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.

Witness the unflinching focus of Legos
image: Courtesy of LucasArts
Witness the unflinching focus of Legos

Details

Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Platforms: All
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    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."

    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.

    First, take a look at Pogo, the casual game site created by the world's largest video game maker, Electronic Arts. Here, you can play games for free. But you'll also have to pay for them: with your time because there's no way to opt out of looking at ads. One of the great free games on Pogo is “The Sims Pinball,” based on the best selling simulation franchise created by gamemaking genius Will Wright. Just as with any real life pinball game, you get three balls on a table that pops up after you register on the site (Don't worry, they don't ask too much info of you to become a member.)

    If you know The Sims, you know the game's often about getting experience for your character. In THE SIMS PINBALL, you have the choice of a few career paths, everything from doctor to slacker. Each character has six experience levels, and its doggone hard to complete your experience with three balls—even with the exciting additions of multiball mode and an extra ball or two.

    But here's the rub. This game is sponsored by Sharpie, the logo of which covers the middle of the playfield. If you rack up a certain amount of points, you're entered into a Sharpie contest. Thing is, it's natural for a human to want to score better and better—even if you don't want a Sharpie t-shirt in the stupid contest. So you want to play again…and again. That's where Electronic Arts gets you. Every three or four games, your game stops, and you have to watch a popup ad. Which stays up for 30 seconds. It's kind of like watching a TV commercial, except these ads don't have video. I take this time to check my email.

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