LocoRoco brings to Sony's PSP something it never had before -- an innovative game concept that no other platform has. Sure, titles like Talkman and Planet PSP are coming later in the year to boost the PSP's uniqueness further, but for now, LocoRoco stands tall as the handheld's "it" game. The DS may have Dr Kawashima and virtual dogs, but the PSP has the almost unbearably cute LocoRocos.
The game is a fun blend of simple yet compelling gameplay, quirky characters and appealing art design. At its heart an old-school 2D-platformer, the game takes place on a strangle planet under invasion from a group of evil aliens intent on destroying the local inhabitants -- the small blobs of jelly known as LocoRocos. Your job is to save as many of the little critters as possible, although you don't actually play as the LocoRocos at all.
The LocoRocos themselves, while cute, are fairly deficient when it comes to moving themselves out of harm's way (possibly because they have no arms or legs). LocoRocos are essentially small, round creatures who can group together to become a one larger LocoRoco. These little balls are content to just bounce around and sing the occasional song -- there are six different types of LocoRoco to be found, each of which has a specific voice and songs they like to sing.
Gamers take the role of the LocoRocos' home planet in the game. As the planet, players can tilt the environment 30 degrees left or right (using the L or R shoulder buttons), with the LocoRocos happily rolling in whatever direction the landscape is sloping. You can also make the LocoRocos "jump" by performing mini-earthquakes (pressing both shoulder buttons at the same time).
Armed with this deceptively simple control scheme, players are tasked with navigating the environment to lead the LocoRocos to safety. Each level starts you off with only one LocoRoco to control, but up to 20 can be collected by finding special plants dotted throughout each level. The more LocoRocos you collect, the bigger your main blob becomes. Some sections within each level, however, are tight fits: as the planet, you also have the ability to "split" the LocoRocos up into individual critters by scaring them with lightning. Once you're past the tight areas, you can force the LocoRocos back together by creating a large earthquake.
It's not all carefree rolling and bouncing for the LocoRocos, however. Each level contains several alien nasties that try to eat your blubbery little friends. These aliens -- which mostly take the form of black, floating dust-mite like creatures -- can either be avoided entirely or destroyed by a well timed jump. You'll also come across a few allies here and there -- one anteater creature, for example, can blow your LocoRocos to hard-to-reach places, while another owl-like creature will chew the little blobs into different shapes that can better fit into certain environmental gaps.
The game is insanely easy to control, with even gaming newbies sure to get the hang of tilting and jumping their LocoRocos within minutes of picking up the game. But like any good old-school platformer, each level in LocoRoco is riddled with secret areas and bonuses, some of which require millimetre-perfect control to reach. Secrets to find include hidden MuiMui -- small inhabitants of the planet which, when found, will give players LocoRoco house parts (more on this later). Some of the LocoRoco bearing plants are also located in tough to find (and reach) places. And in another nod to old-school platforms, each level contains hundreds of small berry-like fruits to collect.
The game never feels like it becoming repetitive, as LocoRoco does an excellent job of mixing up the challenge as you progress through its levels. The environments in the game range from grassy plains to ice fields, and even takes you through tours of the insides of some gigantic creatures for good measure. You'll also regularly come across new environmental features such as super springy sponges, swinging vines, rapid air flows, sticky ceiling mats and more. These new features add even more depth and challenge.
If the unique gameplay doesn't win you over, then LocoRoco's art and sound design surely will. The graphics on the game are simple yet appealing. The creature designs, from the uber-cute LocoRocos themselves to their sinister looking enemies, all emit a sweet charm that makes it practically impossible not to like them. You'd have to be a real grouch not to smile the first time you see a group of LocoRocos bouncing around and talking to each other. In fact, it's hard not to get a small amount of emotional attachment to the blubbery little fellows as you take them through the levels, so much so that you'll probably cry out in dismay every time one of the evil aliens manages to snatch away one of your LocoRocos.
Adding greatly to the character's appeal is the game's sound. The LocoRocos speak in a kiddie-like gibberish, and all have songs they sing on occasion (such as when trying to wake up MuiMuis). These songs quickly become one of the highlights in the game -- they're poppy, syrupy and oh so catchy.
It's a shame, then, that the whole experience is over with rather quickly in LocoRoco. The game only has 40 levels, and should take no more than three or four hours to breeze through (unless you're keen on exploring every nook and cranny for secrets). The game does give you six different types of LocoRoco to use, but unless you're keen on hearing their particular songs it's not much of a bonus. There are also a few mini games to unlock, but none of them are particularly compelling. The main mini game sees players building houses for their LocoRocos using parts found in the main game.
Despite its shortness, it's hard not to recommend LocoRoco, purely because it's such an appealing and attractive game that boasts truly unique gameplay. You'll fall in love with these LocoRocos -- and will probably start humming their songs, too.