When asked recently to explain LocoRoco's charm, developer Tsutomo Kouno admitted that he had toyed with the idea of using 3D visuals, but ultimately changed his mind. His reasoning was simple: he wanted the game to smile at the player.
It's a concept that speaks of gaming innocence long since corrupted, and appropriately enough LocoRoco has been bounced along on a wave of critical anticipation seldom reserved for games this unusual and unproven. If you've heard of it, you probably read about it on the Internet or in a magazine, rather than being exposed to any advertising (I'm not sure there's even any advertising to see). Like Katamari Damacy, it's "pop-cult".
LocoRoco is unusual, even retro, full of simple ideas and smiling creatures. There's nothing complex about it in any sense. Visually, for example, it's bright, cheery and uncomplicated; your dark, frowning adversaries and obstacles are self-evident.
All you have to do is wobble a little blob from one end of the level to the other, picking up red plants as you go and avoiding spikes and nasties. Each plant adds another blob to the gelatinous collective, and when you're faced with a narrow corridor or an obstacle better navigated in smaller form, you can split yourself up into a collection of blobs. You can even pool them into groups somewhere in between.
Starting with one blob, there are 19 plants to find in every level - along with little grey men called Mui Mui who lurk in nooks and crannies, a huge number of little pink buzzing bees (some of which hide in shrubs - arguably the game's only nod to logic), and LocoRoco "house parts" which you collect from Mui Mui by singing to the plants.
Well, why not?
Like Katamari then, it's a game that doesn't so much embrace its peculiarity as take it for granted, but ultimately the comparison's a bit facile because where Katamari attempted something largely ignored by the genre-masters in publishing, LocoRoco's roots have long existed in games like Yoshi's Universal Gravitation, Mercury and Gish: tilting and puddling. The most obvious trick is a control scheme that has you manoeuvre the LocoRoco by tilting the screen left and right with the shoulder buttons. Press both shoulders together and you jump, and pressing and holding the circle button splits or recompiles the group. It all gels within a few minutes.