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PaRappa the Rapper is a rhythm game that bases itself around a "simon says" formula, in which you, as the player character, repeat some phrase said by the teacher character.
This control system is based around the PlayStation controller, with the trademark symbols appearing on the screen in order to indicate you with button you should push.

Compared to most other games of its era, PaRappa's controls are deceptively simple, with only the four action buttons and the L1 and R1 buttons being needed to play each song correctly. However, this does not mean that the game is without it's challenge - while playing each song as it is shown can give you a good result, the only way to be rappin' cool is to freestyle. If you screw it up in some way or another, however, you'll go down to Bad or even Awful, which will mean you won't be able to finish the stage unless you go back up to Good or Cool again.

In order to score cool, you must freestyle and make sure your lines are following a correct pattern, if not, you might end up doing worse.

Every stage in the game is divided in segments called "Lessons".
These segments divide the song in parts in order to allow a clearer progression, and each "Lesson" segment is harder than the previous one, as in an actual lesson.

Due to the game's age and the rather primitive state of the rhythm game genre at the time, the timing in this first game is rather odd, and can vary a lot, even between lines. While most of the time the safest bet timing-wise is to input slightly late, sometimes you'll have to input early in order to get the best results.
In addition, a small detail on the gameplay mechanics is that if you don't match the teacher's first button correctly, you'll always get about 3 points subtracted from your final score, about the same as a regular mistimed input.