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LocoRoco 2
Score: 93%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: SCE Studios Japan
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1 (2 - 4 Online)
Genre: Platformer (2D)/ Puzzle/ Family

Graphics & Sound:
Over the past few years, there has been a considerable influx in games that carry a special kind of appeal. This relatively alien style is sometimes referred to as "cute" or "cheery." In the advent of games like LittleBigPlanet and World of Goo, it is clear that happy is the new angry. There have been several games in the recent past that made use of this style, and many of them have been successful. However, the genesis of this smiley-faced revolution was arguably brought about in 2006 by an unassuming little PSP title. With its instantly lovable main characters and intriguing approach to gameplay, LocoRoco gave the Sony PSP its de facto mascot. While the presentation was a revolution in pure charm, the game itself left a lot of room for improvement. Enter LocoRoco 2, a game that will make you smile, whether you want to or not. The opening cinematic alone has the power to send gamers and non-gamers into giggling fits (I know, because I literally went around gauging the reactions of my friends and family). As for the overall package, LocoRoco 2 is a marked improvement over its predecessor; it simply offers more quality content than you'd ever expect out of a budget-priced title.

From a visual standpoint, LocoRoco 2 can be described using two words: simple and sweet. The game is almost sickeningly charming. The colorful pastel world of the LocoRoco stands in stark contrast to the oppressive neutral tones of the Moja Troop and the crimson hues of the corrupted Bui Bui. The animations are top-notch, which is necessary for a game that revolves around the manipulation of physics. However, as with the original game, the characters are the stars of the show. The LocoRoco have not undergone any physical changes whatsoever. The wide-eyed expressions and contagious smiles are left intact. These two physical traits are about all there is to a LocoRoco (besides the colorful blob that acts as its body). What's amazing is how the developers are able to squeeze so much personality out of two eyes and a mouth.

LocoRoco 2's sound design is wacky, adorable, and astoundingly well-produced. Much of the soundtrack from LocoRoco has been retained for the sequel, and those who played it know that the music never gets old. This may be due to the fact that all of the singing sounds like hyperactive cutesy gibberish. To begin with, every level has its own music track; it always starts as a simple tune. Each time you gain a LocoRoco, another layer is added to the soundtrack. As in the original game, splitting your LocoRoco up causes them to harmonize with one another (and occasionally keep rhythm). The more LocoRoco you find, the harder it becomes to resist the urge to tap your foot or join in singing. Much of the singing in the game is done by Japanese children, and it's always infectiously cheery. The Mui Mui sound like baby chipmunks, and their singing will make you want to hug them. The sound effects are spot-on, as well; they all blend to create a boingy-sproingy brouhaha that matches its visual representation every step of the way.


Gameplay:
LocoRoco 2's story is kind of a sugar-sweet parallel to that of Gears of War 2. At the end of LocoRoco, the dreadlock-sporting Moja Troop was soundly defeated by the LocoRoco and sent back to their home planet in exile. Bonmucho and Majoliné (the Moja higher-ups) refuse to let it go, so they order their subjects to reinvade the LocoRoco world - this time, with a devastating new weapon. The Moja Troop is not exactly bringing a force great enough to sink entire cities; rather, their new weapon is a song. It's not just any song - and I can only think of one way to describe it. The song of the Moja Troop is the bastard child of the Latin beat of Ricky Martin and the raspy vocals of Louis Armstrong. In the context of the game, the song is so offensive to the senses that it literally saps the energy out of anything within hearing range. The song itself is infectious (like everything else in this game), but it is appropriately sinister. This musical WMD is not the only weapon of the Moja Troop - they have found a way to corrupt the LocoRoco's friends - the adorable Mui Mui. It is your job to bring the hurt to the Moja and bring the smiles back.

Gamers who have played LocoRoco will notice that LocoRoco 2 plays identically. You assume the role of the planet, rather than the LocoRoco. To move the LocoRoco around each of the levels, you must move the world to give them motion. There is a wide variety of actions at your disposal, many of which are recycled from the original game. You'll roll and bounce around - collecting Pickories (currency), red berries (which increase the size of your LocoRoco), and bonus items (which I will explain later). The goal of the LocoRoco is not simply to trek across each level, although you can certainly approach the game in that manner. LocoRoco 2 does a remarkable job of incentivizing exploration; finding hidden areas filled with items is quite satisfying, and you'll really want to go out of your way to test every concavity in the environment. The game partially takes control at times (usually when your LocoRoco slips into a crack in the ground), but this is not a bad thing. When the game takes partial control, it is simply so that you can watch the LocoRoco go through outlandish Rube Goldberg-esque sequences.

