I’ve long held the belief that the original LocoRoco was the digital equivalent of a pill based antidepressant. From the delightful accumulation of its jolly music to its warm and inviting art direction, few games have made me as genuinely happy as Tsutomu Kouno’s rolling blob simulator. Still, while the gameplay was novel and the aesthetic was fresh, LocoRoco could never keep up with my attention. I never had a bad time while playing it, but a feeling of sameness would always prevail and it just couldn’t hold my interest. It was a well made game, but I felt it repeated the same tricks one too many times. It needed more variety!
Which was why LocoRoco 2’s breakout session at last year’s Tokyo Game Show gave me a sense of hope. As I said in my hastily constructed and heavily caffeinated summarization of the event, it looked like Kouno took LocoRoco’s criticism to heart and decided to jam pack a plethora of new content and minigames into the sequel. A classic kitchen sink approach, even if some of the stuff didn’t stick, there was so much that surely some of it had to hit the mark. Pile all of that on the existing game, expand the mechanics, retain the original’s mysterious instant-elation properties, and, suddenly, I was totally interested in LocoRoco again.
The basic premise behind LocoRoco remains simple and inviting. You control the movement of a squishie blarb by tilting the surrounding environment. This is done by holding L to tilt left and R to tilt right. Pushing both buttons at the same time, or simply holding one while taping the other, allows the LocoRoco to jump. Tapping the circle button causes your LocoRoco to split into his pieces, while holding it down allows them to scream and reform as one. These mechanics are your primary means of getting through the levels and are in constant use the full way through, but sharp curve in difficulty present toward the later levels of the last game is more of a steady progression this time around. Yes, there are still difficult jumps to out of reach places that require awkward timing, but, for Loco 2, these instances are (usually) optionally accessible parts of existing levels – not insurmountable blockades that halt progression. The platforming is by no means a breeze, but the considerably more tricky parts are rationed off into appropriate areas, which preserve LocoRoco’s inherent accessibility.
The primary goals are also largely unchanged from the last go around. You’re a single Loco strong when each level begins, but there are 19 other Loco’s to be absorbed (from flowers, of course). Amassing more Loco’s increases your jump, which increases your ability to get to new places in high spaces. Hidden Mui Mui’s are still in desperate need a of rescue and evil(ish) Moja, spikey things, and chimeran critters still roam the landscape and try to suck your life away. Amass your blob, find some loot, evade the enemy, make it to the end of the level, rinse, and repeat. Want more? Go back and collect everything (and I do mean everything, the game is a modern collectathon). Still, simple has always been the name of the game.
“Wait,” you say, “that’s the exact same thing I did last time.” Yes it is, and thankfully there is now quite a bit more content to support your adventure. One of the more visible changes is the addition of a note matching minigame to different parts of a level. It’s basically just timed button pressing and, honestly, as deep as the kiddie pool, but given LocoRoco’s music-centric approach to atmosphere and design, it feels quite at home every time around. Collecting notes, which can also be obtained in a few other ways, serves a practical purpose in providing you with a handful of nifty bonuses as you proceed through the levels. Other new stuff includes the afro hats your LocoRoco can wear. Essentially like a hard shell casing, these things allow your LocoRoco to A) look even more ridiculous than usual and B) break through some particularly pesky walls. It’s not a huge difference, but these instances always make for a welcomed mid level change up.
Level design has also received a significant overhaul. Previously, different themes were mostly an excuse for different scenery, but now they share a natural link with the level design. This most evident on the tropic levels that take place underwater (don’t worry, they pulled it off), but is also visible in places like the monkey swinging, zipcord riding jungle levels. Additional, I’m not entirely sure how a dark urban metropolis equates a prevalence of super bouncy rubber floors, but, never the less, it was a wonderful addition to the gameplay. In the end, the basic concept behind level completion remains the same, but the different means of reaching that goal cast away feelings of needless repetition.
Minigames return in full force as well. A competent but brief horizontal shooter is in place, wack-a-mole makes an appearance, and there’s even a game where you can place a bet and watch LocoRoco’s race across a level. Perhaps the deepest of the bunch is the newly revamped Mui Mui House. All the Mui Mui you come across in your travels will be teleported here, as will all the swag you collect. From there you can assign Mui Mui activities with your loot, which is not only entertaining, but used to unlock even more ridiculous side stuff. It’s a great departure from the traditional LocoRoco gameplay, but it’s giving the Mui Mui more things to do can easily become compulsive fun (not to mention a hoot).
The audio/visual package is still one of a kind, but it’s also cleverly used to support the game’s narrative. The cut scenes are few, offer no words, and are largely composed of what a passerby would observe as complete nonsense, but I still found the features of and exchanges between the Moja and the LocoRoco to be oddly charming. LocoRoco 2 contains a surprising amount of mythos behind its cast of characters, but it’s no secret the music has always been backbone of LocoRoco’s allure. While it’s still composed of gibberish and makes little to no sense, it’s still catchy as hell and does well to support the happy go lucky atmosphere. The mood of the game is very much in sync with the joyous and alluring soundtrack, and it fully supports the LocoRoco’s quest to preserve their utopian sonic paradise.
The art direction, while not quite as fresh this time around, still looks unique when compared to the plethora of poorly constructed polygonal messes there. The new LocoRoco’s are a riot as well. While it’s disappointing that they don’t actually affect the gameplay (just the music), their range of expressions and different personalities are brilliant contributions to LocoRoco’s exultant theme. My favorite had to be Pekerone, whose unfocused eyes and befuddled demeanor always seemed remarkably in sync with the haphazard nonsense at every corner. All in all, LocoRoco 2 never lets go of its charm.