Review: LocoRoco Midnight Carnival

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Sony, what have you done with my loveable, FUN LocoRoco? With LocoRoco Midnight Carnival, the new download-only installment in the popular LocoRoco PSP series available tonight on the PSN store, what is typically such a fun, carefree gameplay experience has been turned into one of obscene trial and error and mass frustration. That and the game is severely overpriced for what little content it has to offer.

Now, I don’t want to sound like I hated Midnight Carnival, because I didn’t. I absolutely adore the franchise (check my review of LocoRoco 2 for proof), and for the first few stages it is loads of typical LocoRoco fun. Midnight Carnival has many of the characteristics that have made the first two games fan favorites, and the basic gist of the gameplay hasn’t changed. You use the same Left and Right Shoulder button world-tilting mechanics to roll, bounce, flip, fling and shoot your LocoRoco through 16 different (though recycled in theme) levels as fast as possible, picking up as many Pickories and other collectibles as you can along the way. And as usual, the graphics, sound effects and music are delightfully whimsical.

But there’s one huge difference here. Midnight Carnival introduces a new “Boing!” mechanic to the series by which you hold down both shoulder buttons to bounce off the ground and continue ricocheting off of other surfaces to clear obstacles – it’s the same control mechanism used for jumping in previous games, only now your LocoRoco pings around like a bouncy ball. This seemingly beneficial gameplay addition morphs the game into more of a twitch platformer, and it doesn’t quite come together.

Early on the change in play style is easy to adapt to and quite fun. Getting into a rhythm and chain-bouncing through stages can be very satisfying. However, as the stages become more challenging, the bouncing controls fall apart. If your “Boing!” timing is even a fraction off, your LocoRoco bounces off in an unpredictable direction, usually leading to your doom. Also, since you have to tilt the world and bounce at the same time, it’s far too easy to overcompensate in one direction and, again, meet your demise by falling off a ledge or hitting some sort of spiked obstacle (which there are many of). This leads to A LOT of “die and retry” trial and error and more aggravation than any LocoRoco game should ever have. I play LocoRoco games to relax, not get stressed out to the point where I want to smash my PSP to pieces!

Making matters worse, the checkpoint system only seems designed to make your life even more difficult. Around halfway through each stage you activate a checkpoint marker, and from that point on whenever you fail you can buy a three-life continue with Pickories you’ve collected and spawn at the checkpoint rather than going all the way back to the beginning. However, with each continue you buy the price increases, and whenever you continue from a checkpoint you also lose any of the extra LocoRoco you may have collected in the first half of the stage, leaving yourself vulnerable to one-hit deaths and even more frustration as you get stuck into a situation where you can’t make even one minor mistake. The game does have a BuiBui Store where you can buy an item that protects you for one hit (and various other collectibles like different hats to customize your LocoRoco), but it still doesn’t help much.

I also have to call into question Midnight Carnival’s value. At $15 it’s only $5 cheaper than LocoRoco 2 was at launch, yet it offers only a fraction of the longevity. The game’s 16 stages only took me around two hours to complete compared to the five or six hours it took me to finish just the story portion of LocoRoco 2, and at least half of that time was spent dying and retrying my way through the brutal last few levels. There’s no MuiMui House in Midnight Carnival either, and the two new mini-games, LocoBall (a quirky play on Pachinko) and BuiBui Crane (like those cranes at arcades and carnivals you use to try and grab a toy), don’t hold any long-term appeal. Some replay value can be found in playing stages over again for posting high scores on the online-enabled leaderboards and competing in multiplayer races with up to four players, but sadly the multiplayer only supports Ad Hoc so it’s a useless feature if you’re without someone local to play with… like I am.

I could have accepted LocoRoco Midnight Carnival as sort of a cheap experimental PSP minis release, but as a true successor to the previous LocoRoco games (which is what it’s supposed to be) it falls flat. I appreciate the concept and certainly wouldn’t be against seeing the “Boing!” mechanic worked into future titles with more fine tuning, but as is I just can’t come up with a reason to recommend this game, and that really is hard for me to say as such an adoring LocoRoco fan.

A playable demo is available if you’d like to try it out and judge for yourself, but quite frankly, I’d be cautious about doing that. A small demo sampling of this game is likely to woo you into a purchase, and I have a feeling you’d wind up regretting doing so after the fact.

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Pros:
+ Same catchy music and charming graphics LocoRoco is known for
+ New “Boing!” mechanic is neat in concept

Cons:
– New “Boing!” mechanic is too imprecise and inconsistent
– Way too much trial and error
– Annoying checkpoint system
– Not enough game to warrant $15

Game Info:
Platform: PSP via PSN download
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCEJ
Release Date: 10/29/09
Genre: Action/Platform
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-4
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!