Reviewed: September 29, 2006
Released: September 5, 2006
Japan is trying to take over the world, one PSP at a time with Sony Studios Japan latest addictive puzzle game, LocoRoco. Playing LocoRoco reminded me of that STNG episode where the crew of the Enterprise was addicted to that headset game to the exclusion of all their other duties. Personally, this game is responsible for no less than a dozen late PSP reviews (including this one) on my part – I simply couldn’t stop playing it.
I’m not sure what makes this game so addictive. It could be the cuddly LocoRoco that look like Tribbles full of jello, the grating, yet catchy tunes that will annoy everybody but the person playing the game, or it could just be the fact that LocoRoco is perhaps the simplest, pick-up-and-play game ever made for the PSP.
There is a story about the evil Moja Corps who invade your world from space and threaten your peaceful existence of playing and singing all day long, but it is totally inconsequential to the gameplay. LocoRoco is a unique mix of puzzle, exploration, and action elements designed after those oil and water toys where you try to manipulate the puzzle to force bubbles to navigate through a maze.
LocoRoco consists of massive (and I mean massive) levels that you can only see one PSP screen at a time. Playing is so easy a toddler can grasp the concept and the controls within mere minutes. Using the L and R triggers to tilt the “world” thus causing the LocoRoco to roll in that direction. You can also hold down both triggers to make the LocoRoco jump – the longer you hold down before releasing the higher the jump.
The only other gameplay control to worry about is the Circle button which can be tapped to zap your LocoRoco with a lightning bolt into its individual creatures or you can press and hold this same button to rejoin the individual creatures into a larger LocoRoco.
Even though you only start with one, there are 20 possible LocoRoco per level. LocoRoco breed by eating orange berries scattered about the level. Simply jump or roll through a berry to eat it and your LocoRoco will increase in size. The number of offspring that make up your current LocoRoco is displayed in the upper-left of the screen and if you zap them with lightning or some environmental event causes them to disperse, that is how many individual creatures you will have to control until you can reunite them.
LocoRoco is a game of collectibles, secrets, and hidden areas. In addition to finding the 20 berries to grow your LocoRoco you’ll want to be eating as many Pickories as possible. These come in various sizes, shapes, and colors, and can be used to play the various mini-games. Mui Mui are spiky-hair creatures hidden in each level. Not only do you need to find them, you’ll need to have a certain amount of LocoRoco to sing and wake them up.
If you only play with what you can see you will likely miss more than half the game. It will take several levels before you figure out the tricks the designers are using to hide entire portions of each level. Out-of-place ledges usually indicated a hidden path, odd colors in the roof indicate an area you can break through, and all of these areas often lead to hidden berries and Mui Mui.
Danger lurks around every turn in LocoRoco. Burrs will force a single LocoRoco from your “blob” and you will have only a few second to chase it down and rejoin with it before it is lost forever. Moja are inky creatures that will tear a single LocoRoco from your creature and eat it unless you can jump into it and destroy it first.
The level design is intense and includes numerous creative sequences where the LocoRoco will be transported on swift air current or get caught up in mechanical gears or drop through complex vertical passages. These events turn what is otherwise a slow exploratory game into an intense arcade experience much like Sonic the Hedgehog, but only for a brief moment.
There are multiple worlds, each with numerous stages that share the same theme across all worlds. For instance, level five on each world might be a snowy world with fast and slippery icy passages, while level three might be a sinister tree. Even though the theme is the same the levels are entirely different and grow in size, complexity and difficulty with each new world.
Later in the game, things get rather difficult with all sorts of jumping puzzles, moving platforms, trampolines, and dizzying heights, where one misstep can send you to the bottom to do it all over again. It will take a lot of patience to get through these advanced levels.
There are checkpoints around these worlds that require you to have a certain amount of LocoRoco in your current blob, either to weight down a scale or break apart into a choir. If you have the required amount they will break apart and sing a song to wake up creatures like the Mui Mui who will move into your Loco House. You can even wake up a cloud that will act as a transport platform or the sun and moon that will reward you with a bonus part for your Loco House.
