Review by red_star1977

"Is that a large LocoRoco in your pants? Or are you just glad to own a PSP?"

Introduction

LocoRoco is a PSP exclusive from the game division of Sony. It turns out that this hard to pigeonhole game is a compelling reason for PSP ownership. It's deceptively deep gameplay and cute, lovable aesthetic make it one of the portable games of the year.

Story: 5/10

The LocoRoco are cheerful ball-like creatures living in harmony on a strange, biologically diverse planet. Apparently their days are spent looking after plants and making their planet a “pleasant place to be” while “playing and singing the days away”. Damn tree-hugging hippies.

Their idyllic world is ruined by the arrival of the “Moja Troop”. The Moja Troop are black, inky monsters with fierce scowls on their two dimensional faces. Grrrr!

Gameplay: 8/10

LocoRoco is best described as a 2-dimensional platformer that plays a bit like a pinball machine with lemmings floating around in it.

Each level is started with a single LocoRoco. You move the LocoRoco around by tilting the world left or right with the L and R shoulder buttons. Pressing both L and R simultaneously will cause the LocoRoco to jump in the direction in which it is travelling.

Through each level there are berries to collect. The orange berries your LocoRoco eats spawn new small LocoRoco's that join your big LocoRoco. There are 20 LocoRoco berries per level. Some are easy to find, while others are hidden away. Pressing the circle button will split your LocoRoco into its constituent single LocoRoco's. You need to do this occasionally to get through narrow areas and such. With the LocoRoco split up, the game can become a bit like Lemmings, as you have to try and keep all the little fellas out of harm's way.

There are bad guys who stand in your LocoRoco's way. Most are inky black, and will take away one of your LocoRoco if you collide with them. They're not too threatening, but their presence means you have to stay alert when rolling through the levels.

While playing as a single, unified Roco, the game plays like a “pinball platformer”. You don't have tight control over the Roco, as the Roco will be following the tilt of the ground rather which direction you may be pressing at the time. This imprecision makes maneuvering more difficult than your standard platformer. Often you will be tilting the world to get the Roco moving in the right direction, only to have to quickly tilt back in the opposite direction to avoid going over an edge or off a platform.

There are a nice variety of levels with many different features, items and creatures to keep things interesting. For instance one level has you pushing beach balls around the level, which you use to trigger switches and as jumping points. There are also more traditional levels with sliding blocks and trampolines.

The game also changes it up a bit with all the different surfaces over which the LocoRoco has travel. Some surfaces are rough and don't let you roll quickly. While tilting on an ice surface will send you sliding away like lightning. There are also soft, fluid surfaces that behave like a waterbed or soft mattress. As you go through the game, you'll find that you have to adapt to the different environments and surfaces. A favourite part of the game for me, was when I was trying to make a high jump on an ice level. I found myself using a technique similar to that of a skateboarder getting up speed on a half-pipe (i.e. rotating weight back and forth).

The game designers must have realised the dangers of the game becoming boring and repetitive, so they added lots of variations on the base gameplay. There are owl-like creatures that will swallow you up and spit you out in a changed shape. There are jets of wind or water that will shoot across the stage. There are waterwheel and gear-like contraptions to navigate through. There are platforms that seesaw if you sit away from the centre.

The remarkable thing about this game is the sense of discovery and wonder. There are only 3 buttons to remember, but those 3 buttons take you into a fantastical world. There's always something new and interesting over the next hill.

Graphics / Sound: 10/10

This game is just beautiful. This is the way 2D was meant to be. There is often a lot going on on-screen, and everything is superbly animated and brightly coloured. The characters and environments are drawn in a simple cartoon style that looks very organic. The graphical technique used does not appear to be sprite based, as the LocoRoco animate in a very fluid way. I couldn't make out any “frames” of animation, and the fluidity of the motion of all the creatures seem to be related to the physics of the game.

Meanwhile, the cute aspect is played up in the way the LocoRoco and friendly creatures are drawn. All the good creatures are very round with jolly expressions and subtle tufts of hair.

The music and sound add to this. The main theme features what sounds like Japanese school children singing in Japanese. Apparently all the singing and dialogue are in fictional “languages” that were created to sound similar to certain real world languages. All the songs and voices are cute and fun and need to be heard to be appreciated, as they draw out involuntary smiles and head bopping actions from the player. The best bit are the sleeping creatures found throughout the various levels who can by woken from their slumber by the singing of the LocoRoco. It's cute to see the little fellas stop and break into song.

Play Time/Replayability: 7/10

LocoRoco can be a very short experience. Even though there are 40 levels, it is really easy to blow through the game in a very short space of time (5 hours or maybe less if you rush). Each stage has multiple routes, and often taking the direct route is really easy. If you approach the game as a completionist the game will take you much, much longer. Trying to find all the secret areas and routes, requires nerves of steel and absolute mastery of the control system. There are 20 LocoRoco berries, as well as a number of well-hidden “Mui Mui” creatures to be found. The “Mui Mui” unlock bonus parts for the “Loco House”.

The game has mini-games and the “Loco House” as extras. The mini-games are pretty unspectacular. The ones I have seen are carnival-like skill testers. The “Loco House” is a kind of ant farm, which you can build up with parts found on “Mui Mui”s. There isn't much to it, beyond building a “house” and then setting LocoRoco free to frolic in it.

Final Recommendation
This game is healthy for the future of gaming. Not healthy in the steamed brussel sprouts way, but healthy in the nice juicy mango way. Everything about this game is unique, interesting and fun. Its non-vomit inducing cuteness is very endearing, while the game play is satisfying.

My only gripe is the easiness with which the game's ending can be seen. I wish that the game's creators had made it more challenging to finish the later levels. Particularly as the ending is a long way off being Death Star explodingly dramatic. However, seeing as in a couple months I'll probably still be trying to get every LocoRoco berry and hidden “Mui Mui”, the game's creators have my forgiveness.

Final Score: 8/10


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/16/06


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