In all the years I have been playing video games I have never run into a game that is more adorable than LocoRoco. This is the type of game you just want to hug and never let go of. With its cute graphics, cheery music and lovable characters, LocoRoco is the closest you will ever get to video game Prozac. It has its flaws, but of all the games I have played over the past few years, this is one of the hardest to be critical of.
LocoRoco is an extremely simple 2D platformer for Sony's PlayStation Portable. While a lot of games in the genre go for complex designs and a variety of tasks, LocoRoco does one thing and one thing only. The good news is that the one thing LocoRoco does is a lot of fun, and even though the game is far from challenging, it is the type of game you will want to go back to time and time again.
Unlike most platformers, in LocoRoco you do not actually control the main character. Instead you tilt the world around your character (which is known as a LocoRoco) by using the L and R shoulder buttons. If you push both of the shoulder buttons together you will make your LocoRoco bounce, and pushing the "O" button sends a lightning bolt down from the heavens to split your blob-like character up into little pieces. You can also hold the "O" button to turn your smaller pieces into one large character. That is the extent of the controls in this game. It's the type of game that will take absolutely no time to learn how to play, and the rest is just good-natured fun.
Your goal in LocoRoco is not uncommon to the genre. You spend most of your time navigating your character from left to right trying to eat as much fruit as you can. Each level features 20 berries to find, and every time you find one it creates a new LocoRoco blob that ultimately makes your character larger. By the time you have chomped down on all 20 berries your character will be quite large, making it unable to fit through smaller passage ways.
Part of the reason that LocoRoco is so uplifting is because your character (or characters, if you have them broken up into smaller blobs) is always singing. The songs in LocoRoco are so cheerful that they can almost make you physically ill. You watch as their little mouths sing along and bring happiness to the rest of the world. There are even moments where you can manipulate the level by singing your songs to the sleeping flowers and platforms, something that should bring a smile to both their face and yours. Simple words cannot express how adorable all of this is, it's all of the small details that make this game so much fun to look at. If you aren't happy after playing LocoRoco then perhaps you need to up the amount of times you see your therapist each week.
While it's easy to compare this game to classic 2D like Super Mario Bros. or Earthworm Jim, LocoRoco has the most in common with the original Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis. Both games feature extremely simple level designs that practically dare you to rush through them as fast as you possibly can. LocoRoco is a throwback to a much simpler time, a time when all games required you to go from left to right dodging enemies and collecting stuff. If you're the type of gamers that has fond memories of that era, then LocoRoco may just be what the doctor ordered. Everybody else may be left scratching their heads wondering what was so appealing about these 2D platformers in the first place.
But there's more to LocoRoco than meets the eye. While each of the levels is extremely straight forward (almost to a fault), there are a number of secret items you can find if you thoroughly explore your surroundings. You will run across walls you can jump through (much like in Sonic the Hedgehog) and vines you can swing on, all helping you discover new music and parts for your LocoRoco house. You will also run into new LocoRoco friends, blobs of different colors that sing different songs and act a little different. Between levels you will be able to choose which type of LocoRoco you want to use, but this is a superficial choice that doesn't change the game play in any way.
The game is split up into five worlds with eight levels each. While each level has its own theme (forest levels, ice levels, beach levels, etc.), you will quickly realize that many of the themes are repeated several times. Towards the end of each world you will be swallowed by some large creature, forcing you to navigate your way out of whatever exit you can find. This idea is both cool and a little disgusting all at the same time, but outside of the fact that it kind of looks like you're inside of an animal, these levels are pretty much identical to what you would be doing if you were outside in the forest. These interior levels are about the closest thing you will get to a boss, and even then they aren't your traditional boss battles.
One of my biggest concerns with the game is not the lack of variety, but rather how easy it is. Veteran gamers will have little to no problem busting through the levels on their first try. In fact, it's not until several levels in that the enemies are introduced. The obstacles in LocoRoco feel more like an afterthought, especially since there are only a couple types of enemies to deal with. You are much more likely to accidentally land on spikes than you are to be gobbled up by the flying octopus-like creatures. The only real challenge in this game is when you go back and try to pick up all 20 of the berries in each level, thanks to the level designs and all of the secret locations, this can be an extremely difficult task.
What makes LocoRoco stand out from the rest of the 2D crowd is the way it looks. The entire game has a very unique art style that is unlike anything you have ever seen in a video game before. Every character, background and enemy is a solid color, and when they are all mixed together it is a beautiful thing to behold. Even more impressive is the animation. Your little LocoRoco blob animates in a very realistic fashion, it has a liquid look that is impossible to resist. When you see the graphics and animation together it's hard not to be impressed, after twenty years of 2D platformers it's shocking to find a game that is so different looking, even if you're not into the simple game play you will probably find that you are still entertained by the presentation.
While it's true that you will be going back and playing levels that look similar to what you've gone through before, LocoRoco does still have a few surprises in store for you. Just about the time I started to tire of the game play, the game managed to add something new and change things up. While you are never granted new moves, you will be forced to look at the world in a different way from level to level. This game is about more than rushing through a level from left to right; it has you flying through the air, working around giant beach balls and even being turned into weird shapes. While the theme remains the same throughout the whole game, how you achieve your goals changes in fun and interesting ways.
LocoRoco is a perfect game for people on the go; none of the levels are especially long (averaging just a few minutes) and it's easy to pick up and play. Even after you've gone through the main story (if you can call it that) you will still have a good time going back and collecting the fruit you missed and uncovering the hidden Mui Mui creatures scattered throughout the levels. You will also want to go back and unlock all of the pieces of your house, just so you can creature your own mini levels. There's no doubt about it, LocoRoco has a lot more replay than it may seem at first glance.
Despite having a few minor flaws, LocoRoco proves to be one of the most endearing games on the PSP. If you're the type of gamer who is sick of racing games, fighting games and of course Grand Theft Auto, then LocoRoco will be a welcome breath of fresh air. If you're not afraid of a game with a lot of personality and some of the most upbeat music you will ever hear, then LocoRoco is the game for you.
While LocoRoco is guilty of being overly upbeat and adorable, it's also guilty of being a solid 2D platformer that is a welcome addition to any PSP library.