LittleBigPlanet - Review
By Rory - November 15, 2008
On this planet, fun and creativity reign supreme.
LittleBigPlanet was first announced at GDC 2007 and needless to say, the initial gameplay presentation left everyone thoroughly excited. With the promise of a unique platformer along with one of the best level creation systems and community aspects to date, the hype for this PS3 exclusive has been enormous. I'm happy to say that although LittleBigPlanet has its issues that need to be worked out, it still delivers in every way and has gone above and beyond what I thought was possible in a game such as this.
Although they may appear simple at first glance, the visuals are actually a lot more in depth than I had previously anticipated. Everything is really brought to life through the unique art style and creative little details, and Media Molecule has really nailed the overall look. The story mode offers all kinds of different surroundings, filled with enemies, obstacles and set pieces to fit the look, and they've all been designed brilliantly. Simply put, LittleBigPlanet has a very... fun look to it. Yeah, the art style is cute and cartoony, but not obnoxiously so. They've done such a good job pulling it off that even gamers such as myself, who are usually surrounded by blood and machine guns, will have a hard time getting through some of it without smiling.
Although this game doesn't push any technical boundaries or anything, it still looks great. The textures all look pretty nice, especially up close. The amount of detail put into all the different materials (even that of Sackboy himself) look a lot better than they appear to from afar. The effects from hazardous materials (such as gas, electricity or fire) also look great. Overall everything has a nice, clean look to it and isn't necessarily as simple as it might seem. The visual performance is also pretty good, for the most part. There actually is a fair amount of slow down when a lot is happening, but it never becomes a serious issue. When you do things such as swing or spin from obstacles, collect large amounts of points at once or even enter areas with excessive amounts of environmental objects, the game tends to slow down a bit. Yes, it can be a bit annoying at times but it never comes close to hindering the experience.
You spin me right round, baby right round.
The music in the game is pretty much fantastic. Each level/segment has a certain song that goes along with it and each one does a great job of setting the tone. Most are fun and upbeat but some can be more moody or heavy, depending on the type of level you're playing. They definitely add a lot to the experience but I did unfortunately find the music a bit hard to deal with during some of the more difficult gameplay segments. Typically the songs will fuel the overall enjoyment of the game but when trying to maneuver through certain tricky situations, it can become somewhat of an annoyance. I found myself turning the music off several times in order to ease the frustration a bit, but it didn't stay off for long.
The sound effects are decent, although nothing spectacular. There's not much to them but they're not bad by any means. Just simple little sounds for jumping, collecting, etc. About what you'd expect.
There is a bit of voice acting, although not from within the game itself. Hearing Sackboy or some of the other characters talk, rather than make funny little noises while displaying a text bubble, would have been interesting but instead all the talking comes from the game's narrator. This is the guy you'll have to listen to in order to learn how the game works. Thankfully, it does make the learning process easier and he's always got something funny to say. This game (the level editing at least) certainly would've taken a lot longer to get the hang of had it not been for the narrator there to guide you through it. Although there are times where you wish he'd stop with all the funny little comments and get to the point, it's always better than having to guess what to do or trudge through text-based tutorials.
Although the main portion is called 'Story Mode', there isn't much of an overall story to be found. Each level does have some sort of story to it, although it's mostly just there to explain for the new obstacles and overall design. For example, in one level you'll be required to find an NPC and bring him to a certain place in the level, which basically means get through the obstacles, find a block with an NPC sticker on it and then drag it to the end. It's definitely a big disappointment that they decided to opt out of an overall story as they could have really gotten creative with it. Instead it's just a bunch of individual broken up levels with nothing more than bits of dialogue to explain what's supposed to be going on.
Make me, drunky.
As you probably know by now, LittleBigPlanet is primarily a platformer, and in that respect it works well and offers more fun than I've had with this type of game in years. The controls are basic and easy to get the hang of- the left analog stick controls Sackboy, X jumps and R1 grabs. That's pretty much all you need to know to start playing. You'll also be able to use the triggers to control either of Sackboy's arms in order to make funny little hand gestures or to smack your friends/opponents. You can also tilt the controller to direct Sackboy's head around and use the d-pad buttons to display a wide variety of different emotions. These aren't useful or anything but you'll definitely find yourself playing with them constantly. Not only are they quite amusing but they really make you feel like you're in total control of Sackboy.
