Among all of the many demos on display at this year's Tokyo Game Show, the one that surprised and entertained people the most was a teaser for a puzzle-platformer game that's in development for the Sony PSP called Loco Roco. If you're a fan of niche games like Katamari Damacy, DK: King of Swing, or Pac N' Roll, you're going to want to keep Loco Roco on your radar.
The "loco" in the title refers to locomotion, which is what the game is all about. Players control a pudgy smiley-face character that's situated in a hilly, grassy maze. Simple enough, the object of the game is to build up the largest roco possible and guide him to the end of the level. But roco can't move on his own. To make him go, you tilt the background left or right, which causes roco to roll and build up speed. See? Locomotion. What impressed us most about the game during our brief playtime was how simple and how fun it was. Tilt the stage a little and the loco will roll gently over things. Tilt it a lot and he'll literally launch off of hills as if they were jump ramps. Rushing full tilt isn't the best strategy though, as we found out. Smacking into hard objects will cause chunks to break off of the roco, making it smaller. Luckily, eating fruit items seems to make the roco gain weight and grow bigger.
In an innovative twist, the whole game is played primarily with the L and R shoulder buttons. Pressing L tilts the playing field to the left. Pressing R tilts it to the right. You can also make your roco jump by pressing L+R. If you've played DK: King of Swing on the GBA, those controls sure do sound familiar, don't they? Besides hopping over things, sometimes you'll encounter a tunnel or a tight rope that you need to guide your roco across. Just rolling right into these things isn't a good idea, because the roco is normally to big and will get stuck or fall right off. In these situations, you can push the X button to break the roco into smaller roco's, which you can then roll to the other side… and re-form later.
Certainly, the concept is appealing because it's simple to play and easy to grasp. We also fell in love with the game's presentation, which to us resembled a children's story book brought to life with a light-hearted Sesame Street soundtrack tacked on. All of the trees, rocks, and ground in the backgrounds look like the sort of solid colored, smoothly rounded shapes you'd see in a children's book or a really excellent Shockwave Flash animation. Except, unlike those mostly static forms of media, everything in the game moves and shifts and shimmies. The roco and little rocos are tiny pudgy blobs that smile happily and squish themselves over and into things. It's all good fun, and you really should check out the screenshot Sony gave us to get a better idea of what the game looks like. Sony also has a video up at its official TGS 2005 site (for the time being).
Yes, the game actually looks like that.
As for the soundtrack, it's the sort of happy music and "teehee" giggle sound effects that we once thought would be too stupid for games, at least until Katamari Damacy came along. Loco Roco seriously looks and sounds like video game induced joy.
We've got to keep an eye on this one. There's a lot of development time between now and the game's expected mid-2006 release, and it'll be interesting to see how they turn the concept into a full-fledged game. One feature we can't wait to see implemented is multiplayer support. Apparently they're shooting for 50 blobs on screen at once in the Internet mode.
Talk about getting bowled over by a demo. Move over Katamari Damacy, competition is about to Loco Roco its way into town.