LocoRoco: Midnight Carnival might not be a proper sequel to the superb PSP platforming series, but it's still got the cuteness, adorable music and colourful visuals that fans have come to expect. However, hidden behind the singing coloured blobs is a game that presents a far trickier challenge than what LocoRoco has served up in the past. There's still lots of fun to be had at the Midnight Carnival, but this time expect to work a little harder than usual.
The BuiBui, the human-like characters from the first two games, have kidnapped the sleeping LocoRoco and challenged them to bounce through their dastardly Midnight Carnival, giving them permission to go back to bed if they can complete it. These 16 stages aren't the casual experiences we've seen in the previous two LocoRoco games, with far more in the way of tricky jumps, an increase in enemies, and frequent deadly chasms; miss a platform and your singing blobs will fall to their incredibly sad death.
In addition to simply needing to complete each level with as many LocoRocos as possible (you gain them by running into plants, but lose them through enemy contact) and collecting Pickories (a kind of LocoRoco currency), there's a focus here on finishing stages as quickly as you can. There are leaderboards for comparing your best scores and level completion times, so there's a real drive to do more than coast through each course. You'll also gain huge bonuses for completing a level with the perfect number of LocoRoco and Pickories collected. Finishing under the target time earns you more bonus points per second, while finishing over the target time halves your score.
New to Midnight Carnival, and key to the game's more challenging level design, is Boinging. This is essentially the ability to chain together jumps. As in previous games, hitting L tilts the stage left, R tilts it right and holding and releasing both together will cause the Locos to jump. In Midnight Carnival you can increase the height of your jump by chaining together Boings, simply by jumping as soon as you hit the ground after the previous jump. This new technique lets you get far higher than you could before and enables wall jumping, so you can climb up tall, narrow passages.
Boinging makes Midnight Carnival feel like a very different game to the first two LocoRoco titles, and more challenging by far, but it's not without its problems. It's incredibly easy to overshoot platforms while trying to maintain momentum, or to simply not see huge gaps until it's too late. There's no option to zoom the camera out, so some of the trickier stages will require a bit of trial and error, which can be frustrating. The increase in Moja and Mojaja enemies doesn't help matters either, since they're often positioned in places designed to annoy. Midnight Carnival can be a annoying game to play, which simply can't be said about LocoRoco and its sequel.
Compared to the full releases the series has seen so far, Midnight Carnival is a little slight in terms of content, but there's still enough here to make its £11.99 price tag justifiable. A particular favourite is the shop that sells accessories to dress your LocoRocos in (can't beat a yellow blob in a hat), but the multiplayer modes also offer some decent fun if you can find other players locally who also own the game. Sadly the two bundled mini-games aren't really worth more than a few plays through, with neither offering enough interactivity to hold your interest for more than a couple of minutes.
LocoRoco has always looked and sounded stunning and Midnight Carnival is no exception. The songs each of the seven LocoRoco sing are all charming, with varying degrees of cuteness; the levels and characters within each of them are beautiful ,and the use of colour throughout is incredible. A game with visuals this simple really doesn't have any right to look this good. It might be a trickier experience than fans are used to, but it's still a joy to play. It's not as good as the previous two games, but at a budget price it's still a game few PSP owners will be disappointed by.