The original LocoRoco was a PSP game I wanted to get behind. The artwork not only looked good, but animated gorgeously and demonstrated what the PSP’s horsepower could for 2d gaming if the industry had not insisted on flooding the handheld with watered down PS2 downports. The simple, two button platforming concept was also a nostalgic throwback to platformers of old. Its sugary sweet cuteness was also an odd but welcome sight in today’s gaming climate, and the adorable cast alone was enticing to anyone without a heart of stone.
Ultimately, the game simply did not know where to go with any of its ideas. The level progression had no logic or reason behind it and felt tiresome before you got through all 40-something stages. If you just want to beat them, the challenge is a bit too easy, while aiming to replay them in order to collect special items or beat the speedrun times proved shockingly hard. There was no real drive to push forward, and the assorted minigames and bonuses proved to be unworthy distractions.
Of course, this is what sequels were made for. Or rather, what we they used to be made for. One of the odd quirks of modern gamers is how we seem to pick and choose what we define as a good sequel based mostly on strange criteria and a dab of hypocrisy. It almost boils down to a mathematical formula, wherein a sequel that remains relatively unchanged from the original must have roughly double the number of new features – be they characters, weapons or multiplayer modes – in order to be considered worthy.
Anything less is labeled as a “rehash” or a “standalone expansion pack.” Thus Gears of War 2 is a good sequel, but Patapon 2 apparently is not. Worse yet is that this criteria is often ignored: who would dare call Super Mario Bros 2 a rehash, for example?
With this mindset, I suppose we would consider LocoRoco 2 a standalone expansion of some sort. While the levels are all newly constructed, the environments they take place in are mostly holdovers from its predecessor. It is the same case for the music, as much of the soundtrack consists of recomposed versions of old songs.
I find myself unable to criticize the game for these decisions. For one, LocoRoco 2 is a budget priced release that everyone knows will only sell to a limited fanbase, and there really isn’t much about the graphics that could be improved. Something tells me that building a sequel from scratch would not have been financially viable, and I would rather have LocoRoco 2 than nothing at all.
This is especially true considering how significantly the various tweaks and updates enhance the experience. Take the aforementioned problems with the original levels. Loco 2 simply fixes these through better design; each stage offers more interesting things to see and do, and is less reliant on non-interactive portions, where the LocoRoco are sent scurrying across the level without your input. Replaying to explore for secrets and items is also less focused on frustrating platforming and timed jumps, instead concentrating on rewarding players who can at least find the secret without trying to stop them from getting it.
Loco 1 also had issues with story and pacing. The fact that it deals with a cast of heroes and villains with the behavior patterns of children means that it will be lightweight by default. It felt like you were slogging through several dozen levels that were being thrown at you haphazardly, with only the most basic goal in your mind. Loco 2 does what it can to flesh its universe out. More cutscenes and text help to give some genuine reasoning behind the story and level progression.
The main menu has also been overhauled, replacing the old traditional setup with a fancy representation of the Loco’s home planet, which is divided up into the various regions that the levels take place in (ie grassy field, flower garden, snowy mountains), with said regions being filled with new stages and features as you progress. These additions give the game a much greater sense of weight and community, and makes it much easier to grow a caring, almost parental attachment to the charmingly cute cast.
The numerous bonuses and goodies in LocoRoco 2 have seen perhaps the most improvements. For one, there are a lot more of them. Unlockables include minigames, videos, picture galleries and an interactive sticker book. While not all of these are gripping, most of them are as charming as the rest of the game, and can provide a needed distraction from the levels proper. Overall, the bonus features feel more fleshed out and more tightly integrated into the main game.
Unfortunately, this tight integration proves to be a blessing and a curse. Should your personal style of play dictate that you ignore certain features, it will most certainly prevent you from enjoying others. This is primarily due to the biggest extra feature, the Mui Mui House. In Loco 1, the House was an afterthought, a free form playground where you could scatter items in a random configuration and hope that the little Mui Mui do something interesting with them. This time the House has a fixed number of rooms and furniture which you can build with the various items you collect in the game.
The problem with this is twofold. First, some of the materials you need are either random drops in a stage, or obtained more easily through minigames (which are rarely worth more than a handful of plays). Second, many of the other bonuses are granted via the items you create in the Mui Mui House. Should you fail to build them, you will miss out on some of the best extra content, including the Music Gallery and secret levels, but earning will force you to be at the mercy of Lady Luck and some obsessive compulsive playtime.
Hell, even if you are willing to accept these stipulations, you can still be left out in the cold should you find it difficult to fully explore all the levels (while easier than before, the levels are still more than a walk in the park).
I appreciate rewarding the most diligent players, but it is counter intuitive to make a game with such a strong focus on its quirky music, only to restrict the player’s access to it. A relatively simple game is made irritating by modern design sensibilities. This is even more troublesome upon realizing that LocoRoco’s standout features – the quirky art style and simple rolling mechanic – are being imitated on platforms like the iPhone, and those games will get better as time goes on. If this series wants to remain competitive, it needs to offer the rich features that traditional consoles excel at without putting up barricades between players and content.
Recommending LocoRoco 2 is a no brainer. It is simply a better made game than its predecessor, with plenty to chew on regardless of price. I can only hope that further sequels are made, as there is still more potential (and more improvements) to be built on. At this point the execution and technical details have been ironed out, and I would like the next review to read less like a patch list and more like a discussion about the implications of the franchise’s growing sense of personality and subversively morbid underbelly. For now, LocoRoco 2 should still be able to get its hooks into anyone willing to let their inner child out to play.