Imagine that someone told you one of the best games on the PSP didn't have a well-known franchise character, gameplay that pushed the tech of the system or was a port of a PS2 title. You might not believe them, but almost two and a half years ago, Sony introduced LocoRoco, a unique puzzler that was engaging and addictive. Well, after a brief hiatus, the sequel to the award winning game will be released next week and it reunites the same group of lovable characters with a new adventure. Coming with a new bag of tricks for players to check out, LocoRoco 2 improves on most elements of the first title, with the lone exception being the brevity of the main adventure.
The story of LocoRoco 2 takes place where the first game left off, with the Moja sent running back to their own planet in defeat. However, Bonmucho, the Moja's leader refused to concede to the cheerful blobs and their planet, and has planned a brand new attack upon the LocoRoco world with a powerful new musical weapon -- one that drains the life and color out of anything that hears its notes while covering them in darkness. Trying to gain revenge on the LocoRoco, the Moja quickly return to the blob's homeworld and attempt to conquer the planet with their dark songs. Even worse, the Moja have recruited the Bui Bui, the evil counterparts of the Mui Mui (the LocoRoco's friends) to help attack the indigenous creates. It's up to the squishy blobs to gather their friends together and try to free their world once again. In some ways, it feels a bit similar to the first title, but there are a couple of gameplay twists that help to keep the story fresh.
Watch the Video Review here (HD available).
Now, LocoRoco was one of the most accessible games on the PSP or indeed any system. It only required three buttons to let you control your bubbly little friends -- the Left or Right triggers to tilt the screen and jump over obstacles, as well as the circle button to split and reform into larger pieces. For the most part, this simple control scheme returns, although the LocoRocos display many innate and learned abilities this time around. For example, the blobs now can squeeze through little cracks to gain access to new areas, swim through bodies of water and fit into shells or afro wigs to protect themselves against spikes and break through rocks or other obstacles. These aren't the only skills that the LocoRoco will exhibit; as you proceed through the game, you'll find that the LocoRocos will run into areas that will raise a question mark thought bubble. These sections can be unlocked with the help of your Mui Mui buddies, who will teach the LocoRoco new abilities, like tossing themselves from a tree branch to another or pulling creatures out of walls, which results in their giving up hidden items. Clearly, these blobs haven't been sitting around simply eating fruit and singing songs in their off time -- they've been learning to become more adaptable to other conditions.
That's not to knock the gathering of fruit or singing of songs; far from it, as you'll spend most of your time avoiding hazards and trying to gather large berries that add to the number of LocoRocos that you have under your control. Increasing the number of LocoRocos you have allows you to take advantage of musical mini-games where you try to match notes of a song to their outlines that line the edge of a screen. Gathering notes is extremely important, because the notes aid the blobs in their quest. In effect, you're collecting music to help you combat the Moja's evil songs. These notes also provide you with bonuses, such as improving the range of collecting fruit, protecting your blobs from being harmed by spikes, or gaining stage maps from your Mui Mui friends that point out exactly where every berry and hidden area are on a level. However, you're not going to be able to instantly max out your LocoRocos with these powers through one playthrough. If you want to fully take advantage of these (especially once you've gathered the additional skills from the Mui Mui), you're going to have to replay each stage numerous times.
You'll discover that the replaying of these stages will also provide you the chance to track down hidden Mui Mui, who will provide you with items, as well as collecting items that can be used to build the Mui Mui house. Unlike the first game, which was an abstract arrangement of pieces, the Mui Mui house lets you spend fruit and collectable items to create rooms and objects inside of them, which you can then direct the Mui Mui to use. It can be rather amusing to create a guitar and then send one of the little men to go and play it in time with the background music, or build slides that they'll use to move from one area to another. You'll also discover that the Mui Mui house is packed with tons of additional hidden elements, like giving you the option to change background songs in the game thanks to the Gramophone or taking screenshots of levels thanks to the Camera item you create. By expanding the Mui Mui house, you can even wind up unlocking different mini-games as diversions from the main story.
If you played the first LocoRoco, you know that there were about two mini-games included. In LocoRoco 2, this number has essentially been tripled, with about six separate diversionary elements to check out. Along with the previous two mini-games from the first game, which have been improved, there is a LocoRoco race game where you attempt to wager bets on which blob will cross the finish line of an elaborate course first. Another race lets you pilot a Mui Mui plane and attack enemies with cannons as you collect items, while a third lets you play a Whack-A-Mole styled game where you try to hit creatures that emerge from underground. Finally, Loco Rider is a bumper cars styled game where you try to push your opponents into thorns to reduce the size of their blobs. This game can be played with up to three other friends via ad hoc, although they'll need to have unlocked that mini-game in their own personal game to have the option to play with you.
Each mini-game costs a certain number of fruit, and depending on how well you do, you'll earn items that can be used in the Mui Mui house. On top of all the mini-games, players will find an option called Loco Stamp, which lets players collect different stickers and insert them into stamp sheets depicting scenes from the game, or check out movies that have been unlocked in the Album of Memories. If you manage to end a level with 20 LocoRocos, you'll also wind up revealing a story behind some of the creatures in the game, which gives a different perspective on some of the indigenous creatures of the blob's planet. Needless to say, this helps add to the replayability of the game immensely.
However, with all of the replayability included within the game, it doesn't make up for the fact that LocoRoco 2 is significantly shorter than the original title. Whereas the first game in the series clocked in at around forty stages or so, LocoRoco 2 is half that number. While you obviously have many more options to be engaged with, which includes a new character named Viole, you'll actually be able to complete the game in a very short amount of time. In many ways, the replayability situation comes down to how much of a completionist you happen to be. If you need to collect every single item or fully get everything in the game, you'll find hours of fun here, but if you're not that into tracking down every single Mui Mui or trying to get all the LocoRocos on a stage, you'll probably fly through this game and not pick it back up again. Another issue arises in the fact that while the game takes time assigning character identities and unique songs for each of the seven LocoRocos that you control, there's absolutely no advantage to picking one over the other. With the exception of the songs that play during the musical mini-game, there's no weakness or benefit to switching characters, which makes this entire feature somewhat useless. If one character was the only one that could swim, for instance, or leap higher, the character descriptions and songs would make sense. As it is now, it's merely a cosmetic inclusion without an impact on the gameplay.
These issues aside, the visual presentation of the game is still as eye-catching as ever. In some cases, it seems to be a bit better thanks to the newer animations of LocoRocos fitting into objects like afros and sliding into cracks. The pastel and overall pleasant visuals of the game will easily bring a smile to your face, as you'll find yourself moving from pleasant grasslands to underwater caves and even the digestive tracts of large birds. These themed areas will feel familiar to those who've played the first game, but considering that the engaging nature of the game, as well as the mechanics, combine to make an excellent exploratory environment to move through and interact with. Whether you're speeding down slides, floating along the wind attached to a seed, or being propelled across a stage, you'll enjoy checking out every area in the game world.
Soundwise, LocoRoco 2 is fantastic, with catchy, addictive music that you'll find extremely hard to get out of your head. Just about everything within the game winds up revolving around music, and each stage has different music to present you with some song or hook that you'll find yourself humming. What also helps is that the music adjusts to elements onscreen, so if a Moja shows up, their theme song immediately kicks in. If you wind up playing a music mini-game, it instantly kicks in based on the specific LocoRoco that you've been using. Since each LocoRoco has their own theme and song that plays when you get into the mini-game, you'll probably wind up rotating through each to find the one that you love and then stick with that character for the rest of the game.
©2009-02-05, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved