Eleven years since its debut release, LocoRoco is still the happiest game I've ever played. Lumines and Ridge Racers might have been the two defining games of the PSP's early months, but for me it was Tsutomu Kouno's exuberant adventure that made Sony's portable indispensable. I have my doubts whether it'll be quite as good on PS4, but it's a game that's undoubtedly worthy of the remastered edition that launches this week.
Even now, there's still nothing quite like it. It's a platformer of sorts—though you spend more of your time sliding and rolling than running and jumping—where your job is to marshal a group of cute little gelatinous blobs that can form into a single large mass.
At times, it might remind you of Katamari Damacy, as you use unorthodox controls (the left and right shoulder buttons tilt the world, while pressing both simultaneously lets you bounce) to guide an unwieldy object. There's a bit of Sonic in there, as slopes and air currents take over, sweeping you through stages at high speed. And its focus on sedate exploration is just like Yoshi's Island: it's a doddle to reach the end of a stage, but gathering every collectible along the way is a proper challenge. But a big part of what makes LocoRoco special is how it takes those influences and folds them into a game that is very much its own thing.
There are no hard edges in these pastel-colored stages. Almost everything is soft, squishy, pliable and tangible. The idea of a "living, breathing world" has become cliché, but this is a game in perpetual motion: let go of the controls, and you'll still see the LocoRoco, the game's little controllable creatures, bouncing around of their own accord, while the stages themselves often sway and undulate gently. These are places that feel truly alive.
If nothing is ever still, that's no surprise with a soundtrack like this. LocoRoco is a game with a spring in its step and a song in its heart, the titular critters even singing along to the music. Their little mouths sync perfectly with the gibberish lyrics. And the vocals change depending on which one you're controlling: yellow sounds like a happy-go-lucky child, pink is a breathy French chanteuse, while blue is a would-be crooner.
Each LocoRoco has its own individual theme, and they're all glorious, but a special mention has to go to the snow levels, which are soundtracked by a dreamy sigh of a lullaby that'll slap a goofy grin across your face. And Portal, I'm happy for you, and I'mma let you finish, but LocoRoco had one of the best end credits songs of all time.
It's the natural antecedent to games like Hohokum, and I wonder if it would be made today if the more conventional roadblocks were be removed. Then again, you wouldn't have the wonderful moments when the LocoRoco mutter "Moja! Moja!" with breathless urgency as an enemy approaches, or the anxious warning sounds they produce whenever you tilt them towards a spiky hazard.
But if there's one moment that best sums up the experience of playing it, it's when you've split the LocoRoco into individual blobs and you hold down the circle button to make them whole again. "Joiiiiiiiiin!" they all shout with uncontained glee. It sounds an awful lot like "Joyyyyyyy!"
LocoRoco Remastered is released for PlayStation 4 on May 9th.