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PSP Preview - 'LocoRoco'

by Tim "The Rabbit" Mithee on June 29, 2006 @ 1:07 a.m. PDT

Bright, refreshing and compulsive, LocoRoco plunges you into a colorful world where jelly-like creatures sing, roll and bounce their way through levels to reach their goals.

Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCEE
Release Date: September 2006

Man, I hate cute. Don't like it at all. So why is it, when cute is threatened by whatever evil force has chosen this point in the calendar year to come about and be more evil than usual, I take it upon myself to hop right in there and save those little things I'd normally smash under my boots? Eh, must be my heroic streak talking. So now, these little blobby things need me ....

This time around, it's the little orange critters known as LocoRocos, and the game is LocoRoco. These little guys live in pretty happy harmony with each other and nature and everything else, until the day the Mojas come down from space and decide that they don't like this arrangement anymore. These black things, somewhere between a spider and a bat, take it upon themselves to eat every LocoRoco they can find, trying to turn the whole planet into ...something different. It's up to you, the payer, to save those defenseless li'l LocoRocos from certain buffet bin destinies! So, what did I find out in my one-level tour of LocoRoco-dom?

The first thing that will likely strike you about the eyes and ears: the design. LocoRoco is like something from a children's book, or if you want to draw game-to-game parallels, think the flat colors and bizarre landscapes of Katamari Damacy. Everything is colorful, bright and crisp, with smiling suns and simple landscapes from here to there. Nearly everything that could be alive is, from singing fruits to the giggling sun and then some. Tying all of that together is the bubbly, charming musical score: The LocoRocos actually sing. Yes, those adorable blobs of alien jelly chant a bit, putting together a tune or three while you worm your way through the level at whatever rate you're worming at. The more LocoRocos, the more involved and layered the song gets, becoming sort of a goal in and of itself.

But that's getting into game mechanics. The entire interface, and all its elements, are simply a heavy layer of icing upon a cake of puzzle-cum-action gaming, placing LocoRoco squarely in that genre occupied by few others, save things like Tetris or Mr. Driller. Let's go at it first: Your goal is to get the LocoRocos from one end of the world to the other. Simple, direct, nothing more nothing less. The problem is that they can't move on their own, as they're victims of having, at the root of it all, no arms, legs or any propulsion devices of their own.

You, as The Guy Holding The Danged PSP, make them move about their environment by rolling along the playing field. Grabbing fruits scores you points, and by locating Loco Blossoms, you can add a new LocoRoco to the stash, creating a bigger LocoRoco collective that rolls faster (and sings better, I suppose). You can break your Big LocoRoco into its individual LocoRocos with a button press, allowing them to move into spaces that are too big for others, or to get a bit more individual control. Watch out, though! A Loco who gets too far from the group is Moja fodder and will get eaten if you leave them alone for too long ....

What makes this simple premise even more approachable are the controls, or more specifically, the lack thereof. Take your fingers off the d-pad, fair gamer, and leave that analogue stick alone. Forget those face buttons, too, except for the Circle button there. He's cute, and you'll pet him a bit once in a while: Give him a tap, and the LocoRocos break up into their smaller selves for whatever purposes you may have for them. Hold it down instead, and they sort of suck back together with a bit of a scream and a yell (don't ask me, but they don't seem to enjoy the whole "oneness of being" thing), they'll reform into a gigantic blob o' Roco-ness, the size and number of LocoRocos depending on exactly how long you hold the button and how many were around when you started holding. This plays in more than you'd think – the levels are designed to force you to consider your LocoRocos' safety against the ability to move on, enter secret sections, and get point-bearing fruits from here and there.

The only other controls you'll ever touch are those oft-forgotten children up top, Jimmy and Jenny Shoulder Buttons. You never, ever get to move the LocoRocos themselves; you move the world around them. Yes, by pushing the shoulder buttons in, you can lean the world up to 30 degrees in any given direction. Pushing both of them in "taps" the screen, making the Locos jump based on their speed, size, and the incline they're on. That's it! Lean the world, make the Locos roll about, tap the shoulder buttons when necessary, and make them grow and shrink.

You may not think much of it, and from the surface, it's really hard to put everything into perspective from just words and screenshots. However, take my word, right now – there is an addictively cute puzzle game within the LocoRoco box, and just like Katamari Damacy did years ago, it will sneak up on unsuspecting players everywhere and addle their brains, leading them to long hours of rolling orange balls about a surrealistic landscape like something from When Barney The Dinosaur Met Salvadore Dali. Even just a one level demo is addictive — I've replayed it a half-dozen times, trying to get more LocoRocos and more berries and more and more...

Someone get me a padded room. With a PSP charger. I'm gonna need it.

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