TGS 08: LocoRoco 2 grabs us with cuteness and depth

"Sorry it took so long," LocoRoco designer Tsutomu Kouno told me. In spite of the original's high-profile and well-received launch on the PSP, it's been over two years since we saw these lovable blubbers hit Sony's handheld. The silence around the long-rumored sequel is a bit baffling, as getting our hands on with the upcoming PSP title revealed a disarming amount of new content for the sequel.

It's undeniable that the original LocoRoco charmed hardcore gamers, thanks to its lovable style and rather unique design. However, it couldn't keep the attention of these gamers, as it was perhaps a bit too simplistic. While children and casual gamers were enchanted, hardcore gamers needed substance beyond tilting left and right.

So perhaps LocoRoco 2 is Kouno's attempt at bridging the gap between hardcore and casual audiences. The upcoming PSP-exclusive sequel maintains all the saccachrin sweetness of the original, but adds new gameplay features that add a tremendous amount of depth to the experience. The sheer amount of content found in this UMD/downloadable game is staggering.
The mini-games we saw were quite varied, and all had an impressive amount of polish. Here are just a few that we saw:
  • Nyokki Nyon Yokki - Essentially "Whack a Mole" with LocoRoco characters. Grab a hammer and start bashing at Mujo to slow down the countdown and increase your score.
  • Bui Bui Bwooooon - This ridiculously-named mode granted us the greatest smile of all. Inspired by the classic side-scroller shooters of yore, this has you controlling a ship with an attached LocoRoco. The blubbery ball must not get shot, and can grow in size as you feed it more fruit. The larger the blob, the more difficult it will be to defend it, but the more rewards will be available at the end of the level. It's unexpected of the LocoRoco franchise, and we love it.
  • Loco Stamp - More than 150 stamps and stickers can be collected in the single player adventure. These stickers in turn can be applied to empty canvases. Save them to Memory Stick and share your creativity with your friends.
  • Loco Rider - This is the multiplayer component to LocoRoco 2. In this battle mode, players will use the analog stick to move around and will be able to charge up jumps. Bump into other characters, trying to knock them into various spikes and hazards through the level. Hurting other players will break them apart, allowing you to absorb their parts and grow larger. Fattest player wins.
  • Mui Mui House - This is an ever-growing hub which hides many of the secrets of LocoRoco 2. It is, in some ways, the game's interpretation of The Sims. Mui Mui will live in this house, and as you progress through the game, you will unlock new rooms and new furniture. Keep the Mui Mui happy, and you may be able to unlock some of the secrets found in the game. But watch out! Sometimes, enemies will attack the house and you'll have to defend everyone. While it's a rather non-interactive experience for the most part, it's incredibly amusing to just watch the animations of all the Mui Mui living in this abode.
In spite of all these modes, the single most important addition to LocoRoco 2 according to Kouno is the LocoRoco's expanded abilities. The core gameplay remains largely the same: use the shoulder buttons to tilt the world left and right. However, throughout the game, players will be thought new moves. For example, players may be able to grab things with their teeth. This will let them grab on to switches, swings, levers and a number of other contraptions. But that's just the surface: the LocoRoco can dig underground to hide from enemies. A large number of LocoRoco can activate rockets, giant mechs, and more. They can even go underwater ... and defy gravity by clinging on to walls. The levels in LocoRoco 2 account for these abilities, offering branching, expansive environments that encourage exploration and replayability. LocoRoco meets Metroid -- Kouno confirmed to us that returning to environments with expanded abilities will reveal areas previously inaccessible.

The presentation in LocoRoco 2 is more charming than the original. While it may seem strange, the expanded story offers players an opportunity to really enjoy the characters that have been created for this universe. Each one is lovingly animated on the PSP screen. Simply watch LR2 in action (video coming Sunday), and you'll understand how stunning this game looks. Everything bounces with life in the game -- impressive considering the number of objects and characters in the game.

The number of characters in the game has expanded quite significantly. There's a sassy new female LocoRoco character that will go against the new horde of Bui Bui. These Bui Bui will bully other characters throughout the game, and players must attempt to remove their nuisance in each stage. Thankfully, yuour actions have greater meaning in the sequel: all your progress in each level will be saved. Save more and more of your friends in the game, and you'll start hearing the music change. Yes, the love-it-hate-it music is back, but even this has a bit more depth to it. If you can accumulate more LocoRocos, you'll discover the music becomes a bit more textured, layered with additional voices that expand the aural landscape of the game.

While we've been emphasizing that LocoRoco 2 is much larger than its predecessor, there are actually less levels in the game than before. Instead of more stages, the LocoRoco team has opted to create a number of new quests and challenges for players to tackle for each level. For example, there can be a race challenge, a fetch quest, or a hide-and-seek challenge.

Because there's an almost overwhelming number of things to find and objectives to complete, there's a helpful map system that can be unlocked in the game. The map can be expanded through exploration, and it can also reveal the location of hidden goodies ... at a cost, of course. The in-game currency of musical notes can be traded in for tips.

Even with this system in place, it may be difficult for players to really experience everything LocoRoco 2 can offer. We were given a small glimpse at the final boss of the game, and it looked absolutely terrifying. There are other bosses ... some so hidden that casual players may never find them. Somehow, the LocoRoco team thinks a great way of rewarding good players is to give them even more difficult boss challenges. Yay?

So yes, LocoRoco 2 offers a lot of content. Spending some time with the game, it becomes clear that LocoRoco 2 has something for everyone. Casual gamers will love the style, just as they did with the first title. However, hardcore gamers that wanted something more from the first game will come away pleasantly surprised. We certainly were. LocoRoco 2 will be available in Europe and Japan later this year, and in America in 2009.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.