Exploration in LocoRoco 2 is great, but you will often come across the Moja Troop, whether in the form of actual enemies or Bunyo (the life-leeching clouds caused by the musical atrocity). The Bunyo rarely pose a threat, but the Moja themselves will always pursue the LocoRoco in hopes of a snack. These killjoys are very easy to hate; smashing into them and driving them face first into the ground is an often satisfying vengeance. In addition to the Moja Troop, you will have to contend with the Bui Bui. These are Mui Mui who have been driven berserk (the direct result of a kiss from Majoliné). They can be tricky, as their main mode of attack is to toss bombs and other garbage at you from airplanes. All it takes is a well-timed bounce to take care of just about every enemy; it's simple to learn, but tough to master.

LocoRoco featured a couple of mini-games, but they were not much more than distractions. There are many more mini-games in LocoRoco 2, and these are much more fun and rewarding than the ones from LocoRoco. One is basically Whack-A-Mole with each hole mapped to a button on the PSP. Another is a game that forces you to fire a single LocoRoco from point to point without colliding with an environmental hazard - the only control you have is in the power of the shot. To top things off, you can assist the Mui Mui in fighting off the Bui Bui in aerial combat - this plays like R-Type... with LocoRoco hanging from the tail of the aircraft. It is in the mini-games that LocoRoco 2 ventures into multiplayer territory (up to four can play), and while it is fun to play with others, the game's focus is almost exclusively reserved for the single-player experience.

The Mui Mui House replaces LocoRoco's Loco House, but it serves the same purpose. Items collected in the field can be used to build new rooms and furniture for the Mui Mui. The leisurely pace of upgrading the Mui Mui House is a nice diversion from all the action, and it gives you even more reason to explore your surroundings more thoroughly. In addition, progress in the Mui Mui House goes toward unlocking new mini-games and backstory videos.


Difficulty:
LocoRoco 2's level of difficulty depends entirely on your approach to the game. If you are playing the game simply to beat the final boss and watch the ending, it's not too hard. However, if you are hellbent on achieving 100% completion, steel yourself for a serious challenge. Even if you find all the red berries in a level (which results in a LocoRoco count of twenty), you still have to worry about getting all of them safely to the end of the stage. Each level is littered with hazards, and if you run afoul of a spike or a member of the Moja Troop, you may permanently lose a huge chunk of your LocoRoco. There are no mid-level checkpoints. This is a disappointment, since each level can take up to fifteen minutes to fully explore. You get one chance to collect everything in the stage and reach the end unharmed. The game is not forgiving to those who choose to play the game this way, but if you roll with the punches and learn how to work the game's physics engine to your benefit, you'll learn that LocoRoco 2 is a game that is more than willing to reward dedicated players.

LocoRoco 2 isn't as long as LocoRoco, and that's kind of a bummer. It's hard to pin a budget-priced game down for this reason, but veterans of the original game will definitely notice the difference in length. However, what LocoRoco 2 lacks in campaign longevity is more than made up for in overall quality.


Game Mechanics:
As mentioned, the core gameplay mechanics from LocoRoco are all present and accounted for in LocoRoco 2. The controls are mostly limited to the PSP's shoulder buttons, resulting in a simple control scheme that doesn't ask too much of the player. Pressing the left shoulder button will tilt the world to the left, while pressing the right shoulder button will tilt the world to the right. Tapping the (O) button triggers a one-second long lightning storm that splits the LocoRoco into a number of smaller pieces (the number of pieces correlates directly to the number of berries you have ingested). Holding the (O) button will cause the world to quake, causing split-up LocoRoco to converge and melt together.

LocoRoco 2 features a number of subtle new mechanics that manage to significantly deepen the core gameplay experience. When you first dive into the game, you won't notice anything new at all, save for the "wake-up" sequences from the first game. When progressing through a stage, you'll often come across a sleeping creature or two. If you have a high enough LocoRoco count, you will split up and sing a wake-up song to the creature. In the first game, this was automatic and the discovery immediately rewarded players with a bonus item or some quantity of Pickories. In LocoRoco 2, you've got to work for these treats. A series of outlines (shaped like musical notes) will trace the border of the screen, and a colored musical note will move in a clockwise motion. As the colored note passes over each outline, you must tap a button - this provides a drum beat to accompany the vocalizing little blobs. Success will earn you a bonus item (and usually some musical notes), and failure means you simply have to move on.

As you progress through the campaign, you will come across some Mui Mui wearing boxer shorts. These chubby fellows will teach you new moves, which range from new attacks to methods of rooting out hidden items (and creatures conspicuously stuck in the walls). It is here where the real genius of LocoRoco 2's level design comes to light. Every level is designed with many of these moves in mind, and you'll definitely want to revisit each level multiple times. This does wonders for the game's replay value, and it also delivers a continued sense of achievement.

To all PSP owners currently suffering through the handheld's unfortunate software drought: LocoRoco 2 is here to help quench your burning thirst - and damn, does it go down sweet!


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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