Great balls of...uh...
E3 is full of extravagant booths, babes and bright lights, like a gaudy flower waiting for busy journalist bees to come and spread its pollen on the Internet. But all too often, the petals outshine what’s being peddled. Sony’s PSP exhibit, refreshingly, was just the opposite. Open, unassuming and mundane, it featured a simulated bus stop, park bench and subway, and one of the best games at the show.
In LocoRoco, you play a friendly planet. That’s right, you’re a giant, terrestrial sphere with a brain; a floating, crazy rock. Over your grassy scalp roam cute mercurial creatures, known as LocoRoco. They roll about eating fruit, singing, and generally making you happy; like lice, but nice. They’re also tasty, and some black, oily space critters have a mind to chow on them. You must show those space invaders that your nice lice are NOT for eating!
To do that, you’ll have to drive the invaders away by rolling their food to safety. LocoRoco
looks like a side-scrolling 2D action game, but really it’s a 2D game of Marble Madness
with some great twists.
But before I can explain any of that, you have to know that the LocoRoco can exist as one big ball or a bunch of small balls. No matter their form, they’re capable of little more than singing, splitting, and rejoining. You have to move them by tilting your surface or jolting them into the air with a tremor.
Tilting is accomplished by simply pressing the L and R buttons. You press R, the whole screen tilts right, and the LocoRoco start to roll. To make them jump, you simply have to tap both triggers, after which they pop in the air depending on the angle of the screen.
And that's about it. Since the entire game depends on the L and R buttons, there isn’t much room for confusion. The only other command at your disposal is a single button press that either splits the LocoRoco into droplets or makes them join back together into a blob, as both forms are required to get past obstacles.
While the controls are extremely simple, the environments are incredibly complex and imaginative. The LocoRoco can bust open walls with a hefty jump, and since they obey the laws of physics, you'll have to do some nifty maneuvering to make it through the tricky spots. You’ll split the LocoRoco into droplets, send them down a tunnel, then watch with faint unease as they slide through weird hairs sticking out of the tunnel walls. Then you’ll pull them all together to bash through a barrier, then laugh as a gust of wind scatters your big LocoRoco into droplets, making them all cry out in unison. Teh crack? You bet.
This is just one example of the game's abundant charm, but nearly every frame is chock full of the most adorable stuff you've ever seen. A gentle, storybook aesthetic unifies it visually, while its impressive physics engine gives the game an uncanny tactile element. The LocoRoco are not just spheres, they’re flowing little blobs that undulate like oil in a lava lamp as they fly through the air. Because of this, the game feels
as good as it looks, and its colorful zest, unwavering framerate (even in its currently incomplete form) and cute facial expressions make it one of the best looking games we’ve ever seen for the PSP.
It sounds good, too, featuring simple sound effects and sing-song tracks that break into a chorus whenever you split up your LocoRoco. Indeed, the more LocoRoco you have, the burlier the harmonies. Cool.
Like Katamari Damacy
before it, LocoRoco
is a sweet natured, weird game with infectious charm, universal appeal, and an amazingly intuitive control scheme. And unlike other games which are better off hidden from the opposite sex, this one has the same effect on them as a puppy or kitten: lots of high-pitched giggles and squeals. So stay tuned for more when LocoRoco
breaks the ice this September.