While nobody would argue against celebrating the PSP for offering gamers previously unthinkable home-console-style experiences on the go, there are plenty who would contest that it hasn't brought anything new to gaming as a whole.
Naturally, this is a bit of a reaction to the DS. "What has Sony ever done for us?" we all bluster, with about as much historically viable consternation as had the People's Front of Judea. Or was it the Judean People's Front? I can't remember.
Anyway, the point is that it's worth remembering that while traditional archetypes aren't as sexy as they used to be, there is still a place for them. What's a bit more reasonable to say is that the PSP lacks significant new games of its own, whether they draw upon existing genres or not. While Nintendo seems to be running out of wall-space for all its handheld poster-children - Nintendogs, Brain Age, Advance Wars, Mario Kart, etc. - Sony's simply nicking stuff from PS2's bedroom, and probably pinching all the Blu-Tac while it's at it.
Good news for PSP owners then - if it turns out the way it's looking right now, LocoRoco could look as handsome on the PSP's walls as Katamari Damacy does on the PS2's, and owe as much thanks to the personality and charm infused by a creative developer as Namco's celebrated series does. With a simple 2D platform game approach using tilt as a control mechanism, it's also a game that really needs a CD quality soundtrack and a wide screen to get the most out of it, and a game that's been designed, from the ground up, not as a reaction to other things but as a simple, old-fashioned collection of ideas knotted together across many lengthy commutes.
It's due out on June 23rd in Europe, and with this in mind Sony granted us the opportunity to swap some words with Sony Japan's Tsutomo Kouno - he of the commute, and the game's design.
Eurogamer: What was the original concept for the game? And when did you decide to adopt the tilt control system?
Tsutomo Kouno: It's a game that's easy for everyone to understand - even people who don't play games regularly. We adopted the tilt controls at the very beginning, at the stage of creating a rough design.
Eurogamer: Was using tilt as a control method a conscious decision to try and get away from the traditional controls of 2D platform games?
Tsutomo Kouno: No, it wasn't. I wanted the players to interact with characters rather than controlling them directly, so when I came up with the first rough design the idea of tilting the ground came about naturally.
Eurogamer: The game's artistic style already has many fans. How did you come up with the look of the game? What was the central theme behind it?
Tsutomo Kouno: The design direction was simple. First, we wanted screens with impact to stand out among other games. Second, sophistication unlike a game. Third, a low production cost. These three are the things we considered. We came up with some designs by a process of elimination. Then we created a simple movie using 3D software. The movie is the central theme of this game's design and creation.
Eurogamer: Did you design the challenges to fit the game's style, or was it a more natural process?
Tsutomo Kouno: This being a new game, there really were no restraints and design was not difficult. The characters were all born from notes I scribbled down every day on the train.
Eurogamer: One of the things people often say about LocoRoco is that it's very charming. How do you make a charming game? How do you design a game to make the player happy?
Tsutomo Kouno: In order to create a fun game, I think it's very important to clearly deliver characters' expressions and emotions, so I decided not to use three dimensions but 2D instead so that you could see the face of the characters all the time. When I came up with rough designs with pencil and paper, I would think carefully about how to make people laugh, as if plotting mischief.
Eurogamer: The music is another aspect that's received praise, and it has been compared to that of Katamari Damacy. Who wrote and performed the music? Does the demo music reflect the general flavour of the soundtrack? Oh, and will you be releasing a soundtrack CD?
Tsutomo Kouno: The title song as well as character theme songs were written by Mr. Nobuyuki Shimizu [Wild Arms 4], and other stage songs were written by Mr. Kemmei Adachi. They are also performing their own songs. In-game songs are a mixture of my favourite songs, but without standardising genre. There are various kinds of songs, but since they are all sung in the language of the LocoRoco world, I think there is a sense of unity. I also asked the composers not to use electronic sound as much as possible in order to give the feeling of live sound. And yes, we're considering releasing a soundtrack CD in Japan.
Eurogamer: LocoRoco was obviously one of the first PSP games to have a demo released on the Internet. Is it easy to make PSP demos? How do you decide what to include and how do the demo contents relate to the full game?
