The very definition of gaming whimsy lies in LocoRoco 2's penguin guts level. Yes, aquatic bird intestines. As befits a LocoRoco title, it's all very stylized. The colors are muted, more like watercolors than pastels. There's that music, that Loco music: a Japanese boys choir, perhaps as imagined by Alvin and the Chipmunks. The artful presentation of the digestive system of a penguin — in the game world, Arctic birds called Domingos — defines this title, and is a good indicator of who will love LocoRoco 2 to death and who will turn up his nose at it.
LocoRoco 2 follows up on the early PSP title that should now be a household name among the platform's owners. It was a PSP titles in which there was no overt use of the handheld's raw power. The big, bright screen and loud stereo speakers were used to nice effect, but there's no getting around that because any PSP game has to use the screen and audio system. So it goes with this sequel. LocoRoco 2 is made of 2-D graphics, simple character models, mechanically complex but visually simple level design, and that's about it. Nowhere does the game stretch to fill the PSP's tech spec shoes, and nary a 3-D gunslinging model does appear, but, like quite a few other PSP titles of the same ilk, LocoRoco 2 will surprise you when it snags you by the eyeballs.
To scratch the surface, the game is a bit forgettable, considering the recent effort to bring competent, glitzy shooters and gorgeously rendered 3-D brawlers to your daily commute. However, since handhelds are most often played on the go, LocoRoco 2 performs its gaming magic with its simplicity. If you're playing the game in line at the post office, you're likely to annoy the postal worker when you have trouble putting down the PSP during your turn at the window. I encountered numerous occasions like this over about three days while playing LocoRoco 2 for this review. I had every good reason to put it down. I aspired to put it down. Even in the context of evaluating the game I'd played enough for the moment, I wanted to put it down, yet I couldn't very easily do so, and I'd wind up playing for another half hour. I'd picked up my PSP to play in the evening while waiting for online matchmaking in one of those top-notch HD console shooters. Then I'd never get around to playing the shooter.
If this title defines whimsy, it could also go a long way in explaining the phrase "deceptively simple," too. There's not much of a point to LocoRoco 2. Besides unlocking some mini-games, unlocking and completing extras like stamp cards, and doing things like furnishing a house, there's no point to it at all. If you care about statistics, you can establish and keep records of high scores and best times, as well as track your object-collecting records, but you don't ever have to put this game away if you don't wish, and you certainly don't "beat" it. It's too cute to be beat, but don't let that put you off: There is a fair amount of puzzle-solving in this title, although it's often of the type that requires you run through a level two or three times to get it right.
As an example, your LocoRoco can perform as one mass or as many little LocoRocos, the number of which depends on how much you eat. The idea is to carry around within your LocoRoco self as many LocoRocos as possible, so you have spares when a couple get gobbled up by pout-faced, drum-thumping baddies, and also extras when you need lots of LocoRocos to trigger a bonus award in a level. Set up the trigger with too few LocoRocos, and the game pops up a hint bubble letting you how many LocoRocos you need to fulfill the terms of the trigger. Depending on your patience for tilt-bouncing your way around, you can backtrack a little or a moderate amount in LocoRoco 2, but unless there's a lot of uneaten food in the immediate vicinity, your only chance at collecting the required number of LocoRocos is repeating the level with that target number of LocoRocos in mind.
In general, the controls blend remarkably well with the gameplay. Other than using the Circle button to combine or separate your LocoRocos, and the limited use of other face buttons and the thumbstick to select items or dismiss text boxes, all of LocoRoco 2 is controlled with the L and R shoulder buttons on the PSP. Holding L tilts the world left, holding R tilts the world right, tapping the opposite button to the way you're tilting makes you bounce, and tapping both buttons makes you bounce big. It's that easy, and at points that amazing. LocoRoco 2 is the game that makes you wish the PSP had a motion sensor, like an iPhone or Blackberry Storm, or SixAxis, for that matter. Alas, PSP doesn't have one, although the shoulder buttons somehow do more than a credible job, so much so that I found myself tilting the PSP left or right while holding the associated shoulder button. Rather than feel like my turning the PSP upend accomplished nothing, I actually felt more like my tilting — which really did nothing — did everything, while the button holding — which does do everything — was the futile reflexive response. It's a unique effect, and subtle. You have to try it before you'll believe it, and the deft deception will surprise you.
If simplicity is a feature rather than a shortcoming of LocoRoco 2 and the built-in repetition is a lot more fun than it is annoying, the most noticeable flaw in the game is that the control scheme doesn't hold together the whole way through. The problem lies in the tilt/bounce action. Sometimes you can't easily get where you want to go. At the moment, it doesn't feel like a matter of refining your approach; it feels like the controls have gone off a bit in that portion of the game. I only got stuck once in LocoRoco 2, enough so that I started the level over from the pause menu, but I felt like I was stuck several times, pounding my head against the wall, until I happened to try this or that, and I bounced right over the next hill. It doesn't go on long enough to be a serious issue, but it could have been a little smoother in these rough spots.
The only other room for improvement is with the game's repetition of key gameplay elements. Most games are repetitive, of course, but by its nature, LocoRoco 2 is more so than some others. This, like the mild control frustrations, is a trivial complaint because the repetitive elements are fun to repeat, after all. If you're looking for 20 hours of completely new and different gameplay, hour after hour, then you're going to be disappointed. (Actually, I'd expect that you'd be disappointed in almost any game, no matter how well-designed.) A good game makes the hackneyed or tried-and-true engaging all over again. That's what LocoRoco 2 does, whether or not the designers set out to do this in particular. The first mini-game I unlocked is nothing more than a PSP version of whack-a-mole transported into LocoRoco land, but it's endearing and charming, and I kept returning to play, ostensibly to bump up my high score. I kept returning because it put a smile on my face to play that mini-game, and you just can't beat that.
Although the sequel does little more than offer an expansion to the original title, there was little in the original that needed to be redesigned. Both that game and this sequel are fantastic, so the franchise is now fantastic. If you enjoyed the first, you're going to want to own the second, and if you never bothered with the original LocoRoco, this second edition is a must-buy. Words like "charming" and "delightful" will be bandied about to describe LocoRoco 2 until you're sick of hearing them. Like the "cute" part, don't let this critical sappiness put you off. "Charming" and "delightful" are perfectly okay when the game is those things.
LocoRoco 2 isn't about competition, you versus you or versus the computer or versus anyone. It's about having fun with a game that's clearly exceptional in many aspects. A basic linear progression of LocoRoco 2 doesn't take all that long to complete. The game is enough to bring you back, but there are also special level mode triggers, an ad-hoc multiplayer mode, the hidden ending, unlockables galore, collectibles all over the place, and mini-games aplenty. There are enough mysteries to solve in each level that you'll probably miss things miss several times before finding them. You'll wind up playing through levels a couple of times past the point when you've unlocked everything — without even knowing there's nothing left to figure out — and it won't be a minute wasted.
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