PaRappa the Rapper by Mike Sholars | Book Review

PaRappa the Rapper by Mike Sholars has become one of my favorite books from Boss Fight Books. This is one of the more personal stories that includes the game’s history.

While this is a look at the history of a video game, Mike includes how PaRappa the Rapper impacted his life. He also talks about rap music and gives the reader a brief history of rap music and rap battles. It was incredibly informative for me!

I read this book while I was camping. It was mosquito season in Northern Michigan, and this book gave me a great excuse to stay in the cabin and not get eaten alive by mosquitos, ticks, and deer flies.

I learned quite a bit about the game and other things I didn’t know I wanted to learn about. It was an enjoyable book, and I would recommend it if you’re looking for something to read.

Music Games

We get a brief history of music and rhythm video games. It is a fascinating genre of gimmick games that generally revolve around a Simon Says mechanic. In many of them, you need to mimic the commands on the screen or press the right buttons at the right time.

Dance Dance Revolution is the game I remember the most from this genre. Rock Band is probably the game that many people might associate with the genre. Many of these games started in the arcades, and I remember hearing about them in the late-90s.

I believe I heard about DDR from my friend Drew and first saw it at Cedar Point in Ohio. I could be confusing this with Beat Mania or an arcade in Chicago we visited after a Chemical Brothers concert. Either way, these games were huge for brief periods.

PaRappa the Rapper wasn’t the first game like this, but it seems to have left more of an impression. It might have been the story attached to the gameplay, the memorable characters, or simply nostalgia for a time when video games were released differently. I’ll get more into the latter in the next section.

I wasn’t sure where to put this, so it will be tacked onto the end of this section. I appreciated the Aerosmith jokes in the book. I liked their music a lot as a kid, and seeing them in this book made me smile. They also have an interesting role in the history of music games, being in Revolution X and the Guitar Hero series.

You could’ve told the history of music games without mentioning them, but it is funny that they were in as many games as they were. Of the three bands that headlined the fictional music festival in Wayne’s World 2, Aerosmith was the only one to get a video game, as far as I know. It is a shame that Journey wasn’t mentioned in the book, but you can’t always include everything.

Playthrough the game, Walkthrough Mike’s Childhood

PaRappa the Rapper is a unique game for a variety of reasons. For starters, it is a short game. Mike points this out and puts it into perspective.

It is six stages and can take up to two hours to beat if you aren’t that good at it. If this short of a game was released today at full retail price, people could be freaking out. In the 90s, we were more accepting of things like this, especially if you only got 2-4 new games a year.

The gameplay is similar to other music games, but you can also freestyle, which comes into play with the Cool mode. To advance to the next level, you need to maintain a ranking of Good. The other rankings are Bad and Awful.

The chapters lead you through each stage but provide context and tie into Mike’s life. The goals of each stage are very relatable to a teenager’s life. Mike describes these as mundane stakes, as failure in real life would only impact one person. It isn’t like you’re fighting some old god with only a sword you found by chance.

Two parts struck a chord with me. The first was the driving test stage, and the second was the boss rush. One has PaRappa trying to get his driver’s license, and the other is a boss rush mode about trying to get go to the bathroom.

The stakes for failure are isolated to PaRappa. If he doesn’t get his driver’s license, he is the only one affected; all he has to do is try again. He will be embarrassed if he doesn’t get to the bathroom in time because he crapped his pants. It will be humiliating for him, but people will eventually forget.

With each stage, Mike brings up some part of his life. One thing he brings up reminded me of something that seems lost to time. That was learning about new video games from demo disks. This ties into some other things that I said “Oh! I remember something like that happening!”

He saw PaRappa the Rapper on a PS1 demo disk. It was one of the many ways you could learn about new games, and they would allow you to play small parts and tutorials of video games. In PaRappa the Rapper’s case, it was the Chop Chop Master Onion level.

