Far too often in gaming, we see the same thing we are used to seeing: "photorealistic' graphics (which are never actually photorealistic), simplified genres (sci-fi, horror, military), franchise games (based on the latest crap-o box-office bomb), and sequels. We gamers crave something different. We want new stories, new visions, new gameplay. And every once in awhile, we get what we want: The Pikmin, the Katamari Damacy, the Darwinia. Such is the case with LocoRoco. If you're an Alt.Gamer, if you like the quirky games, if you might describe yourself as more "Mario 3" than "Doom 3" then you should probably play LocoRoco.
LocoRoco is Sony's latest first-party PSP exclusive, and it's one of the best games available for their handheld system. If PSP owners' love of Lumines is any indication (and if those first-generation owners haven't already given up on the troubled handheld), LocoRoco should do very well. It delivers innovative gameplay, amazingly cute visuals, and a poppy soundtrack that combine into a super sweet package.
LocoRoco is very much a combination of previously successful game concepts. The game revolves around a blobby bunch of critters known as LocoRoco. Your job is to guide your protagonist blobs through level after level of cartoony landscapes. The levels are arranged very much like Super Mario Bros. and the emphasis is on jumping and using various character-based abilities to navigate the levels. The SMB-like platforming is augmented by a cool control style borrowed from Super Monkey Ball and other tilt-the-world games. It would be forgetful to not compare LocoRoco to the popular Labyrinth table-top games, in which one tilts the game board to navigate a marble through the maze. The right and left shoulder buttons shift the world to get the round-ish blobs to roll around.
Of course, because the protagonist is round and the game involves collecting berries to grow larger, reviewers and gamers are making inevitable comparisons to Katamari Damacy. But the real comparison to Katamari is the soundtrack and the visual style. Like Katamari, LocoRoco features an incredible soundtrack with a wide array of catchy tunes. Some songs are sugary J-pop goodies, while others verge on avant-garde blip-rock.
Also like Katamari, LocoRoco makes use of a colorful minimalist style. The graphics are two-dimensional with bold solid colors. The characters are simple with virtually no linework or shading. The world is viscous and reactive, but in a way that looks like a collage of living construction paper. This graphic style, combined with excellent character design and imaginative environments, makes LocoRoco a joy to behold.
It's a pleasure to play for LocoRoco's main game. As you get used to the funky control style it rapidly becomes "good funky" (as opposed to "awkward funky"). LocoRocos can roll, jump, break apart into smaller pieces and re-combine. The range of character abilities and environmental interactions in the game remind me of the popular indy PC title, Gish, which featured a blob of tar as the main character. But LocoRoco is looser with its reality than Gish, and its worlds are generally brighter.
LocoRoco offers a lot in addition to your first play-through of the platform game. There are a lot of secrets in the game, and you are rewarded for finding all of them with extra features and bonuses. But re-playing levels is just one way LocoRoco extends the game. There are two primary minigames available from the main menu: Mui Mui Crane and Chuppa Chuppa. Mui Mui Crane is a reproduction of the crane games found in the entry of any Wal-Mart and various arcades. Chuppa Chuppa is kind of like golf with LocoRocos. Each of these games requires 100 Pickories to play (which you collect by playing levels in the main game).
Once you've completed the main game, you can also play the Loco Editor mini-game, which allows you to design and create your own LocoRoco stage. You can collect and use a variety of parts to build your own stage, and then you can share your stage with other LocoRoco owners via Ad hoc WiFi connection.
As well as designing your own level, you can design your own Loco House. LocoRocos will move into your house and you can watch them frolic and play (or be sad, whichever). Like with the custom game stages, you can also share your Loco House with a friend. (Of course, it would be futile to ignore the Animal Crossing similarities here.)
In all, LocoRoco is a lot like other games. Furthermore, in many ways it gets repetitive: Each level is themed, and the themes repeat in each world. There is the tree theme, the sky theme, the "inside an animal" theme... It's all very lovely, but the repetition is undeniable.
Fortunately, for all of the borrowed technique and repetitive themes, LocoRoco manages to become something more than merely the sum of its parts. It is catchy and entertaining, just the right amount exotic and actually playable. For anyone interested in a different kind of game, LocoRoco is truly a must-play.