Handheld gaming is, by its very nature, a more complex area than under-the-TV gaming. In the same time it takes Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo to shift upwards of 50 million home consoles, the portable realm has filled as many history books.
Over the course of five years in the handheld space demographics are won and lost, franchises born and killed off, and new genres championed and unforgivingly shuffled off to pasture or the nearest abattoir. It’s a volatile, tumultuous realm with little in the way of constants.
So who’s next on the chopping block? Bumbling into mind is LocoRoco, a one-time unofficial PSP mascot which, arguably, is currently troubled. While Sony’s amorphous yellow blob pushed platforming into exciting new shapes, the once exuberant, colorful experience is starting to gray like pavement gum.
The latest edition of the game, LocoRoco: Midnight Carnival, makes a valiant attempt at injecting new life into the series, and even succeeds to varying degrees. It’s hard to shake the feeling, however, that the franchise isn’t as malleable as its blubbery protagonist. Even with Sony’s keenest creative minds on the case, it seems unlikely that LocoRoco will ever ignite the same joy and exhilaration as it did back in the fertile days of the PSP’s first year.
But none of that matters, because there’s a new kid in town and one who hopefully will become a permanent house guest, rather than a fleeting visitor. Sony is currently pinning its PSP hopes on LittleBigPlanet for the imminent festive season, and it’s easy to understand why.
Already a confirmed success on the PS3, LittleBigPlanet PSP is perhaps an even a better match on the PSP, where shorter bouts of play and matching attention spans are a more established part of the console’s personality.
Not only that, but LittleBigPlanet PSP offers the best of gaming’s past while keeping an eye firmly trained on the future. There’s enough classic platforming in there to satisfy even the most fatigued of thumb jockeys, but with the scope for near endless user-generated content, it propels the PSP into a brave new realm of value and indeed, interaction.
It would be easy to flippantly dismiss the rise of user-generated content as the latest in a long line of generally vacuous industry buzz terms. The truth of the matter, however, is that user-generated content is almost as old as gaming itself. It’s the process’s new found accessibility (via the evolution of robust network platforms such as PSN and the PSP Store) that has propelled it to the status of this season’s essential bullet-point feature for designers.
Those who decry Media Molecule’s ambitious level creation features in the LittleBigPlanet series as naive to the general lack of design savvy among gamers fail to factor one very important element into the discussion: You don’t need to be able to design levels yourself in order to enjoy those designed by others.
As ever, the cream will rise to the top, and for those who find that creating their own levels requires a patience they can’t muster, the ability to quickly download new stages by those who are ably inclined and equipped should keep players hooked way beyond the game’s pre-packaged, professionally designed stages. Maybe there is something new LocoRoco could add after all.
Could the PSP’s best gaming days and franchises still be ahead of it? We have high hopes.
Pocket Gamer is Europe’s leading source of news, opinion and reviews on mobile and handheld gaming.