It's a strange experience, being applauded for the simplest gaming feats. We're here at the Sony booth at Tokyo Game Show - "booth" being an entirely inappropriate word for this magnificent modernist palace of acute angles and pastel lighting, and an entirely appropriate one for the small glassed-off enclosure where we're playing LocoRoco 2. We share the space with a willowy girl in a white uniform and hat that makes her look like a 1950s comic artist's idea of a spaceplane hostess. She natters away in Japanese and hops up and down and claps softly when we do anything right. Anything at all. Managing one jump merits an excited squeal and a standing ovation.
But then, that's LocoRoco. This easygoing 2D platformer for PSP never asked much of you (unless you count finding the last few fruit), and gave back out of all proportion, showering the player in colourful, bouncing, babbling, singing, nonsensical beauty and joy. LocoRoco 2 won't be much different, giving even more in the form of a suite of mini-games, a multiplayer mode, and a hugely expanded Mui Mui house. All it will ask of you in return is the ability to manage a couple more actions in addition to left, right and jump - and you won't even need to press new buttons for those.
The core of the game is still to guide the rocking and rolling circular Locos through cutaway levels by tilting the level left and right with the shoulder buttons, and clicking both buttons together to jump. You can still gather crowds of little Locos into one gelatinous monster by holding down circle, and split them up to fit through smaller gaps with a tap of the same button.
Additionally, Locos can now bite down on certain objects, giving them the ability to hang from little vines and jump from one to the next, catch a floaty ride on a falling dandelion seed, or bite other objects and creatures to pull them out of the ground. You can tip Locos into holes in the ground to hide them or make things happen. You won't know what will happen until it does: it might be the sprouting of a whole new tribe of jolly blobs, or an unexpected rocket launch.
Sony's Japan Studio is careful not to overwhelm you with such intimidating depth, so the new actions are introduced in stages by the king of the Mui Muis, those little, limbed purple men who scamper around the screen offering advice and encouragement. As before, if you reach an insurmountable obstacle, it can be worth just waiting a while and seeing what happens.
Faced with a pile of rocks, we let the Locos be for a moment and they burst into song, triggering a simple, circular note-matching mini-game. We tap out the rhythm with circle and the song explodes the barrier. Roll on. This mini-game also allows you to collect notes, which unlock new features for the stage you're in.
LocoRoco 2 has 25 stages, fewer than the original game, but loaded, Sony claims, with more complexity and replay value. Some of them are just plain harder, something the many who felt the first game was sweet but a little too short will welcome. There's also a lot more physical variety, with underwater stages, airborne dandelion-seed epics, and stages that turn Locos into hyperactive rubber balls, rebounding around complexes of pipes and even Arkanoid-style block walls.
There are a few new layers of collectables (notably stamps - more on those in a second), and a "quest" system that kicks in after a stage is cleared under certain conditions, and that might challenge you to win a race against Mui Muis, collect five butterflies, or look for the lost Mui Mui King in a level you've already played.
There are, believe it or not, 45 cut-scenes of adorable gibberish, elaborating a story with two threads: one involves the Mum of the first game's boss, who is using her kisses to transform Mui Muis into a mischievous red rival race, Bui Buis. In the other, the floating, dreadlocked Moja bad guys have learned a "scary piece of music" that leeches the "vigour" from living things by surrounding them with cloying black clouds called Bunyo.
These Bunyo can be dispelled by bumping into them, or later, scatted wholesale by a new action that seems to be a pulsating soundwave. Bunyo clearance is permanent and accumulated; once you tracked down and repelled all the Bunyos, you'll face a secret boss.
LocoRoco 2, as you'll have noticed by now, is positively drowning in secrets and collect-and-unlock systems. Collect notes to unlock quests to unlock house items to unlock mini-games to unlock stamps to new levels to unlock more stamps to unlock items, and on and on, in virtuous circle of reward-and-more-reward. The stamps are probably the second-coolest sweetie, giving you images of all the flora and fauna of the LocoRoco world to arrange in dioramas of your own design (or match with silhouettes to - you guessed it - unlock stuff).
Better still are the toys and furniture items for the Mui Mui House. A simple one-room dwelling at first, the house can be expanded and populated with ever more Mui Muis who will joyfully interact with the beds, kitchen ranges, showers, huge vats of orange juice, drumkits, libraries and more that you furnish it with. It's embarrassingly cute, as well as being an odd and probably unintended nostalgia trip for those old enough to remember Little Computer People.
Gather enough Mui Muis and their King will appear, but you'll also need to use a cannon to defend the House for Bui Bui air-raids, or they'll nick your furniture. It won't surprise you to learn that the Mui Muis will thank you for their digs with gifts - secret stages or mini-games, or a LocoRoco short film to screen in the house's movie theatre.
There are twice as many mini-games in LocoRoco 2 as in the original: they include Nyokki Nyonyokki, a sort of game of whack-a-mole with the smiling pink extrusions, and Bui Bui Bwooooon!, which, astonishingly, is a full-fledged side-scrolling shoot-'em-up in which a team of Mui Muis in a makeshift airplane take on the bullet-storms of the Bui Bui fleet.
Loco Rider is the multiplayer entry, supporting up to four players on an ad hoc local connection. Mui Muis ride bloated Locos into battle. Naturally the tilt controls would make no sense, so instead you're directing jumps with the analogue controller, charging them up the longer you hold the circle button down. The aim is to barge into other Locos, knock them into spikes so they split, and in a disturbing display of cartoon cannibalism, eat up their little component Locos to become the fattest blob in town.
There's also, as you'd expect, a heart-breakingly silly and enchanting array of new characters and creatures, all rendered in beautifully clean and vibrant blocks of flat colour, and the whole thing moves as smoothly as melting ice-cream. LocoRoco 2 easily fills its predecessor's boots as the prettiest game on PSP, and makes such a virtue of that stunning screen that you can't help but feel a rekindled love for Sony's slab.
Whether it can retain the original's purism and charm whilst adding a healthy dose of reliable, replayable longevity is the question - and one level of show-floor, clap-distracted play is certainly not enough to provide an answer. But with its absurd variety, generosity of spirit and calculated feedback-loop of unlockables, LocoRoco 2 seems equipped to do just that.
LocoRoco 2 is due out for PlayStation Portable later this year.