Warning: Highly Addictive Game Too Cute to Stop!

Remember that over the top fat suit Gwyneth Paltrow wore in Shallow Hal? The excess of rubberized adipose made her appear onscreen as a mountain of a woman who, if she fell, looked like she could bounce high as a Superball. The thing about the suit was that, sure, it was gross, but it was also kind of adorable (there was heart and soul in them thar hills). The fat suit reminded me of these in-game globules that look like they're wearing a fat suit after they gorge themselves.

Called LOCOROCO, the globule-filled game is a much-touted, highly anticipated offering. More often than not, a game doesn't live up to the hype that precedes its release. Look at The Matrix (a real money pit) or even last year's disappointing Madden 06. That's not the case with a small game called LocoRoco for Sony's PSP. The hype began with drooling bloggers almost a year ago. Phrases like "sleeper hit" were bandied about constantly. Early game art looked a little like the Nintendo DS' Mario games in their simplicity. LocoRoco" graphics were intentionally childish, reminding me of one of the greatest games ever for the old PlayStation, the rhythm-based Parappa The Rapper with its first grader-like cutout 2D figures.

So what is LocoRoco? First off, it's a simple cartoon-like game. You press the right and left buttons at the top of your PSP to play the game. With the occasional pressing of the 'O' button, that's all you need to play LocoRoco. Believe me, kids won't be able to get enough of it. Adults won't be able to put it down, either.

Struggling uphill in LocoRoco.
image: Courtesy of Sony Computer Entertainment
Struggling uphill in LocoRoco.

Details

LocoRoco
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PSP

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    I know that's a grand statement, especially since I usually don't rave about games, even the ones I really like. But the allure for LocoRoco is manifold. LocoRoco are cute, bulbous, smiley creatures that sing ultra-catchy pop songs. They shake when they move like the element mercury. They're so adorable, you want to hug them—even if you're not predisposed to such emotion. They're also so cute you don't want to see them die, which is why you keep playing: to get them safely to the end of each level without perishing.

    None of this would be worth a plug nickel if the game play weren't so intensely compelling and challenging. Immediately in the first level, you're placed into a strange world full of twists and turns, mountains and hills and moons and suns. You've got to move your LocoRoco up and down these crazy paths. This becomes increasingly difficult because the LocoRoco needs to feed and gets fatter and fatter. To try to get your portly creature up a big hill, you'll find yourself turning and twisting the PSP as if it had a gyroscope inside. But it has no such machine. You just have to be supremely accurate with your pressing of the buttons.

    Hills aren't the only danger in LocoRoco. If he runs into prickly plants or evil inkblot spiders called mojas, he'll come apart like Humpty Dumpty into many tiny LocoRoco. That's when you press the 'O' button, to put Humpty Dumpty, er, LocoRoco back together again. You quest is to find all the LocoRoco in each level, which isn't easy because they're hidden in caves, grottoes or even underneath the ground.

    There's also a beauty to the simple graphics. Often, you'll be shot like a rocket through nooks and crevasses and up high into starry space. You'll feed as you go on flowers and such. But you'll also get fatter and fatter. Yet that's the goal. This is an Adkins Diet Free Zone. So pig out.

    Simple and challenging really is the grail in most video games. It's rare that the two come together, so uncommon it's like a sighting of the mola mola, a huge, strange ocean sun fish in the Atlantic's coastal waters. Such a sighting is a feast for the eyes and a big deal for marine biologists. The release of LocoRoco is also a big deal. It's not only a new debut for Sony (which is often too dependent on its franchises). "It's one of the best games of the year."

    Check out reviews of all the latest and greatest games (updated every week), along with past faves in NYC Guide.

    One of the things I hate about my occasional treks to midtown are these cult-like smikers who accost me and ask, "Do you like comedy?" in an effort to corral me into some sleaz-o club with $15 drinks. My friend suggested that I reply, "What's it to you?" and walk the hell away. Which I will.

    Having said that, I have to ask, Do you like casual games? If you do, you're not alone. So do some of the world's biggest companies. For them, there's gold in them thar hills. The people who make money prognosticating such things believe the casual niche will become $1 billion a year business by the time 2008 rolls around, according to Jupiter Research. Right now, the people who make and promote these games are pulling in $350 million a year.

    With such success come the dreaded marketing types, and with them come, gulp, ads. Sure, this column is about a couple of casual games that I've found on Web, one good, one bad. It's also about the way ads are presented to gamers. Sometimes, it's downright obnoxious.

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