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Since LocoRoco is such a bizarre game, to help you poor souls out there who haven't played it understand a little better, please refer to my screenshots at the bottom of this review when you finish reading it. Not only will it show the pretty graphics, it will show off the features with little captions by me. All screenshots were taken by me by the in game screenshot camera, which I mention in the review. And with that, please read on!
D'you know what? Growing up is a funny thing. As we grow we are able to do more in life; smoking, drinking, clubbing, that kind of thing. But as we grow older, we are also expected to stop various aspects of our lives. For example, wearing no clothes on the beach or peeing in public will probably result in a very serious telling off by some very serious people. We are expected to do things properly, seriously, and maturely.
Maturity is the part of growing up that sucks. Who wants to be mature when you can run around topless kicking a football, yelling profanities at passers by shortly before eating your weight in chocolate bars? No one, that's who. Growing up is the easy bit - it's staying young enough to enjoy it that's harder.
But every now and then, something comes along that slaps you around the face and says "Hey, you know what? Cheer up, life's good!". LocoRoco is one of these things.
It was originally published on the internet as a downloadable demo for the PSP. You downloaded it, uploaded it, then launched through a demonstration level which showed off the simple controls and pretty 2D graphics. A bog basic 2D cell-shaded game generally generates little or no interest in the computer gaming world. XIII was a good game, but it was in full 3D and was a shoot-'em-up, a popular genre in any case. This is where LocoRoco breaks the mould instantly. This isn't a shooter. It isn't a driving game or racer, a seriously over used platform for the PSP. I wouldn't even class it as a platformer, or even a puzzle game. The blurb on the back of the case describes it as an "adventure" but even that doesn't seem to quite fit. I would give it a whole new genre: Happy.
I would imagine by now that most of you have read magazines raving about how wonderfully joyous this game can be. I did, but couldn't work out why. The screenshots looked dull and uninteresting, and it all looked very daft. But, being an open minded individual I decided to man up and grab a copy.
The first thing that hits you is how overwhelmingly Japanese it is. Seriously, there is no doubt in your mind about where this game originates from. The pretty Anime graphics look great in the opening CG movie, fitting the cheery music well and explaining the story nicely.
The story... Heh, now there's something to laugh about! It is nonsensical gold in your hands, and it's fantastically childish. Basically, "further than the very best telescope could see", there is a planet brimming with weird and wacky creatures. The most important of these creatures are the LocoRoco, who care for the planet by looking after the environments and keeping
the world entertained with beautiful songs and dances. Then one day, from outer space, something came along to take away the joy and harmony. The Moja troops arrive, and start killing off the LocoRoco one by one. Understandably, the planet get's a bit miffed by this, and decides to help the LocoRoco in the only way she can - tilting!
Which is where you come into it.
The initial appeal of LocoRoco comes from the simplicity. Excluding the menu navigation, you use only three buttons on the PSP; L, R, and O. This works well with the even simpler concept of gameplay. All you need to do is tilt the land, guiding the little LocoRocos through various obstacles, past enemies, and into little LocoRoco houses at the end of each level. L and R controls the tilting, and pressing the two together makes the planet give a little bump, launching the LocoRocos into the air in a small jump. The circle button splits the LocoRoco into smaller LocoRocos, and then bring them back together when you want to.
Since each level begins with a single tiny LocoRoco, you need to make them bigger by tracking down magical Berries that grow on plants throughout the level. Each level can give a total of 19 berries, making 20 LocoRocos you control at one time. They generally travel as a group, or one giant LocoRoco, but when split you need to keep track of all the little critters. Along the way, you must avoid the Moja troops and spiked Burrs, along with any other enemies, but you get help from various colourful characters too. The Mui Mui are always ready to help by unlocking mini games and parts for your "LocoRoco house" (more on that later) whilst the Chuppa sucks you into its large snout before firing you in the direction of your choice. Then there are strange owl creatures, which chew your LocoRoco before spitting them out in one of several new shapes. Of course, every game needs some kind of pick-up, and this comes in the form of Pickories. These tiny little insects come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colours, and provide you with a kind of currency to spend on the mini games.
These are only the main characters and creatures that you will meet throughout the game though. The LocoRoco are very popular little guys, and are helped out by large colourful worms, big sleeping giants, and even by the sun and moon! Again, they give you extras to put in your house, and must all be found to provide perfect scores.
The enemies take various forms. The Moja are genuinely scary creatures, appearing out of nowhere whilst your terrified LocoRoco cries "Moja! Moja!" before trying to pick them off. There are also small green birds that throw Burrs at you, and reptile moles underground that grab a LocoRoco before devouring them underground!
