Here's an odd one. Think of interactive lava lamps spliced with traditional platform gameplay and you have Locoroco. It's a strange and unique concept that comes at a time when Sony's handheld has come under fire as a system of hand-me-downs. It plays unlike any other game on the PSP. Hell, it plays unlike most games in existence, for that matter. And just to be clear, uniqueness isn't what makes Locoroco a success; it's the fact that it works as a wholly entertaining portable product.
Though at first all you see is lunacy -- colorful, magnificent lunacy. Locoroco adds a dash of spice missing from the PSP library. Everything from its hallucinatory visual presentation and infectious soundtrack, to the layout of its menu and interface, has more personality than half of the system's library combined. Locoroco is funny, quirky, accessible and altogether unique; just the thing you want in your pocket when waiting for the bus.
The goal in every level sees you steer the Locoroco -- smiling blobs of goo -- to an exit. Your goal remains the same through all 40 stages and five worlds of the game. In this regard Locoroco behaves like any other 2D platformer. Where it changes has everything to do with how you reach the exit. Where most gamers can only fathom what it's like to steer a bi-pedal, two-dimensional character through a stage, it's a completely different story here. To start, you don't have any legs. Plus, you never control the Locoroco at all, only their environment.
In a way, it feels like you're a god holding a planet, and whenever you want the Locoroco to roll in a direction, you merely tilt the whole world. You do this by pressing the two shoulder buttons, depending on what direction you want the environment to go. Your globular friends then lazily roll downhill or, if you want them to jump uphill, you can just tap both shoulder buttons at the same time. That's literally as complicated as navigation ever gets. There's more to the game, but in terms of getting anywhere, it's tilt left or right, jump or roll. It's not simplistic so much as it's refreshingly elegant. Even more important than that, the game happens to be highly addictive and ridiculously fun.
Simply rolling and jumping won't get you far, though, and you need to use the Locoroco's special abilities. First, they grow by eating fruit, so you need to find as many as possible. This ties into the second ability, which lets you break the Locoroco into smaller blobs by tapping the circle button. The bigger you are, the more pieces you break into. This lets you access special areas that require you to be a certain size, plus it lets you snatch those hard-to-reach pieces of fruit that only an army of tiny Locoroco can reach. Again, a simple mechanic that developers put to brilliant use.
The environments themselves deserve a bulk of the credit, as they keep the game from feeling stale. Each stage has a specific theme, which reaches from the visuals and music down to the way they actually work. For instance, certain levels take place at the beach, where you need to navigate sand dunes and puddles of water. Others have a darker, Halloween-like tone and have you dodge ghoulish hands that reach out and try to grab you. You also spend time sliding through arctic vistas and trekking through assorted jungles and deserts.
Each stage presents new obstacles, such as giant beach balls on the sandy levels to slippery intestines when playing inside an animal's stomach. Regardless, every place has an array of funky, yet function and very fun mechanisms to get you from one place to another.
Bouncing and rolling along is fun in itself, but using these contraptions to blast through the game is really where Locoroco shines. If you remember those old handheld water games (the kind where air pressure would send plastic balls through spinning wheels and levers), it's kind of like that. Best of all, they never feel repetitive, since they change often, just like everything else in the game. Though at first it doesn't seem that way. You catch yourself wondering when developers will run out of steam or when the game will plummet into a repetitious bore, but it never happens.
In fact, quite the opposite. The game practically forces you to play and re-play every stage to find all the fruit and Mui Mui (little hidden creatures) until there's nothing left to uncover. Most games have hidden content, but few games actually deserve the time required to find everything. This one does. Not only that, there's more to the game than the main quest. By collecting different kinds of fruit, you unlock a trio of mini-games. One of them, Mui Mui Crane, plays exactly like the arcade classic where you guide a robotic crane over prizes to see which one you can score. In this case, you earn parts for another bonus discussed below.
Another mini-game, called Chuppa Chuppa, has you darting through smaller stages with the help of animals that launch you with their snouts. It's one of the better games, but it's still nothing more than a minor diversion. The Locoroco House lets you take all the parts you earned or found during the main game and make your own Locoroco mini-level. It's confined, and frankly a little small since it's a house, but it's still worthwhile endeavor for collectors. Plus, like the mini-games, it's just a nice bonus on top of an already groovy experience.
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