Loco Roco: I Love Non-Standard Controls

You’ve probably heard allready about the one game that want’s you to own a PSP (and the first time your girlfriend will fight about playtime ;)

Loco Roco – sounds crazy – and yes, it definetly is.

If you had to create a game which plays like an jump’n'run with collecting stuff and such but wanted to give it a whole new twist – what would you do? would you change the decade old “perfect” platformer controls (left, right, jump, duck, run,…) or what else would you change to stand out from the croud?

well, sony dared to do so:

Loco Roco has been clearly inspired by those late 80ths early 90ths liquid oil/water/sand picture frames that everybody shaked, turned and twisted to see where the contents will flow to.

aside from the question how they got the idea to copy those oil-picture thingys, how did they get the idea to make it playable like a jump’n'run, also give it the clear feeling of an action puzzler and – to keep the spirit of those oil pictures – create a whole new control concept?

first, if you’ve not played the game yet, visit the official website locoroco.com where you can play the flash website same way the game works on the psp.

played it? it’s great – the flash site feels a bit unsmooth and slow, the actual game on the psp is quick – just great!

what i want to talk about toady is about non-standard controls. Loco Roco on the psp plays with the L and R shoulder buttons to tilt the world and keep the oily yellow smiley rolling – pressing L+R together will let the whole world (and thus your avatar :) jump when released.

how would anybody else have implemented this controls? 3 buttons: left, right, jump – yes? there are of course a lot out there that would have used “strong left, left, right, strong right, jump, strong jump” – no, loco roco does it so perfectly well i guess most people won’t even notice: after understanding the instructions how to control mr. yellow oil :) – playing it takes 5 to 10 minutes to get more and more experience. jumping from some shaking flower to another bending one? first you think it’s impossible, but while playing the game again and again you will have become so constantly better in useing the controls that you will fluidly jump from flower to flower – even jump over rotating, jiggling, and moving platforms.

you must play it to see what i mean (go to the website above and download the demo if you’ve got a PSP)!

today we are a bit to tied to standard controls, that earlier games hadn’t – and did not suffer: remember those damn old four way shooter robotron – 2d topdown shooter: digital pad (4 buttons on keyboard like wasd) to control in which way to move and another digital pad (another 4 buttons on keyboard like ijkl – or cursor arrows) to shoot in that direction. well of course you would want to look around with your mouse today – and you would then be playing an ego shooter from topdown perspective (remember crimsonland). but with mouse it’s not the same. robotron played completely more on a tactical level, the enemies are much more interesting because of your 4 way limitation of shooting. can’t believe? give UltraTron a try – 2005 gameplay remake with cool retro graphics: www.puppygames.net

another great non standard control example is katamari damacy on the ps2 (or all/we love katamary [also ps2] or me & my katamari [psp]): 3d game where you push a sticky ball arround, if you hit a small obstacle with your ball, the obstacle sticks to the ball. must play to understand (read more about it on wikipedia: wikipedia.org/katamari).

how to control a ball that rolls around from third person? like ego shooter controls including strafe and so on? okay, but then you would be controlling the ball … the game goes one step further and wants the player to be a tiny guy that rolls that large ball around. so, now when the ball would strafe, what would this mean to the guy? he would have to move his two hands in a complex side way movement to keep the ball rolling to the side. and what did the come up with controls? well two hands to push a ball, two analogue sticks. pressing the up means rolling the ball forward, both down is backward, one up, the other down twists the ball around, one forward one to the side make as turn while moveing forward, the same with backward.

this sounds to awfully complicated – nobody understands it in when reading the explanation – but the controls are so great, after a few minutes of training you get a true feeling of a hard to control sticky ball that rolls up things – and grows – until !whole! cities stick on it. and after playing the game half through it gets so intuitive to move that ball from obstacle to obstacle, in no time twisting arround, shifting the ball – and this all while the ball has a huge weight, and doesn’t instantly stop – it simply feels great.

all these controls i claim “non standard” boost the game experience so much, but if you ask me, any fears to make the games less easy accessible do not come true!

not enough examples yet to think i’ve got a point? wait! i have another good one, and a game that you probably have not played yet, too :) read more about Pax Galaxia: accessibility of turn-based games

have fun, leto out.

