The slime mould, dictostylium, is usually content dining on the forest floor. But should conditions turn nasty, it joins forces, millimetre by millimetre, with thousands of its amoebic fellows to form a (relatively) giant pseudoplasmodium. The resultant slug-like beast climbs somewhere high, turns into a sort of reproductive cannon, and then fires new moulds out to conquer fresh pastures.
Which goes to prove life can be as fantastical, even as magical, as a brilliant PSP game featuring individual blobs that divide and recombine to overcome the unlikeliest of obstacles. Whilst singing.
But comparing these locoroco to amoebae, let alone slugs, is to do a terrible disservice to the new stars of pocket gaming – especially when they're so accommodating. Their zoom-able 2D world is constantly tilted up and down (using the PSP's shoulder buttons), rolling them off cliffs or onto bounce pads. They're suckered by reptiles that fire them into natural pinball machines. They're made to hang from vines by their mouths, only to be swung and flung like jelly-shaped Tarzans.
Even progress is double-edged. Each time a locoroco eats a particular red flower he grows a bit fatter. But tapping 'O' blasts him into up to 20 individuals (one per previously swallowed flower) that can then be squeezed through gaps, sent hurtling along air currents or even fed into fiendish clockwork machines before they're recombined by holding down 'O' again. Not even slugs endure such treatment.
It's not just sadistic players the locoroco must fear: the colourful 2D landscapes are equally nasty. There's no sudden death falls or instant obliteration – LocoRoco is splendidly forgiving there. But black 'mojas' patrol the air or lurk, spikes raised, on surfaces. Some swallow locoroco (or reduce a fat individual's locoroco count by one) whilst others split out tiny greyed-out locoroco – you've seconds to collect them before they're lost.
There are 20 locoroco per level: beginning with one small individual, you hunt out those aforementioned flowers to become one locoroco fatter at a time, changing how you jump and interact as you grow. There are also typically several hundred bonus cherry-bees to winnow out and three tiny 'Mui Mui' per level to discover (finding them nets a piece of locoroco house, which you build in the first of LocoRoco's three mini-games).
You can repeat levels until perfect, and they're timed too. But you'll probably belt through them first time, since discovering the five extra locoroco species awaiting you is hugely entertaining.
For all their twists and turns though, LocoRoco's 2D levels are necessarily pretty linear, and discovering secret passages provides the only real detours. But what LocoRoco lacks in spatial depth (which, to be clear, is nothing – this game could and should only be 2D) it makes up for in surface variety, both functionally and aesthetically.
When you're sliding up arcing ramps or zipping down icy slopes, you feel it in the momentum of the locoroco, as you do when slowed by snowdrifts or swampier ground. There are even spongy surfaces that subside relative to your weight, revealing bonuses accordingly. Combined with the generally intuitive physics of manoeuvring the locoroco, we can't think of a similar game with a better sense of, well, being.
More superficially, LocoRoco looks charming, from the endlessly inventive slides, levers, cranes, creatures and much more that comprise its five worlds to the dreamy shifting backdrops. Indeed, like Lumines, LocoRoco makes a powerful case for using the PSP's widescreen to present 2D marvels rather than squint-to-see 3D worlds.
Like a locoroco who's eaten all the pies, we've little room left to squeeze in the audio – arguably LocoRoco's glory. But you really need to hear it to believe it anyway. The little chirrups and sighs of the locoroco, their singing (see PG Tips below), the J-pop music (think Japanese schoolkids on helium performing at All Tomorrow's Parties), it sounds like nothing else.
LocoRoco is short and fairly easy: forget about secrets and you could zip through its 40-odd stages in an afternoon. The basic mechanic doesn't change either and some may find moving from one little 2D set piece to the next repetitive.
But this isn't LocoRoco: The Sequel. It's a brand new game, which, arriving decades after the first 2D platform puzzlers, feels almost as fresh as Mario once did. Simply put, it's as much fun you can have with super-cute creatures without warranting attention from the police.
If LocoRoco doesn't make you smile, you're probably dead. Or a slime mould.LocoRoco is out now – click here to buy.