LittleBigPlanet has been captivating gamers since it was announced way back at the 2007 Game Developers Conference. And why wouldn't it? The game feature's button-eyed sackcloth dolls, digital puppetry, world creation and, most importantly, the ability to smack people around. With a deep emphasis on creating and sharing levels, LittleBigPlanet seems to be the latest title hoping to become the YouTube of gaming. But do gamers really want to spend as much time, perhaps more time, creating levels as they do playing them? Is handing over the ability to create the game really the next step in gaming, or is it just a gimmick?
Does LittleBigPlanet live up to the game's original title, "The Next Big Thing," and is the future all about Play, Create and Share? Let's find out.
Delightfully Deep Single Player Campaign: Weighing in at 51 levels spread out over six worlds, LittleBigPlanet's single player experience is surprisingly robust. Each world features its own theme, cast of characters and even a little plot. The best part? A bulk of those levels are actual levels, with only a portion consisting of mini-game challenges like Tie Skipping or the Castle Climb Challenge.
Wonderful Voice Acting: Actor, comedian, author, that guy who narrated The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Stephen Fry was a brilliant choice for LittleBigPlanet's faceless narrator. He brings to the clever writing a perfect touch of character and class and helps humanize both Sackboy and the game's triad of fun: play, create and share.
Powerfully Easy Creation Tools: Nowadays when I hear level user generated content, my eyelids start to grow heavy and a bit of drool forms at the corner of my mouth. I don't want to create, I want to play. At least that's what I thought until I got my hands on LittleBigPlanet. Turns out I was just waiting for someone to make the act of creation fun. Media Molecule does that in spades. With the exception of a little forced education, the creation mode is simple, startlingly powerful and, above all else, fun. I find myself losing hours at a time in the create mode, even when I just stop by the PS3 to turn the game off.
A Focus on Fun: From the touching introduction through the character design hand-holding, to tutorials, gameplay and level creation, LittleBigPlanet is a study in fun. There are so many things to fall in love with in this game, but what I find most gripping is the constant undertone of mirth. The cute characters, the silly narration, the adorable deaths all work to beguile the gamer. It's obvious that Media Molecule enjoyed making this game as much as I've enjoyed playing it.
Whimsical Art Design: It's easy to be lulled into a sense of the absurd by the button-eyed, sackcloth main character and his world of automaton enemies and needy puppet characters. But don't be fooled, LittleBigPlanet sports some pretty slick graphics. Minute attention to detail, like the bits of fluff that drift off screen after your character explodes or the slightly fuzzy backdrops, combine with wildly unique building materials to deliver a half-dozen whimsical worlds.
Inspired Level Design: It's been quite some time since I've actually stopped in the middle of imminent danger to wonder at the spectacle of level design that surrounds my character. Some of the early levels of LittleBigPlanet are a perhaps a bit mundane, but by the time I worked through the games full set of levels I experienced some truly inspired design. It seems that the limitations of creation set by the game's architecture, I think, pushed the developers to be more innovative .
The Joy of Sharing: Sharing is so woven into the fabric of the game that it's almost transparent and the things you can do, besides just creating a level, are amazing. The game lets you give away rewards, link multiple levels together, tag things, follow creators, track friends. You can even manage what happens to your level and those rewards after you share them. You can restrict access, lock the content up, make rewards usable only by the recipient. This is finally the YouTube of video games that everyone has been talking about.
Wonky Online: A game needs to be done when it's in the box, not a week later, not a day later. Despite a sizable beta test and a slight delay, LittleBigPlanet still managed to get out the door with an inoperable online system. When the server finally did go up it didn't even last the day. Now, several days after launch, a patch has hit to try and clear things up, but I still notice some slowdown while building a level and my Play Create Share score remains frozen. Why do I need to be online and updating constantly anyway?
Pressing Jump: My biggest problem with this otherwise exceptional game is its use of a pressure sensitive jump button. The harder you press the button the higher, the further Sackboy jumps. The problem is it's hard to tell when you've maxed that jump out, leaving you to press the living hell out of the button in hopes of making that one final jump. The shifting jump length also leads to accidental hops when you meant to leap during the harder levels.
Layered Confusion: LittleBigPlanet, because it is a game you can design in, had to simplify the concept of depth. So in the game there are three layers. While creating and playing you can hop between those levels, getting closer and closer to the screen. The game seems to have some sort of AI that sorts out which layer Sackboy is on and where he's headed to during jumps and such. This usually works out, but on occasion Sackboy makes a leap and somehow misses the other side because he either doesn't shift layers when he should or does when he shouldn't. It doesn't happen often, but it's enough to frustrate the hell out of you at times.
LittleBigPlanet is both more and less than I expected. I was expecting a game with a few sample levels and a whole lot of level design. What I got was a single player experience that almost feels like a stand alone title. That whole lot of level design is there too, and it's as fun as I had hoped it would be. What I didn't expect was the slightly sloppy mechanics. The annoying jump issues. The occasional layering problems. Sackboy's penchant for slipping off things. But with all of that in mind, I still think the game's a tremendous success.
What makes LittleBigPlanet a must buy is its ability to deliver a fun, innovative set of levels and to do so using the very same tools you are given to create games. I have no doubt that there are already user-created levels out there that would stun me, in fact I've played a few. And that stream of games will likely only get deeper and better and I won't have to pay a cent to play them. But what really excites me is how people will inevitably start using this game to create non-traditional games. I can't wait for the educational titles, the Sackboy story books, the plays, the things I don't yet know exist. This is a game of potential, a jumping off point for a great journey and it's up to the gamers not the developers to see how it turns out.
LittleBigPlanet was developed by Media Molecule, published by Sony Computer Entertainment. Released on Oct. 27 in North America for PlayStation 3. Retails for $59.99 . Played single player campaigns to final level. Created several levels on my own and with my son. Uploaded and played levels online alone and with others.
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