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Published November 7, 2009

At first glance, LocoRoco Midnight Carnival seems to fall right in line with its predecessors. Bold graphics, Chipmunk-inspired music and the same troupe of lovable multicolored blobs from the previous two games – even as a $15 downloadable quickie, you may be reluctant to put down cash on a mere “expansion.” It’s a valid concern, but after a couple of stages, it’s clear that this is a significant departure from the easy, breezy rolling of the past.

Believe it or not, Midnight Carnival is actually really tough, especially in the later stages when you’re required to perform wall-jumps into chasms full of spikes, or swing from ropes suspended above bottomless pits. I’ll be the first to boast about my Super Mario skills, but this game was a perpetual kick to my behind. While previous LocoRoco games allowed you to move at your own pace, rubbing up against each wall in search of hidden passages, Midnight Carnival is a punishing obstacle course that’s constantly funneling the player into doom. This new difficulty coupled with the ever-adorable art direction creates an interesting dichotomy.

And while I miss the exploration, the LocoRoco takes on the feel of a rolypoly Sonic the Hedgehog whenever your speeding down a tube or using the game’s new “Boing” counter. The latter allows you to string together jumps to gain points and extra hangtime. High score seekers will be able to spend countless hours going for perfect runs, while eating all of the fruit along the way. And if you know other competitive PSP owners, there’s a new head-to-head race mode in which you can see their shadows on your screen. (Not tested for this review.)

The new emphasis on old-school challenge means that current fans may be alienated, but I think it’s smart to reach out to a different audience. As much as everyone can get behind the fluid animation and sunny world,* the first two games have been known to bore some in the past. As long as this is a spinoff from the other games and not Japan Studio’s future direction, I’m pretty happy with this game…even I’m tempted to chuck my PSP against the wall.

*I know some macho Halo fan is shaking his head right now, but trust me – you love it.

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