The retro games craze will officially move past the 8-bit and 16-bit eras this December with the release of the PlayStation Classic. Sony announced the nostalgic microconsole at the Tokyo Game Show this morning, and in true classic console fashion it’ll look like a smaller version of the original PlayStation. It will come with 20 games, although only five have been announced so far. Those five games don’t include the one title that would most make this device worth a purchase, and indeed, a game so important that its absence would make the entire PlayStation Classic a waste of time and money for anybody who bought it.
We’re talking, of course, about Um Jammer Lammy.
The Parappa the Rapper spin-off didn’t set the world on fire when it was released in 1999, but those who did play it at the time couldn’t help but appreciate its absurd brilliance. Although similar to Parappa—the rhythmic action, stylish art and surreal story are all indebted to its more popular predecessor—Um Jammer Lammy stands on its own as a singular work. Named after the main character—an insecure rocker who’s only confident when she has her guitar in her hands—Um Jammer Lammy’s core message is one of self-acceptance and self-love. It’s the story of Lammy learning how to be comfortable in her own skin, even when she’s not reeling off sick licks up and down the fretboard, and through that process the player will hopefully also grow more comfortable in their own skin.
Everything that works in Parappa returns in Um Jammer Lammy, from the infectious music to an exalted playfulness that’s apparent in almost every aspect of the game. Lammy is the stronger work, though, for two main reasons. Guitar licks are a more satisfying match for the PlayStation controller’s face buttons than the purely beat-based matches of Parappa. Parappa’s delivery, hampered by the technology of 1996, is clipped and monotone, which turns him into a pretty bad rapper. That’s not the case with Lammy’s guitar lines, which have more space to breathe and flow. You can put your own unique stamp on songs with Lammy’s effects pedals, too. And if you do prefer Parappa as a character—or his style of rapping to Lammy’s guitar work—you can replay every stage as that rapping dog after completing the game.
Um Jammer Lammy is also a more empathetic game than Parappa the Rapper. Although Parappa also suffers from self-doubt, Lammy’s is more crippling, and the distinction between her guitar-enabled confidence and normally anxious state is a deeper and more fully-rounded depiction of insecurity. Even the most depressed or insecure of us typically have one activity or aspect of life that we’re confident in. Lammy becomes the person she knows she can be when she’s playing guitar, and her personal journey towards permanently freeing that inner strength from doubt and anxiety is the true heart of the game. It’s a rich, emotionally resonant theme wrapped up inside an adorably bizarre cartoon package, and in that way can be viewed as a kind of precursor to the more nuanced cartoons that have flourished on cable throughout the 21st century.
Another crucial fact that should make Um Jammer Lammy a prerequisite for the PlayStation Classic: it holds up better today than the vast majority of original PlayStation games. That era is known today for polygonal grotesqueries and cameras seemingly designed to hinder play as greatly as possible. Lammy avoids all of that with its unique aesthetic and simple, straight-forward action. The games from this time period that hold up the best today are ones that, upon release, seemed simplistic or like throwbacks to an older era—think the side-scrolling of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, or how Final Fantasy VII saves the industry-redefining CGI for the cut-scenes and resembles a fairly traditional JRPG at most other points. The Crash Bandicoots and Metal Gear Solids of the world don’t hold up nearly as well today as something like Um Jammer Lammy.
Hopefully when the PlayStation Classic launches this December it’ll serve one purpose: as a personal Um Jammer Lammy delivery service, reviving this should-be-beloved classic and giving it the attention it deserved all those many years ago. If all goes well the videogame lovers of the world will unite in one single powerful cry:
“Leave it to Lammy!!!”
(And what the hell, they can also go ahead and slap Final Fantasy Tactics in there too, if they want.)
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.