As gaming has gone mainstream and become more of a Hollywood-like industry with massive teams and equally large budgets, companies have moved from high risk tolerance to low risk tolerance. Outside of the thriving indie scene, truly original game concepts have suffered as a result.
Take a company like Electronic Arts, for example, with annual franchises like Madden, FIFA, and Need for Speed. The company has little incentive in trying something new. This business mentality was the core of the PlayStation Portable’s strategy, at least in its early years.
The PSP took this approach to an extreme at first, almost exclusively focused on proven franchises and console ports. Stiff competition from the Nintendo DS forced Sony to shift its strategy and focus more on developing original game concepts. Games like LocoRoco were the result of Sony’s attempt to give the PSP its own distinct brand and personality.
LocoRoco is probably one of the strangest games of the mid-2000s. You play as the LocoRoco, a blob-like creature whose planet is being invaded by evil space creatures. Your goal is to roll, bounce, and maneuver the LocoRoco to safety. While you’re doing this, you have the opportunity to collect different items that help you collect parts for your LocoHouse.
Think of LocoRoco as a platformer on acid. The environments are often colorful and themed. Some are spooky, while another one appears to be the insides of an organism. It’s all light-hearted fun and trippy as hell. Theme music fits into place quite well, complementing the various environments. The LocoRoco each have their own voices as well and will sing songs at different parts of the level. Adorable!
While it is almost impossible to give you an idea of how LocoRoco plays just from writing a description, just imagine in your head a blob rolling through environments, controlled by the L and R buttons on your PSP. Your LocoRoco follow the outline of the level, sliding along steep inclines. Adjusting the camera orientation with L and R rolls your LocoRoco in a given direction. You can jump onto platforms pressing both buttons. And your LocoRoco conforms to the shape of the environment, bending over ledges, for instance.
Since the only way you can “die” is from an attack by one of the evil creatures, you need to expand your LocoRoco blob to defend itself. All you have to do is smack these creatures with a powerful jump to knock them out. Larger enemies take multiple shots. By eating fruit throughout the level, your LocoRoco grows to a maximum size of 20 individual LocoRoco blobs. Collectively, you can form a huge blob or disassemble into smaller LocoRoco to pass through small paths. While beating each level is fairly straightforward and easy, collecting everything is an impressive challenge.
When LocoRoco first came out, I had not expected such a quirky game to get released on the PSP, and yet — at least in my mind — it helped define Sony’s handheld. Whether it’s the art style or the zaniness of it all, LocoRoco is a truly unique platformer. It is probably still my favorite PlayStation Portable title, even if it admittedly gets boring before you even finish it.
Now that it’s remastered on PS4 and runs in native 4K, there’s not much reason to go back and play the PSP version. But if you have a PS4 Pro and a 4K television, you should definitely check out LocoRoco. You will not be disappointed!