As for the actual platforming, it's definitely a lot of fun, but it has its issues as well. The game is entirely physics based, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's great because every object in the world reacts completely realistically but unfortunately it also makes the gameplay a bit... unreliable. The controls are a tad sluggish and because everything in the level is just kind of sitting there, precision platforming can be quite a challenge. Throw in environmental hazards and narrow ledges and you've got some particularly frustrating moments. Not only that but because the objects aren't anchored down in any way, you'll more often find yourself dying by getting squished by loose blocks and buggy obstacles- neither of which are supposed to pose much of a threat.
Although the game does stick to a more traditional side scrolling platformer approach, it also has a modern twist; each level is divided into three planes of depth- the foreground, the background and the center. This also is both a blessing and a curse. The system itself really adds a lot to the overall design as it allows for much more to take place in any given segment. Unfortunately, navigating between all three of these planes can be a bit of a hassle. You can control which plane Sackboy is in, to some degree, but when platforming you'll need to leave everything up to the game to automatically get you where you need to go. If you're just standing around on a flat surface you can manually move forward and backward with ease but when jumping from a foreground surface to a background surface, the game will switch you over automatically. This can be a bit problematic as it's not always reliable. Sometimes you'll just try to jump straight and it'll send you forward or backward, sometimes there will be three surfaces and it won't put you on the one you're trying to reach, and sometimes it just won't register at all. I'm not quite sure why they don't just allow you to maneuver yourself throughout the different planes as it would save players a lot of trouble from having to constantly take leaps of faith over certain death.
This can go one of two ways.
While these issues can certainly be troubling at times, they really don't come close to ruining the overall experience. It's going to take most players a little while to get the hang of it, but once you do all the little flaws become much easier to overlook. Thankfully the story mode starts out slow with a nice little introduction and a few tutorial levels that get you comfortable with the gameplay. After you've completed that, you'll be dropped into your pod- a customizable room that overlooks the different planets, which function as the menu. From there you'll select 'Story' to begin playing through the main portion of the game. The main 'planet' is split up into several different themed sections which feature three or four different levels. The levels (with the exception of a few) are fantastic, and they only get better as you go. With each level, things will get a bit more complex and different obstacles/gameplay methods will get thrown into the mix. The difficulty can sometimes become a problem later on, but no level is so hard as to put you at a standstill. Acing each level (getting through without losing any lives) is another story entirely.
Although the main objective is basically to get from point A to point B, things are kept fresh by constantly changing and introducing new things. On one level you'll be hopping over flames and spike pits, on one level you'll be thrown into a mine cart and sent flying and in one you'll be chased down by a giant 'Skulldozer' and must leap to safety. The progression really is great and unlike most platformers, it will never feel repetitive. Beyond the main levels there are also minigame-style challenge levels which you unlock by finding hidden keys. These are really all over the place, featuring things like skateboard races and timed puzzles, and they all offer quite a bit of fun.
Although all you need to do to move on from one level to the next is reach the end, each level has tons of hidden areas which you'll need to find by taking alternate paths and by completing simple little challenges, such as placing a sticker in a certain location or getting a friend to help out with a 2-player segment. The reason for all this extra exploration is the collectibles. Each level is filled to the brim with little collectible prize bubbles which give you stickers, clothes, materials, and even objects for the level builder. Not only do these add the "gotta collect 'em all" factor, but the customization features in which they're used really make you want to find each individual one. As you're going to find hundreds of different clothing articles and stickers, you'll eventually be able to make your Sackboy look however you want. You can also take the stickers you've collected and place them anywhere in any level (including your own custom levels, obviously). Every customization option is handled via the "Poppit", which is a small menu that pops up (makes sense now) next to Sack Boy when you hit square. From there you've got all your stickers, character options and tools available to you. It's very easy to use and makes using all your collectibles a simple and fun process. One cool feature is the ability to take a picture using the PlayStation Eye and stick that wherever you want. I definitely had a good time during multiplayer sessions taking pictures of myself and sticking them all over while my friends would be stuck somewhere or waiting to spawn.
This is my Sackboy. There are many like it but this one is mine.
