Version tested: PSP
Not unlike Mario Kart Wii and its boost mechanics, LocoRoco 2 appears to be after a record for the most collectibles in a platform game ever. There are berries and pickories scattered around like Mario's coins and Sonic's rings. There are musical notes hidden in plants and awarded for clearing out dark clouds, and when you've gathered a hundred these level-up the stage you're on so that you can gather berries and pickories with greater ease.
There are stamps, which can be arranged into pretty patterns or matched against silhouettes. There are the cheerful little Mui Mui silhouette men, who, once collected, disappear to the Mui Mui House, which you can play with in a mini-game. There are Mui Mui House parts, so you can make some furniture, and sometimes there are Mui Mui weapon parts, so you can defend the house from the evil Bui Bui bombers. And of course there are the red flowers, each of which adds another smiling LocoRoco blob to your seamless, ball-shaped mass of heroes.
None of which will make any sense if you haven't bounced merrily through the 2006 original, but you needn't have if you want to enjoy LocoRoco 2. If the events portrayed by the new, infrequent cut-scenes are related to those in the first game, it's lost on us. You can't even really have plot spoilers: halfway through the game, one of the four blobs is puffed up by a trumpet-mouthed bipedal ladybird thing and then the rest locate him amongst a crowd of the same and they're tossed about laughing. What?
Don't worry though, because LocoRoco is an easy game to understand. You're responsible for a little smiling blob, who moves around the 2D platform level whenever you tilt the level itself left and right using the triggers, and jumps when you hit them both together. Whenever you find a red flower (some of which now float around), you gain another LocoRoco blob, and you can mesh them together into a large blob by holding the circle button (they all shout "jooooin!") and disassemble them by tapping it again. There are obstacles to avoid, like stamping stick-insect men, so most of the time you keep the group joined, and the sequel is more aware that you'll want to do that than the first game, with levels that mainly split you up as punishment or part of a display.
It's also slightly more difficult. Individual levels are built around familiar conceits, with a main path that takes in a mixture of jumping, boffing Moja enemies, bouncing off trampolines and riding loop-the-loop rollercoasters along air currents or beneath the ground in Sonic the Hedgehog tunnels, while scratching around for the false walls and other hidden areas that house the bulk of the record-breaking collectibles. But there are more spikes, and more aggressive enemies - like a Half-Life barnacle descendent with a prehensile tongue that lashes at you - and it's also harder to accumulate all the treasures, with moving bounce-pads and other tricky-but-forgiving conveyances to master before the treats tumble into your blobby core.
LocoRoco 2 also does more with individual levels. There's another one set in someone's guts, but this time along with the stringy cartoon entrails and cushioned surfaces there are a few changes to the gravity as the guts' owner goes from lying down to standing and back down again. You also get to swim in someone's fluids, with underwater control similar to Mario: a gentle descent propped up a bit with each stab of the triggers.
Sometimes you even get to control what are effectively vehicles, like an afro or a bluntly spiked ball, both of which tumble down hills at speed and need to be sprung from the tips of ramps to reach things, with the camera pulled back to capture it all. On other occasions you're caught in a bomb with a fuse, in an area with some collectibles and small gaps at the bottom, and you have to quickly gather the goodies before the bomb explodes you into single blobs and they fall to the area below. Our favourite sections, though, are the bits where the LocoRocos explode in aerial firework displays that flutter formationally to the ground at the peak of an on-rails set-piece.
For all the take-me-by-the-hand bits, however, there are more diversions on top of the multitude of hidden areas. Sometimes your feats are rewarded with mini-games, like a Wac-a-Mole derivative and Loco Race, although sadly the latter is about gambling on runners rather than racing (although there is an ad-hoc Wi-Fi race game). One of the better efforts is Loco Chuppa, where the sucking and spitting walking ladybirds propel you around a level at a pace dictated by the circle button. The idea is to navigate tunnels and perils by guestimating the right release speed.
Even Mui Mui House is quite interactive. In a game overflowing with as much charm and cheer as this, you might just spend a few minutes ringing bells next to knick-knacks to see what the Mui Mui do, although this is probably stretching it. More likely you'll concentrate on rinsing the main levels, where the developers have introduced other minor diversions, like little holes to pop into (sprouting in weird places on the other side), which often trigger rudimentary rhythm-action sections to replace the bits where you stand around and sang in the first game. The best bits of level design, though, are the ones where a flower mocks you from just out of reach, and you have to scratch at its surroundings to uncover a hidden path or physical set-piece to gain access. As with everything you ever do right in LocoRoco 2, there are more collectibles as rewards for success. Or mostly success.
Which sums up the game, really, although there's still a nagging sense, over its two dozen levels, that it remains a bit short, and there are also times when it ambushes you with fiddly Moja and barnacle enemies at speed, and this can be upsetting when you've just perfected the previous section and lose one of your hard-won LocoRocos. During the early stages it feels like a game angling for Fable II's banishing-all-punishment crown, but by the latter levels it's an honour withdrawn.
Even so, it's very difficult not to get caught up by the parade of cute ideas, brought to life again with simple, beautiful graphics - dancing steel scaffolds, bizarre whirring gizmos, bright curvy hills and polka-dot skies, all single-shaded blocks overlaid on one another without outlines or gradients or even textures, really - and a more consistent soundtrack, which is now so hummable it's entering Katamari territory. And while there are a lot of false-wall bits, the developers have been careful to signpost them gently, so that when something is hidden nearby, you're usually given enough cues to know you should stick around and experiment with telltale holes, suspicious indentations and odd-looking rainbow elephants.
Ostensibly the same again, then, LocoRoco 2 nevertheless pulls its charm tight and burrows deeper into the mechanics, level layouts and set-pieces, presenting more elaborate rewards in visuals and gameplay, and doing a better job of sharing them with you so that you don't always feel as though you're searching for cuddly needles in a Teletubbies haystack. It comes across as a refined, more elaborately constructed sequel that remembers why it was good in the first place.
8 / 10