AU REVIEW--The first LocoRoco was like an injection of sugar syrup directly to the brain, and its cute design and catchy soundtrack made it a tough game to dislike even if you found faults with its unique but ultimately repetitive gameplay. LocoRoco 2 improves on its predecessor in almost every aspect, with new play mechanics and even more minigames wrapped around the same blob-bouncing interior. It's still a game best played in short bursts, but when you do spend time in the shiny, squishy world that the LocoRocos inhabit, it's hard not to get swept along by its infectious cheeriness.
It's that cheeriness that sets LocoRoco 2 apart. Its colorful style and immensely hummable tunes make it the game equivalent of a baby panda stuffed with kittens. You'd have to have a heart made of stone (or a fringe made of emo) not to fall in love with the round, amorphous blobs of goo that are the LocoRocos as they fight to rid their planet of the evil Mojas, who are back with their king Banmucho after being driven off in the original LocoRoco. Narrative isn't what this game is about, though, given that the story is told in mostly nonsensical cutscenes that only roughly convey what's happening in the plot.
LocoRoco 2 retains all of the key gameplay elements of the original, which in itself is not a bad thing, considering that the game's simple-to-grasp yet tough-to-master gameplay still remains unique among its platforming competitors. You control the LocoRocos as they roll around the surface of the planet, using the shoulder buttons of the PlayStation Portable to tilt the playing field left and right. LocoRocos can be made to bounce by pressing both shoulder buttons at once, which is also their main method of attack against any enemy creatures. As they navigate through the world, LocoRocos "grow" by collecting fruit, which increases the number of units under your control at once. Pressing and holding down the circle button will cause all of your creatures to join together to create one blob, whereas a quick tap of the same button will cause them to separate. Just like in the first game, it's preferable to travel as one blob for most of LocoRoco 2, with breaking up recommended only for getting them through the occasional tight space.
Although rolling and jumping will take up most of your time, the game gives the LocoRocos a few interesting new abilities. For example, your units can now swim through several underwater levels in which you navigate by holding down the circle button to sink and tapping it to rise. Occasionally, you'll also find creatures whose shells the LocoRoco can climb into, allowing them to roll around the environment and smash through obstacles. LocoRocos will also learn new moves as the game progresses, such as the ability to bite onto little tufts of grass to shake out hidden objects and a more powerful jump attack. There are also some minigames thrown into the mix, some of which are more compelling than others. These range from a basic race in which you bet on which LocoRoco will navigate an obstacle course the quickest (this section is completely hands-off) to a whack-a-mole variant in which you use the D pad and four face buttons to hit creatures as they pop up from holes. The best of these is a fun little 2D side-scrolling shooter, which sees you piloting a small MuiMui ship to take on fleet after fleet of enemies.
Music, which has always been an integral if passive part of the LocoRoco experience, actually has a gameplay role in the sequel thanks to a basic rhythm minigame that can be found in most levels. These minigames aren't any more complex than tapping the circle button in time to a simple melody, but it does let you collect the new in-game collectible of musical notes. If you collect enough musical notes in a level, it will give you bonuses, such as items being placed in easier-to-reach locations or even more abilities for your LocoRoco.
All of these additions result in a LocoRoco experience that is more fun than the first game thanks to its increased variety. This is further helped by some great level design. One standout sees you travelling inside a gigantic penguin, with the orientation of the playfield changing as the penguin decides to get up from its horizontal position halfway through the level. Another is set on a series of bouncy platforms that send the LocoRocos flying with every touch. Levels like these--along with the new LocoRoco abilities--means that feeling of repetitiveness isn't as much of an issue in this game as it was in the first one. There's also a fair bit of replay value, particularly if you're mad about collecting. With 20 LocoRocos hidden in each level, as well as hundreds of musical notes, picories (little flies that act as currency to play minigames), items such as stickers, and more, there's the potential to sink plenty of hours into this game to unlock all it has to offer. Nevertheless, there are also some downsides. Boss fights aren't that challenging, with even the end boss offering only a smidgen of resistance. And though you have the opportunity to reclaim LocoRocos that separate from the pack if you collide with stray spikes or hungry Mojas, there's only a small window of opportunity in which to do so, which makes it extremely frustrating to lose them when you're going for the holy grail of a full LocoRoco count at the end of each level.
Of course, frustration never stays too long when you're in this gameworld, and LocoRoco 2's upbeat presentation is sure to constantly wring a smile out of you. The round LocoRocos themselves are as cute as ever, with the supporting cast of creatures such as the hedgehog-like Olmee to the angry little BuiBui all appealing in their own strange and varied ways. The music is another highlight, made up of catchy ditties all sung in a nonsense language that changes in pitch and tone depending on which color of LocoRoco you're currently controlling. Some songs are recycled from the first game, but there are a few new tracks here that are darn near impossible to get out of your head once you've heard them a few times.
Just like its music, LocoRoco 2 does recycle plenty of ideas from the first game, but its new additions are enough to make it an easy game to recommend for any PSP owner. With boundless charm, improved gameplay, and plenty of replayability, LocoRoco 2 is a definite bounce in the right direction for the cheery series.