That brings me to the multiplayer aspect of the game. Although you can run through the story mode by yourself if you so choose, a friend can just as easily turn on a second controller and join you no matter where you might be. This is a great game to pop in when you've got friends over as everyone can get involved and will have a blast messing around and running through all the levels together. There are also certain areas in most levels where a second player will be required in order to collect the prize bubbles there. You can also take the game online and play any level, custom or story mode, with up to four players via the PlayStation Network. I did notice a bit of lag when playing some of the more content-heavy levels but it was certainly not a persistent problem, and for some it may not be a problem at all. LittleBigPlanet really encourages multiple people to get involved and play, and although there are some screen sharing issues, everyone will have a great time with it.
Now, as fun as playing through all the levels may be, the level creator is what really sets this title apart. The level creation system is simply brilliant. What's great about it is that it's so incredibly in depth, yet so easy to use at the same time. Console gamers probably aren't too familiar with level creation as we've only really seen it in games like Tony Hawk and Far Cry, but so far no game has particularly nailed it... until now that is. You can create literally anything that comes to mind. Once you've completed all the tutorials (which is both helpful and mandatory, in order to use all the tools) you're ready to get started. You've got everything you'll need at your disposal to let your imagination run wild. You've got the basic platform materials, hinges, switches, rockets, explosives... the list goes on and on. You can get very detailed in your designs as well; it's not just pre-designed objects that you drag and drop. You can mold and shape the materials and objects into literally anything you want. With all this you might be thinking "well, that sounds pretty complicated" but to be honest, it's really quite simple. Everything is laid out in such a manner that even those who have never used level creators in the past can jump in and get started. It does have its little problems such as objects not properly sticking to things and other little bugs but once you sit down and get used to it you'll figure out how to avoid such things. This really is a terrific system and even if you're not the creative type, I still encourage you to check it out. Whether designing a complex story-driven level or just making a mountain of explosives to wreak havoc, it's set up so that anyone can jump in and have fun with it.
That brings me to the community aspect of the game. This is by far the best online community I've ever seen in a game of this sort. By that I don't just mean the users, but also the way everything has been so seamlessly put together. Anyone can get on and publish whatever level they've created and anyone on the PlayStation Network can get in and check it out. Afterwards you can give the level a 1 to 5 star rating, tag it with a one word description and then leave a comment. You can also heart a level, which basically means saving it to your favorites list. Usually this is something I'd tend to ignore but the more levels I played the more I got into the whole community aspect. Soon I was rating and leaving comments such as "Great job!" or "This part needs some work" on nearly every level. What's great is that people will do the same for you. LittleBigPlanet does a great job of making you feel like you're a part of the community. It's also nice that jumping into a level and going through this process is quick and simple. There are hardly any load times and you'll never have to wait for a single download. Even publishing your own levels will take mere seconds to complete. It's pretty impressive to say the least.
They'll probably enjoy this. At least, I will...
Finding the best levels is thankfully a very easy process. The ones with the highest ratings automatically get sent to the front so all you have to do to check out the best the community has to offer is select 'Cool Levels'. You can also search based on keywords or tags. Now, I'm just going to say right away that there are some absolutely brilliant level designers out there and as soon as the servers went up, I spent nearly all day checking out what could be done. When you get on and see the sheer creativity of some of the people out there, it's enough to leave you speechless at times. There are so many brilliant levels floating around which take advantage of the level builder in ways that even Media Molecule themselves probably didn't think of.
Let's face it, if this is the kind of game you're into, you won't find a better way to spend your money. Although the story mode only lasts about 6 hours, you're going to be replaying each level again and again. Not only will you want to collect all the prize bubbles and get through each level without dying (both of which will earn you extra rewards) but the levels themselves are so fun that you're going to go back to some of them again and again just for the sheer enjoyment of it. The online mode will keep it going for a very long time as well, as each day you'll be able to get on and play something entirely new.
For those who enjoy flexing their creativity, the level editor will add countless hours of enjoyment. Even I'm not the most creative of people but I've lost countless hours to it once I got an idea in my head. When you get in and see how great it is, you'll undoubtedly be sucked in for quite some time.
This really is a game that everyone can enjoy. I'm not a casual gamer, I haven't enjoyed a platformer since Mario 64 and... well... I like violence. Still, I had more fun with this than most games this year. This game has managed to stand out amongst the crowd and I really think that this is one that everyone will be playing for quite some time. If you're at all interested in LittleBigPlanet, I definitely recommend the purchase. Sackboy does not disappoint.
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