By now you might have guessed that I love the graphics in this game. Everything is so vibrant and alive! The background are fully animated, all the characters are attractive and colourful, and the LocoRoco themselves.... well, I could watch them all day as they hop about, singing along to their favorite songs. There are plenty of nice little touches too, such as squishy land which bounces and moves as the LocoRoco roll along them, giant hands which carefully pinch the side of the LocoRoco before throwing them across the land, and wheels which spin and turn as the LocoRoco roll through them. It's very hypnotizing to watch. The LocoRoco themselves are nicely designed too. When grouped up as one large LocoRoco it sings along to the background song, with its little mouth perfectly matching the words. But when they're split they really come into their own. Each LocoRoco is automatically given a part to sing to, and when there are three LocoRoco singing the main lyrics (which are not in a "real" language - more on that later) whilst four are singing back up, with a lone LocoRoco doing the solo, you really can't help but laugh at the adorable looks on their faces. On top of this, if left alone for a few seconds they bounce on top of each other making little piles, and their eyes follow each other about as they smile and sing.
There are little movies to watch as well, generally when the LocoRoco are singing or being eaten alive by giant animals. There's an introductory movie as well, showing the poor planet being attacked. They are unique in the fact that they use the EXACT same graphics as are used in the actual gameplay, which is something that can't be said for many games nowadays; indeed, the difference in graphics between the movies in Final Fantasy X and the in game graphics is obvious and irritating.
The songs themselves are genius! Written in a language made up by the producers of the game and sung by genuine people, each of the six colours of LocoRoco (yellow, pink, red, blue, black and green) has its own accent and voice. This is particularly funny with the red, which seems to have a Japanese accent, or the black which has a very rock-style song. The voice acting is pretty god too - the LocoRoco grunt and groan and cry when they hit against stuff or do something they didn't really want to. The baddies are well done too. Indeed, the Moja are almost scary as they flap their long dreadlock style wings and fly towards you, taking a big bite and tearing away one of your LocoRoco. And that's the thing, you genuinely feel guilty when one of them dies. You grow so attached watching them jump about that you feel remorseful when you lead one to their doom.
The levels themselves are beautifully crafted. There are a massive variety of levels, fifty in all: some see you sliding through wintry wonderlands, others see you navigating rushing rivers and dark forests. Some even see you trying to find your way out of an animal! Each level has its own special characteristics, and every level has its own secret rooms, breakable ledges, and hidden Berries. There are also plenty of parts where you can watch the split LocoRoco falling down long chutes, being split up and separated whilst falling through cogs and rotating fans. It's kind of hard to explain, but very beautiful and an excellent touch. Certain parts of the level can only be reached when special goals are achieved. For example, one level needs you to launch a beach ball into round holes causing secret trap doors to swing open. However,
Pictures of LocoRoco (PSP)
These worms give you items. What you can't see is how the sound matches their mouths perfectly!
the levels do get fairly repetitive, since the gameplay is the same throughout. And yet...And yet you keep coming back for more. Indeed, I beat the game within 24 hours, but still keep going back to find more Mui Mui, collect all Berries and find as many Pickories as possible. For some reason, watching their cute little antics brings a smile to your face. There are a couple of mini games thrown in for good measure though. Mui Mui Crane lets you spend a few Pickories to try and collect more items for your house. Chuppa Chuppa Golf is a tricky game of skill, where for a few Pickories you can attempt to win more, as well as yet more items. And finally, there is a level editor and a "house editor", where you use items found or won to create a world for your little LocoRocos. These mini games are unlocked gradually by collecting Mui Mui, and they also add new features such as new music to choose from in the house, or a new layout to select.
The level and house editor were the two features that actually excited me the most, but they are a bit of a let down. Sure, they pass a few minutes or even an hour if you really stick at it, but limited options ruin it slightly. Since you can't place items so they overlap, any level would be very hard to complete and the houses are only really worthwhile if you don't feel like moving the LocoRoco yourself. The controls to layout the level are easy enough - basically it's drag and drop - meaning that it's not long before you can watch the little guys dancing and hopping about, spinning through cogs and wheels before doing it all over again. You can win extra LocoRocos in the mini games, so that you can watch the antics of several critters at once.
You can see that the game is packed with features. On top of the mini games and the vast amount of things to do in the houses, you can take screenshots in game to upload onto a computer or view in an album. You could even send them to a friend! Which brings me onto an even more impressive feature in this game - you can send one of two demo levels to a friend to let them play the game! The demo levels do not appear in the world map, and are especially long and tricky. It is, of course, a very blatant attempt at advertising, but it works very well and should be done more often.
So what do you do once you've beaten the game? The mini games are good fun and a nice way to spend a few Pickories. The real replay value comes in the levels themselves. To totally complete the game, there are forty levels to collect 20 LocoRoco in. That is 800 in total, making it 760 berries to collect. This, along with roughly 200 Mui Mui and parts to find, makes each level a real challenge to explore. I won't even attempt to calculate how many Pickories there are! All this means that 100% freaks will feel right at home.
All in all, I guess what I am trying to say is this game is well worth buying. For someone with a PSP who fancies something different to a racing game this should be number one on their list of things to buy. A small disk loaded with happy? Who wouldn't want that? Ignore the childish Anime graphics - man up, grab the box, and pay for it. You won't regret it.
Final word? This game restores my faith in humanity.