For months now, a broad array of videogame news outlets - GamesRadar included - have been extolling the virtues of LocoRoco, using phrases like "the next Katamari Damacy" and "the happiest game ever made." Spend some time with the free demo, and it's easy to see why - LocoRoco's unique gameplay and lively, wildly happy aesthetic are impossible not to love. But how do they hold up over 40-plus levels?
Pretty well, actually. The gameplay is unchanged from what you might have already played; you play the role of a planet that's been invaded by noxious shadow creatures called Moja, who've corrupted the landscape and eaten nearly all of the happy, blob-like LocoRocos.
Beginning with just a single survivor (who sings constantly), it's up to you to guide him/her/it to find fruits - many of which are hidden - that will enable it to grow. And as it grows, you'll be able to split it into multiple little blobs (one for each fruit eaten) or merge them back into one giant megablob.
All this is done just by tilting the landscape; hold the right shoulder button to tilt it to the right, left shoulder to tilt left, and hold and release both to jump. It takes a little getting used to - especially considering that a lot of the jumps require careful, precise timing - but given a little practice, even novice non-gamers should be able to get the hang of it. Beware, though; while the controls might be simple, picking your way through each level is anything but.
If you've ever played the original Sonic the Hedgehog games, you might have a rough idea of what to expect from LocoRoco's level design. It's relatively easy to charge your through each of the 40 main stages - which include idyllic fields, icy tundra and even the insides of giant (but adorable) beasts - but that's not really the point. Each level is a huge, beautiful 2D affair, and most of the challenge comes in finding all the out-of-the-way nooks and hidden items scattered throughout, as well as gathering enough singing LocoRocos to wake up the sleeping inhabitants.
There's no timer, so your exploration is limited only by each stage's layout and your own patience. But naturally, actually getting to the hidden areas is another story. At first, they're easy to access once you know where they are, but later levels will frequently put you through grueling jumps across a series of small, moving objects before it'll let you at the goodies. And the goodies - usually construction pieces for the "Loco House," which can be visited and built up between levels - don't always seem worth it. At least not until you realize you can also use them to create and share your own custom levels later on.
Hidden objects aside, the stages are just fun to explore. Not only are they colorful, but their terrain varies widely, and they're filled with friendly weirdies who'll help you along. Our favorites are the Chuppas, who look like boll weevils and act like LocoRoco-firing cannons, although we're also partial to the staring brown owls that chew you up like gum and spit you out in different shapes.
Now that the gameplay is out of the way, we can focus on the real draw here: the LocoRocos themselves. These squishy, relentlessly happy little blobs are some of the most endearing video-game characters ever designed, and as they roll through each stage, they'll sing ridiculously catchy songs to you in their own nonsensical language.
These vary depending on what kind of LocoRoco you're using. There are six to unlock, and each comes with a different voice and musical style. The default yellow ones sing peppy pop tunes in childlike voices, while the sexier pink ones lend their soothing French accents to accordion-heavy bossa nova. The red ones nervously bust out reggae, the blue ones belt lounge tunes, black ones sing raspy, growling funk and green ones sound like folk-rockers.
Unfortunately, their unique songs aren't as used as much as we'd like, and too often, the game just re-uses a handful of so-so themes that are usually in the yellow blobs' high-pitched voice (with whatever color you're actually using singing backup vocals, maybe).
Repetitive songs or not, we can't stay mad at LocoRoco. Not when we're watching the sweet-natured little blobs hopping all over each other while talking, yelling and singing, anyway. The world of LocoRoco is uniquely beautiful, aggressively charming and a lot of fun to explore, and it keeps its load times short. If you've ever wanted a reason to hug your PSP, now's your chance.