Hootie And The Blowfish), sequel to Masaya Matsurra's PaRappa The Rapper. PaRappa was the first music-based video game to hit the market and when gamers took to it right away, it changed just about everything in the industry. I, as well as others, wondered why it took so long for someone to come out with a "simple" game and, furthermore, I couldn't wait for more games to come out that were along the same vein. So it was with great pleasure that I sat down with Lammy; my expectations were high and Lammy had received some good industry buzz. To put it bluntly, PaRappa was magical, and I was seriously looking forward to its sequel bringing some of that magic back.
When I first played Lammy, I found myself making a lot of excuses for the game. I guess I was just so bowled over by PaRappa that I really wanted the enjoyment I got from it to carry over onto the sequel. It is to their credit that Lammy follows almost directly in PaRappa's footsteps. It's also a strange-looking 2D game where the focus is on playing music. And whereas in the past I had to help PaRappa (he's a dog) rap his way into the heart of Sunny Funny (she's a flower), in this one I have to help aspiring female rocker Lammy (and she's lamb, get it?) through her harried quest. Lammy is a guitarist. She's in a band called Milk-Can and she's always late. It's up to me to help her jam through obstacles that are in her way as she rushes to her band's gigs. It's starts off nicely as silly stories go, but it never gets any deeper than that. The whole game is just her running from point A to point B, and that's hardly a compelling mission.
Masaya Matsurra created in PaRappa a revolutionary opportunity for gamers to interact with something complex like music, yet with a simple enough interface that it could be done with a 6-button joystick. And in Lammy, PaRappa's lyrical rapping is replaced with Lammy's guitar jamming. This allows those not too high on rap music to get down to some mock-Jimi Hendrix sessions in the comfort of their own home. It was certainly an change I looked forward to playing for myself, because on the surface, the game appears to be more of a music game than PaRappa did. Lammy is a harder game than its predecessor and I found that matching my music to that of the computer to be pretty taxing. I just could never get the notes right and consequently couldn't get into a groove with the game. It felt like most of the time I was punished for the moves I thought I got right and conversely rewarded for the ones I thought I got wrong. Maybe it was just me and my innate inability to master it. Now don't get me wrong, I did do well but it was a guessing game more than anything. This also caused problems for me when it came to the freestyling sessions this series vividly promotes. Thanks to the game's changes, I've now realize that I am tone deaf couldn't play anything that the computer would find even remotely pleasing.
In the end, any conclusion I make about the sophomore jinx and Lammy is based mostly upon my own expectations. So again, I have to acknowledge that PaRappa left pretty big shoes to fill and I found it admittedly hard to take Lammy out of this context and see it solely as a unique entity. To Sony's credit, they didn't give us a straight sequel just to capitalize on the immensely popular genre and instead actually tried to go in a new direction. This, however, is not always a popular move, no matter how well it is executed. Ultimately, I think it is fair to say that gamers expecting a Cracked Rearview may instead find a Fair Weather Johnson. Lammy is superficially similar to PaRappa; it is funny and offers the catchy music and gameplay that PaRappa was known for, but it just lacked the overall depth that made PaRappa The Rapper such a gem.
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