Tsutomo Kouno: It's not so difficult to make downloadable demos. I designed it for everyone to want to play many times. There will be various stages [in the full game] with a sense of speed and many gimmicks, but for the demo we combined two distinctive stages into one in order that players could experience many different features - as a result, the size of the demo level is greater than the average regular stages. Elsewhere in the full product, there are various stages which include jungle, where LocoRoco interacts with ropes, and a stage set inside a body which constantly moves.
Eurogamer: Do you plan to release any more content on the Internet, such as additional levels or music?
Tsutomo Kouno: We haven't decided yet, but maybe, if there's demand.
Eurogamer: Since you started work on LocoRoco, Sony has announced that the PlayStation 3 controller will feature a tilt sensor - something that seems ideally suited to a game like LocoRoco. What are your feelings about the PS3 controller? Have you worked directly with it?
Tsutomo Kouno: I haven't had a chance to touch it yet, but I'm really looking forward to working with it as there are lots of possibilities. Ever since the original PlayStation, I've wanted to have this kind of controller and I've stored up lots of ideas, so...
Eurogamer: Given the anticipation surrounding LocoRoco's release in both Japan and the West, has there been any discussion about developing a LocoRoco game for PS3? Is it something that you would like to do?
Tsutomo Kouno: Actually, I had some thoughts in my head even before LocoRoco's test production, but there are no solid plans. I'm struggling as I have many ideas I want to realise.
Eurogamer: What about another LocoRoco game on PSP?
Tsutomo Kouno: Not yet decided either.
Eurogamer: Apart from the demo, which has attracted a lot of attention, one of the reasons LocoRoco has proved popular with critics and gamers is that there aren't very many original or very innovative PSP games. Why do you think this is?
Tsutomo Kouno: The issue of not having many original or very innovative games is not only the PSP, but I think it is getting harder to create new games as there are many problems such as cost and development environment.
Eurogamer: Do you think LocoRoco will encourage Sony and other developers to take more risks making games for PSP?
Tsutomo Kouno: I'm not sure, but I want not only sequels but also many new games to be released from now on. I want to get excited as a player.
Eurogamer: At a time when a lot of publishers are talking about taking more risks in next-generation and handheld game development, how hard is it to get a truly original, untested game made at Sony?
Tsutomo Kouno: I agree that there is image that it is hard to create games for the next-generation platforms as the cost of production increases more, but I think it may not be always true if we contrive ways to express and create. If we just have ideas of original games that are keeping a lid on cost, then permission for development can be easily granted, I think.
Eurogamer: We've mentioned Katamari already. Your game isn't even out yet and already people have compared your game's design, style and overall approach to designers like Keita Takahashi. Do you think it's more important to have a brilliant game designer or a brilliant game design?
Tsutomo Kouno: It's more important to have a brilliant staff. Having a good idea is important of course, but even if the idea is good, actual realisation is done by people, so tastes and hard work are very important.
Eurogamer: People have suggested that LocoRoco has been influenced by everything from that game to Yoshi's Universal Gravitation. Not just in terms of LocoRoco, but generally: Which game has had the biggest influence on you as a game developer?
Tsutomo Kouno: LocoRoco has been influenced by children's toys which have been around for a long time, such as the wooden maze in which you roll a ball [also something that influenced Archer Maclean's Mercury, another quirky PSP title], and a toy that drips oil balls. So that's rather than being influenced by other games. Since I was little, I hated to copy others, so I always make sure that my idea is different from other games as much as possible. Also, you seem to know my favourite games! My other favourites include real-time strategy games, like Age of Empires.
Eurogamer: Finally, what made you want to become a game developer? And what keeps you interested?
Tsutomo Kouno: Game is a wonderful toy in which the music and image can be changed by players control, and ideas keep coming to me. I just want to make new things or games to play as I like creating things that make people laugh.
Thanks very much to Tsutomo Kouno for taking the time to speak to us. And you won't have to wait long to find out whether he's achieved his goal, with LocoRoco due out on June 23rd. See elsewhere on the site for exclusive impressions and stay tuned for a review later this month.