Ultimately, you goal is to reach the end of the level with as many LocoRoco and other collectible items in the fastest time possible. All of the pick-ups are tallied as well as the time and you are free to replay these levels as often as you want to best those scores. Perfect scores are rewarded with additional bonuses, so there is certainly an incentive to keep playing this game over and over.
The Loco House isn’t as much a game as it is a diversion. I’d equate it with building a cool aquarium then watching your fish swim around, only now you have this odd house with numerous locations to install dozens of interesting parts. Once you have created your totally unique design the LocoRoco will move in and start to play around expressing various emotions. You can even trade your house designs with the PSP wireless support.
Speaking of wireless support, LocoRoco offers Game Sharing with a special demo level that is certain to send the other player off to the software store to get their own copy. You can also use a cool level editor to create your own game levels and share those with other players. This level editor is just one of three mini-games offered in LocoRoco.
Mui Mui Crane and Chuppa Chuppa both cost 100 Pickories to play. The first is pretty much a variation of the crane game where you move the crane arm to pick up various items to be used in your Loco House. Chuppa Chuupa basically has you shooting a LocoRoco toward a target using the Circle button to set the power. Collect items and avoid the Burrs to reach the end and collect your rewards.
LocoRoco is quite literally a work of art. From the opening menu to each of the 40 exquisitely designed levels, you will never once not feel like you are playing in a living breathing world crafted from crayons and construction paper. Everything is so delightfully simple and a refreshing change from the current trend of trying to dazzle up with high-tech graphics.
But even keeping it simple, the game manages to sneak in some wonderful animation, especially the LocoRoco which is constantly changing size and morphing with momentum and gravity or sucking it up to squeeze through narrow passages. You can even change shapes if you happen to meet up with a certain owl who will chew you up and spit you out as a square, rectangle, or triangle, each with their own movement challenges.
The framerate is slippery smooth as you find your LocoRoco sliding through icy channels or trying to navigate a half-pipe to reach some out-of-reach item. Then there are super-squishy levels where you sink into cloud-like environments and movement and jumping is reduced greatly.
The levels are alive with interactive elements whether you are rotating through mechanical gears or getting picked up and tossed around by a particularly evil-looking tree branch. Cloud platforms will whisk you away to new areas of the level and hidden tunnels will drop you into unspeakable depths.
You are either going to love the music in LocoRoco or hate it. Each level has a distinct theme, often with unique instruments and even some rhythmic chanting like on the jungle level. All of the lyrics are in Japanese, which just adds to the sense that this game is definitely from overseas. Nobody in America would take a chance on making a game like this.
There are five types of LocoRoco, noted by colors and a change in vocals, ranging from the childlike school choir of the yellow LocoRoco’s to the deep-voice blue ones and even the Spanish-sounding green ones. They all have their own unique songs they sing in their own voices when trying to wake up Mui Mui or other “things” in the game.
LocoRoco has 40 levels, each lasting anywhere from 2-5 minutes, although the game is designed as a race to get the shortest time, so ultimately, there is about three hours of gameplay here if you simply raced through all the levels and never replayed the game again. But that’s not going to happen.
LocoRoco compels you to play and replay each level. Even when the game defaults you to the next level after winning the last I would manually go back and replay each level. At first my goal was to never advance unless I had at least 15 LocoRoco, but as the game got much harder I would settle for anything in double digits. Also, you might miss a jump or slip past an item that you cannot return to during the level, so you make a mental note to get it later. And even if you manage to find all 20 LocoRoco there is always the chance that you might lose one or more of them to the numerous dangers lurking in the level.
From my personal experience, older gamers take an almost-instant dislike if they happen to glance at your screen while you are playing LocoRoco, obviously confusing this game with something aimed towards pre-teens, but if they stick around for more than 3-5 minutes and watch you play, they start asking questions and almost inevitably fall in love with the charming design and simple gameplay. If you really want to convince them, use the Game Share and let them place for themselves.
LocoRoco offers a fresh and totally original gameplay concept on a platform that is becoming increasingly weighted down with uninspired ports of console titles. Whether you are five or sixty-five, you are going to love LocoRoco if you give it half a chance. The controls are so simple that anyone can master this game in just a few minutes, and the addictive gameplay will keep you coming back for more wacky action for months to come.