|By Zach Patterson||Wednesday, 20 May 2009|
LocoRoco is one of the types of games that every system needs, even if it seems like most of the mainstream audience takes it for granted. It’s a fun game with easy to learn, unique mechanics that anyone can pick up and play, its visuals are pretty, simple, and well defined, the music is catchy and wonderful, and it provides a lot for more seasoned gamers to come back to.
To describe LocoRoco, I find myself calling to mind an odd combination of other games. The art style is simple, bright, cute, and colorful, resembling Katamari Damacy or de Blob. Likewise, the music seems distinctly Japanese in its quirkiness, but is made up of complete nonsense words, and at times seems Katamari-esque in nature. The game itself plays unlike anything else on the market, relying on the shoulder buttons to tilt the world, and pressing them both at once to make your LocoRoco blob character jump. Your character then can also split into up to 20 individual blobs and then reform, how many blobs you can split up into depending on how many delicious berries you eat. Despite how this may sound nothing like the following games, I cannot help but think the game shares some similarities in tone to the early Genesis Sonic games. The common theme between them being that both games have levels that can just be blown through 90% of the time, and you can reach the ending within a few minutes if you really want. However, if you are the type of gamer that likes to explore, you will start finding alternate paths and secret areas to collect more items. Additionally, there are many Sonic-like tubes and tunnels the LocoRoco will slip through, picking up speed rather quickly and looking rather stylish going through loops and slides. And later in the game, you even see some pinball type levels that made me think of the casino zones in Sonic.
However, like I said, this game plays unlike most anything on the market. Its unique control scheme is a definitive proof of concept, and it lives and dies by its innovative scheme. When all you have are essentially 3 buttons that perform just a few actions (tilt left, tilt right, jump, absorb blobs, break apart blobs), your level designs and peripherals become much more important. Luckily, the graphics and music are without a doubt hallmarks in this game. If you see a screenshot of LocoRoco, there’s no mistaking it with another PSP game. It’s also a very inviting, easy to play game that never gets particularly tough, so it’s particularly great for a casual crowd. But the level design is great because it’s fairly obvious at all times where you need to go, but there’s almost always a fishy-looking wall that might be a secret area or a ledge that seems to lead to nowhere that undoubtedly is a challenge to get to the top of, but might reap some nice rewards. The designs of the levels also are varied from world to world and you never get too much of a feeling of “been here, done this”. There are similarly themed worlds, but it keeps each themed world fresh with new challenges or new enemies. So suffice to say, the level design is one of the strongest assets, aided by the distinctive art design.
But while the game is unique, its control scheme can often be a detriment as well. The biggest problem here is that the PSP is not the perfect system for this, and its more suited to something that has tilt sensitivity, like an iPhone (and in fact, there is a LocoRoco knockoff on the iPhone that has gotten much praise, called Rolando). But since you have to use the trigger buttons to tilt, it can often get frustrating on small critical jumps to keep the world even by clicking back and forth on the triggers so you don’t fall off a ledge you worked quite hard to get to. Quite simply, doing something as simple as jumping up a few blocks can often be an infuriatingly annoying chore, which is the side effect of have a gimmick control scheme. Most of the time, it works, but it just as easily can be really frustrating.
Also, the game doesn’t really ramp up in difficulty at any point. While it’s meant to be a casual-friendly game, the beginning levels aren’t much harder than the last few levels. So in that way, it’s a little disappointing, because the amount of enemies never really ramps up (and in fact there really is only a few types of enemies in the whole game, and there aren’t many at all from level to level), the levels don’t get too much more complicated than what you see in the first world, and the ending feels a little anticlimactic because there’s no tough finale and the end boss isn’t actually much of a threat. Finally, this is a minor complaint, but for completists, this game can actually be kinda frustrating because nearly every section of a level is a “one and done” affair where you cannot return once you have been there. Or if you make the mistake of falling into a hole to the next area while trying to reach some of the collectibles, well, you are screwed, might as well start the level over, because you can’t get back there.
However, these are mostly minor quibbles. The important thing here is that this is a game bursting with personality, great music, adorable characters, and an easy pick-up-and-play control scheme. Additionally, the game extends its replay with unlockable minigames that are actually a lot of fun and challenging, and a fully customizable LocoRoco House that
you can set up like a giant Rube Goldberg machine with parts you find hidden in each level. This game is also pretty reasonably cheap at $20 bucks new and cheaper used, so it’s a game that I recommend every PSP owner should play.