lammy1.jpg['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. This week's column covers Um Jammer Lammy for the Sony PlayStation, developed by NaNaOn-Sha, published by Sony Computer Entertainment America and released in the United States in July 1999.]

It's a bit of a rush and a bit of a dash!

While most video game genres expand over time and continue to offer new twists and complexities to old formulas, such is not the case for the rhythm genre. What began with story-based, character-driven titles like Parappa the Rapper soon gave way to more simplistic, arcade-friendly fare such as Beatmania and Dance Dance Revolution, both of which refined the mechanics of music-based gameplay, yet eliminated many of the more complex elements that once characterized the genre.

This move can be seen as beneficial to the genre, as early rhythm games were often criticized as being too short, and for possessing too little depth. Modern games in Konami's Bemani series, on the other hand, are almost infinitely replayable due to their lack of specific goals or finite storylines. For all the advancements the genre has seen, however, there's a certain charm present in older music-based games that modern titles seem to lack. Um Jammer Lammy may not have the length and depth that Bemani fans crave, but it possesses wit and charm in spades.

lammy2.jpgThere's no foolin' around with deers.

Um Jammer Lammy stars a would-be rockstar lamb named Lammy, and you're in charge of helping her get to her big concert on time. Along the way, you'll have to help Lammy put out fires, land an airplane, and escape from the clutches of hell itself...using only the power of her mind. Heavy stuff! Gameplay is cue-based, with timed button presses simulating the playing of a guitar in accompaniment to various call-and-response sequences. If this formula sounds familiar, the similarities to Parappa the Rapper are beyond coincidence; Lammy takes place in the same universe as Parappa, and features many of the same characters.

Um Jammer Lammy never garnered the recognition and critical praise that Parappa did, however. This is somewhat puzzling, as Lammy's soundtrack is one of the best to ever be featured in a video game, and easily bests the music found in Parappa and its sequel. Gameplay in Lammy also has much more variety to it; unlike Parappa, two-player cooperative and competitive modes give the game life beyond the completion of its story mode, and there are several optional goals to achieve both in single-player stages and when playing against a computer-controlled opponent. One of the game's best features comes upon the completion of the story mode: an entirely new set of stages that star Parappa as the main character! These stages -- which feature all-new music and rap-based challenges -- prove to be an inclusion that doubles the game's length.

If I'm dead, then the game's over! What a STUPID game!I thought milk was pink!

The game is still a short-lived experience in comparison to modern rhythm titles, but what Lammy lacks in replay factor it more than makes up for in sheer weirdness. Make no mistake, this is one bizarre game. In the third level, a caterpillar vomits uncontrollably while it urges you to put children to sleep by strumming them like guitars. For landing a plane, you're given a set of false teeth, which add a wah-wah pedal effect to your guitar when you equip them. The game's strangest moment, however, was censored out of the United States release -- in short, Lammy trips on a banana peel, dies, and goes to hell, where she has to battle an evil J-Pop idol for her mortal soul.

You won't find moments like this in Dance Dance Revolution, that's for sure. Story-based rhythm games may have never achieved the popularity of their Bemani successors, but titles like Gitaroo Man Lives! prove that the subgenre isn't dead yet. One can only hope that a Lammy sequel isn't far behind.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: If you're a fan of music games in general and NaNaOn-Sha in particular, you might want to check out the recent Gaijin Restoration column on 'Vib Ribbon', another classic rhythm game for PS1 from Masaya Matsuura and friends!]

[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com, and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]