LocoRoco is good. Really good. Even when the first screenshots were released, the game, at the very least, displayed some interesting and unique graphics. The levels and characters, rendered almost completely flat replete with undulating curves looked like something out of a kid's picture book. And, honestly, it couldn't be any cuter. The recently released demo has done nothing less than live up to the hype.
Like many good games, the controls are simple – not merely to appeal to a demographic that can't deal with complex movements, but because that's all you really need to overcome the obstacles throughout the game. L and R rotate the level about 45 degrees in their respective directions. It's game design a la simplicité, but what makes it so much fun are the dynamic and sometimes challenging environments. In the demo, you could roll you way to the end of the level without much complication, but that would be neglecting all of the little extras and tidbits you'd find by exploring just a little bit. In LocoRoco, new hidden areas are always around the next corner and uncovering them feels like discovering change under the couch – it's gratifying in the sublime sense that it doesn't matter what you've found, it's just that you've found it.
The demo level provides many opportunities for this kind of exploration, and it's likely a taste of what's to come in the final product, which may feature as many as 100 levels. That's pretty meaty for a game like this, especially if you're a completest. Each stage asks you to collect a number of three different things – flower bulbs which increase the size of your Roco, MuiMuis (little, grey cactus-looking blokes) which are especially well hidden, and little flying blobs populating the environment that would find an equivalent in Mario's coins or Sonic's rings. At least in the demo, none of these are technically required to complete the level, though you'll no doubt run into many of them en route. The cool thing is that you have to get a little creative when accessing hidden areas to find all these little trinkets. One point in the demo has you waking up a gigantic moon by having your Rocos split up and sing for him. He'll open up the ground beneath you revealing a spring-pad that can propel you to new heights.
One of the collectibles, at least, affects your progression throughout the level – the flower bulbs. You start out with one Roco and each time you consume a bulb, it increases your size by one. By hitting circle, you can split up your one big Roco into lots of smaller ones (the number is directly relational to your size). You'll need to do this to get through areas too narrow for your one, all-consuming Roco. Once you've cleared the obstacle, hold down circle to make them reform. Be careful not to lose any of them, though, because they'll either be snatched up by enemies or shrivel up and disappear if left alone too long. Enemies aren't too tough to overcome, usually knocked out by performing a jump (L and R together) and launching into them. There are non-malicious entities throughout the environment, too, though they are still dangerous. A long-legged being in the demo occupies one area and getting caught underneath his feet will make your Rocos split up.
Each level is totally dynamic and fun and finding all of the hidden areas can seriously take awhile. I've played through the demo 5 or 6 times and it can take anywhere from 25+ minutes on your first run (if you are looking for secrets) to 8-10 minutes for a perfect speed run. I can see that becoming fairly competitive as passwords issued after completing the demo suggest that there may be some form of internet ranking. Whether you're playing it for fun, competition, exploration, or any combination of the three, there's little doubt that LocoRoco is just oozing with charm and personality. The graphics are fun, bright, and colorful, and the Rocos slide around the environment like little blobs or mercury, squeezing through tunnels and getting caught up in all kinds of contraptions. The game remains entertaining even if you're not actively playing. Leave your Rocos alone and they'll start to jump on top of each other, trying to create pyramids and totem poles or just hop around the environment and look at things. Like a cherry on top of a delicious sundae, the music is really upbeat and addictive. It reminds me of something out of the Katamari Damacy soundtrack and I'm eager to hear more. What's more is that the Rocos are always singing along with the music and its just irresistibly cute.
If you can't download the demo, you're sorely missing out, but it shouldn't be more than a couple months before LocoRoco hits retail. In a sea of ports (albeit good ones), this is one of the PSP's first truly unique and captivating titles.
4/27/2006 Cavin Smith