E3 06: Loco Roco: Preshow Story and Updated Hands-On

We get another look at Sony's unique PSP title starring a cute blob.

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We've been looking forward to Sony's Loco Roco since we got our first look at the game at last year's Tokyo Game Show. The unique platformer stars a cute blob that alternates between being one huge roly-poly form and several smaller, although equally cute, blobs. The game made a positive impression on us thanks to its unique gameplay mechanics that blend platforming and puzzle elements with its charming visuals. At Sony's recent pre-E3 press event we were able to try out a new level and find out more information on the game's story, which shed light on what the heck is going on.

The demo on display featured English text, which helped fill us in on the story. The name of the game is the same moniker given to the blobby critters that are its stars, but the premise takes a slightly different approach from your average platformer. It seems that you play as the loco rocos' planet, and you must guide the little guys to safety when you're invaded by evildoers, whose goal is to kill the loco rocos off. Your humanitarian task is complicated by a few things. First and foremost is the fact that, since you're a planet, your ability to actively intervene on the loco rocos' behalf is somewhat limited. The other big hurdle to your task is the sad fact that, though cute as buttons, your roly-poly charges aren't that smart, which means you won't find much in the way of survival instincts. As such, it's all on you to keep them from being wiped out. The good news is the loco rocos aren't the only inhabitants of the planet. When we started the demo we were greeted by one of the muimui, small little humanoids who are the loco rocos' friends, and they brought us up to speed on current events.

Though they're good with providing information, the muimui don't appear to be much help in keeping the loco rocos safe. In fact, you'll wind up rescuing more than a few of them in each level of the game. To be fair, the more muimui that you save, the more extras you'll unlock, so it's not too bad a trade. In addition to the needy muimui, you'll find a number of different, helpful locals on the planet. During our demo we found one anteater-esque creature who hoovered up our loco roco blob and spit it out, allowing the weighty blob to reach a previously inaccessible area. Another creature also helped the loco rocos reach a new area, albeit in a much more unique fashion. The cylindrical critter apparently lives in certain types of indentations in the ground and reacts by emerging from its home when a loco roco blob rests on it. In the instance we saw, the large pillarlike creature let us access an extremely high area.

The gameplay and control hasn't changed since we last tried Loco Roco, but finding out the game's story puts the mechanics into better context. The planet premise made a lot more sense after we learned that we weren't actively controlling the loco rocos. Your main selection of abilities revolves around manipulating the environment. By using the left and right triggers on the PSP you can tilt yourself roughly 45 degrees to the right or left. Holding down both triggers will cause a slight flip in the landscape that you can use to make the loco rocos "jump." Tapping the circle button will summon an ominous roil of thunder and lightning that will spook the loco rocos into splitting when they're clumped into one big blob, which is handy for passing through certain obstacles and discovering hidden areas. Holding the button down will let you cause an earthquake that frightens the loco rocos into clumping together for safety. This simple set of commands will let you move the loco rocos around and not only guide them to the end of the level, but also let you herd them along to food. Feeding the loco rocos is actually an important part of the action, as some obstacles will require you to have a specific-sized blob of the little guys. Large loco roco blobs can also be used to break down certain walls and let you access new areas, which can contain muimui, food to eat, or helpful critters who can send you to new areas. It's a deceptively simple set of mechanics that is easy to pick up, but we reckon it will become more challenging as you progress.

The visuals in the demo retained all the charm we've seen in the game previously. The brightly colored environment of the new level initially didn't differ too much from what we had seen in the last demo. The demo starting area featured a colorful grassy plane for us to move the loco rocos about. However, as we progressed, we were treated to some new visual elements that were pretty cool. A rush of air that broke our main blob into several smaller ones and a series of moving gears that guided each of the smaller blobs along led us into a nighttime area complete with a starry sky and some interesting nocturnal creatures. The other major aspect of the visuals that impressed us was the animation throughout the level. We were obviously taken with the game's quirky personality at TGS, and the new level we played only reinforced that aspect of the game's appeal thanks to its animation. There was a good sense of motion throughout the new level we saw, not just centered on the obvious locomotion of the loco rocos but with the background elements and the hazards you face. We noticed a bouncy groove going on among the locos as we herded them along. We were also pleased by their facial animations, which alternated between happy, sad, surprised, as well as the action of chewing. We were also very taken with how the loco rocos sang along with the music during the level.

Besides the insanely catchy song playing in the background, the audio was sparse but effective in the demo. The song, a bouncy ditty sung by kids, ranks pretty high in the school of "songs that stick in your head the rest of the day" and had us humming along as we played. As far as the other effects go, there was the standard "boings" as we caused the loco rocos to jump, as well as assorted cries from the little blobs when they separated or regrouped.

Based on what we played, Loco Roco is looking like it has got the goods to be a charming original game in the spirit of Namco's Katamari Damacy. The game's simple, accessible gameplay mechanics and its vibrant art style look like a winning combination. If the game design and pacing can keep the action engaging over the long haul, the game should turn out well. Anyone hoping for something cool and quirky on the PSP will most definitely want to keep an eye out for Loco Roco when it ships this summer. Look for more on the game next month at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo.

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