From LocoRoco I had expected life-affirming perfection, a transcendental game that would lift me up into an utterly blissed-out state of happiness. I realize now that this was unreasonable. But the demo I tried earlier this year assured me that my world was in for significant rocking — at home, on the train, in class, any place that could accommodate a PSP. And I believed.

And the demo was no false prophet. Like it promised, I’m back where I left off: with the world literally in my hands. Using the L and R triggers to tilt the 2D landscape, I roll these cute blobs called LocoRocos (imagine dust bunnies crossed with something from Pee-Wee’s fridge) across pits, down tunnels, onto wind trails, and through various mechanisms (conveyer belts, giant rotating gears, and pulleys). In each stage, 20 flowers can be uncovered and eaten, expanding the size of the LocoRoco. With a press of the square button, the LocoRoco can be split apart into 20 smiling, doe-eyed faces to fit into tight tunnels; press it again, the LocoRoco returns back to its imposing gelatinous mass.

Meanwhile, flying monsters called Mojas have invaded the planet and are patrolling each stage. Though Mojas are to be avoided, confrontations do flare up and are always dicey prospects. To knock the Moja down, the player has to launch the LocoRoco at the last place a vulnerable blob should be: the Moja’s mouth. Even a slight miscalculation allows the Moja to slurp a LocoRoco off.

It takes only a few minutes to go through a level, but each one hides so many secret passages and items that if it is finished without putting in some quality exploration time, one has unsatisfactorily missed out on a lot. Too much, in fact. Now, this doesn’t come as a surprise. Sony gave us a level to play at E3, and I spent a solid evening locked in our hotel room, getting used to the physics before finishing the level. Then I played again and finished with all 20 blobs intact. Then the goal was to find the secrets and finish with every bauble collected (hundreds!). And whenever a level is completed 100%, the player is challenged to a time attack. So I played that, too. I wasn’t bored, I just adored the hell out of it, and each level is more or less as good as that one. You really could call it the perfect handheld game.

But nobody has the energy for such perfection. E3 was an anomaly: there was only one level and I could pour all my concentration into it. With the full game, the 40+ levels pile up like paperwork. By finishing a level without really exploring, I feel like I’m not getting the full experience. Yet, whenever I go back and attempt 100% completion on a level, I avoid real progression. The game is designed to either be played quickly, like while on the bus, or played rigorously, like an obsessed maniac. There is no in-between, no gratification for cowardly non-committers.

This wouldn’t be an issue if the game weren’t so brain-dead easy. The levels are exquisite in both layout and art design, but so sparsely populated that only serious physical handicaps, a dead battery, or the Apocalypse could stop anyone from seeing the ending. If I’m just strolling authoritatively through the levels, barely challenged, where’s my inflated sense of accomplishment? Playing to get 100% on the levels is no mere side project, it’s absolutely necessary to get one’s money’s worth.

Yet, when playing for that 100% and collecting all of a stage’s items and LocoRocos and rolling towards the exit, it is beyond aggravating to then slip on a bed of spikes, or get ambushed and chewed up by a Moja, and be forced to redo the whole level. Whenever a screw-up happens, it is so maddening and demoralizing it’s like Zeus is ramming a billion lightning bolts into my head. And in a game this evocatively cute, living a world of such wild and demented innocence, anger is a dirty emotion.

RATING 4 / 10