Mike’s friend seemed to get all of the new consoles and games. It feels like everyone has a story like this. At least, everyone I’ve talked with about retro games has a story like this. Reading books like this reminds me of everything we have in common. Not just video games but similar life experiences from the 80s and 90s.   

Cool Mode

This is one of the four modes that can be achieved during the game. It can only be achieved after beating the game. Then you enter a sandbox environment where you can pick any stage to replay.

Mike tries to explain how to achieve and stay in Cool Mode. He talks about his struggles with understanding how it can be achieved and how he learned about it. It is a very relatable story, as even fans of a particular game can learn new things about them.

He mentions that he didn’t know the game became a sandbox after you beat it. How you could go to any stage and replay it. Also, how you could freestyle after you completed one part of the song and were waiting for the next part to start.

These freestyle sections are where you can achieve Cool Mode. You need to play/rap in a way that fits into that section of the song. Mike brings up his struggles with it here.

He mentions looking up YouTube videos of people doing it and his conversation with the game’s creator. It is an excellent section of the book, but if you’re looking for a pattern on how to do it, that isn’t here. Basically, you need to button mash and cross your fingers.

It does raise some questions for me. Is there someone who has cracked the code? Is there someone out there who has a set pattern of button presses that will reliably get you to Cool Mode? If someone is out there, they don’t seem to have explained this.

Mundane Things

While writing about these books or recording the audio for a YouTube video about them, I always remember something I forgot to write down. Some memory from the book will pop back up, and I won’t know what to do with it. No matter how many notes I take while reading, I always seem to forget something.

In this case, it is the cutscenes. PaRappa the Rapper is a cutscene-heavy game. Mike writes about them and brings up how his opinions are either different or have changed, particularly with the sort of villain of the game.

Joe Chin is PaRappa’s rival, sort of. As Mike points out, he is just living his life and isn’t all that concerned with PaRappa. He isn’t going out of his way to upstage PaRappa. Joe Chin does provide PaRappa with the inspiration to better himself.

PaRappa sees Joe and wants to try to be similar to him in some way. That is why he tries to learn karate, learn how to bake, and get his driver’s license. Even if his choice of cake is bizarre, to say the least.

Mike also writes about the people behind the music. Not just the game developers but the voice actors who performed the songs. He also brings up how the songs change depending on how you’re doing in the game.

If you play poorly, parts of the music fade away. Along with the music, the boss character’s demeanor changes. These range from being understandably frustrated to strangely laying an egg. It is one of the better parts of the game and is a significant improvement from other rhythm games where the music stops or the crowd boos.

I’m sure that there are more things that I’m forgetting. I wanted to bring some of the stories that Mike talks about into one place. This is the hard part about reviewing a book like this.

So many parts of this book got a reaction out of me. I liked everything about this book. Mike tells a fascinating story about an iconic 90s video game character. While he isn’t as big as he could have been, PaRappa the Rapper means a lot to those who got into the game.

Final Thoughts

It is always sad when you pass up a game that is a fun experience. I’m unsure what it was about PaRappa the Rapper that made me pass it by. I guess I didn’t get the gameplay, but I remember seeing many advertisements for it, and a friend of mine liked it quite a bit. Hearing Mike’s story about what the game has meant to him made me want to try it.

There is a ton of nostalgia in this book. Many of the things Mike writes about resonate with me in some way. I remember going to the video rental store when I was little. The destination was a little different, and I was looking for horror movies, but going to rent video games or movies is something that many kids in the 90s remember doing.

Mike does an excellent job of telling the history of PaRappa the Rapper and what it means to him. This is a wonderful book and one of the reasons I like what Boss Fight Books is doing for video game literature. I’m looking forward to seeing what they will do next, and I hope it is as good as Mike’s book.

Published by Paul Werkema

Hi! I'm here to share my hobbies with all of you. I love video games and books, so I write about the books that cover video games or are novels about video games.

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