Daniel Renkel

Daniel 'sirleto' Renkel is a true indie game developer (at heart ;) and a part time simulation engineer (space- & aircrafts). He's studied computer science at the university of Darmstadt, Germany and has a background of 8 years as game developer (assistant projectmanager, game designer, associate producer and technical artist). He worked on a whole number of PC and console games including the Aquanox series. Visit ludocrazy.com for more information about this current android mobile phone games.

5 responses to “Loco Roco: I Love Non-Standard Controls”

  1. Yu-Chung Chen

    Without having put too much critical thoughts into it, I would agree, based on what Donald Norman said in Design of Everyday Things. (Sorry that I cited him again, Krystian, I know I did that quite a few times lately. Will read more other stuff again soon).

    According to Norman’s recommendations (which he explained very convincingly in the whole book), using standard interfaces ist only the second option (if not the third, have to look it up), if it’s not possible to achieve s natural and intuitive mapping by other means.

    Using tried and proven standards isn’t a bad idea in an established genre but that also means the design is expecting the user to have a certain degree of previous knowledge.

    What do you think?

  2. Krystian Majewski

    I don’t think Donald Norman can be used too often as Reference. The quote is spot-on.

    Internally there has been a lot discussion about this post. It was triggered by a bit harsh critique, which I wrote. I must admit that it was inapropriate.

    Still, I would like to keep track of the things we discussed about:

    - I think the similarity to the oil-thngys fits well. How do you call them, does anybody know?

    - It was my guess that Loco Roco is also intentionally quite similar to Katamari Damacy.

    - I had some problems with the term “unsusual” since it is a bit vague. Hopefully, we can get more detailed in further posts.

    - I had the impression that at some points we were comparing apples to oranges. Is Pax Imperia realy compareable to Street Fighter and Loco Roco? If yes, what is the conclusion?

    - The differences in the controls of the games are based on the ammount of the actions a player can perform. While Daniel explicitly chose not to take this into account, for me it might be a very interesting topic, which I will adress in some next post.

    Although I haven’t been playing Loco Roco yet, it is yet another PSP Title, wich might bring me to actually buy the System some day. A the momment, the other two are Katamari Damacy and Wipeout Pure. All of them feature a quite unique visual language, which for me is also a very important aspect of successfull game design. Here, I fully agree with Daniel.

  3. Daniel 'sirleto' Renkel

    this is a great point, yu-chung, that the design is expecting the user to have a certain degree of previous knowledge.

    i definetly like that about “Dr. Kawashima – Brain Training”, which has also controls that are on the one hand super intuitive and feel not “new”, but are very non-standard compared with most other games.

    but i feel that there is another very bad point about reusing standards from other games, not only is the design expecting the user to have a pre-knowledge, but also is the player expecting the game(designers) to have a preknowledge.

    if you use elements from other games, players allways expect further elements from other games, too. and feel bad when you “forgot” to include them in your game. and this is especially so with interface and controlls. and there are often a lot of things from other games that you either don’t want to include or can’t. can’t because of the limited space of features – many players want a game to include “everything”, which is not what the designer wants.

  4. GRAV

    Miyamato gives us everything.

  5. Chris

    The link to Pax Galaxia: accessibility of turn-based games, is broken, correct link:
    Cheers, Chris


Game Design Reviews is a Blog used by a group of game designers from Germany to publish and discuss their thoughts on various games. The blog consists entirely of reviews of games. Each review focuses on the important game design ideas and concepts of that particular game. We also run a second, more informal Blog called Game Design Scrapbook.


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