Few games beg for physical contact like LittleBigPlanet does. The series is known for its miniaturised, Gondryesque diorama worlds, where fuzzy Beanie Baby-like characters carom off of cloth-covered wheels and cubes like so much bric-a-brac in a shoebox. Any sane player would immediately want to reach out and touch the screen.
So it feels only natural that LittleBigPlanet would be a great fit for the PlayStation Vita's touch and motion controls. And what do you know? It is. In fact, LittleBigPlanet feels like a better fit on the Vita than it did on the PlayStation 3.
LittleBigPlanet, as an entity, is an embodiment of Sony's "Play. Create. Share." philosophy. There's a story-based singleplayer game that walks you through the essentials, there's a terrifyingly comprehensive creative toolset that lets you build your own levels and contraptions, and there's an online community built around sharing your levels and trying out others'.
All three of those elements are present in LittleBigPlanet Vita, and two of the three are at their strongest ever. The one weak link for me was the single-player campaign, which is unfortunate, because I liked that aspect of the first game and really liked it in the second game.
LittleBitPlanet Vita is a sprawling, charming, imaginative game that feels right at home on the PlayStation Vita. It's the first Vita game that feels somehow essential.
Developer: Tarsier Studios Platforms: PlayStation Vita Release Date: September 25
Type of game: Side-scrolling platformer combined with deep, comprehensive level and minigame-creator.
What I played: Played through the singleplayer campaign in about four hours, spent another few hours making levels and trying to make some minigames.
My Two Favourite Things
- The surprisingly engaging collection of smartphone-style touch minigames.
- This awesome triangle-shaped car that can drive on any surface. Really, the entire amusement park world; it's got some triumphant level design.
My Two Least-Favourite Things
- Too many sequences where you're being chased by a laser and have to pull off moves that require more physics than reflexes.
- The move where you swing your grappling hook down into a springboard and bounce up and around. It never feels right for me.
Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes
- "You'll touch your Vita in ways you never thought you would!" -- Kirk Hamilton, Kotaku
- "Whoops, that last quote sounded kinda dirty!" -- Kirk Hamilton, Kotaku
- "It will make you hungry! These games always make me hungry."-- Kirk Hamilton, Kotaku
That's not to say the singleplayer levels are bad -- far from it. But the first half of the slight (3-4 hour) campaign feels like such well-trod territory that I couldn't really get into it. Plinky, Elfmanish music plays, Sackboy meets goofy characters, narrator Stephen Fry tells us how to open our poppet, there's a big bad (this time around it's a puppeteer), and Sackboy spends a couple worlds' worth of levels learning some basic skills like grapple and throw.
However, things get much more interesting at around the halfway point. A world created by a goofy super-spy named "Sean Brawn" brings with it some snappy level design, cool touch-screen puzzles, kicky beats and tricky puzzles. The final two worlds are a good deal of fun as well, particularly a series of levels built around twisting, winding roller coasters. Suddenly, things are cooking at that familiar Rube Goldberg groove that LittleBigPlanet 2 hit almost immediately, and the rest of the single-player game is a lot of fun.
There are some maddening aspects to how it all plays, however. LittleBigPlanet games are all about physics -- objects all move according to the physics of the world, which gives things a kinetic look and feel. Unfortunately, it means that Sackboy is sluggish to control. This usually isn't too much of an issue, particularly because you can die an unlimited number of times in the main levels. (This is a change from LBP 2, where too many deaths could force you to start the entire level over.) However, on the boss battles that end each world, it can become maddening -- suddenly, too many deaths forces you to start over, and the controls just weren't precise enough to feel like I was in control. Things got frustrating more than once.
I've long been a fan of the music in LittleBigPlanet games, and while LBP Vita comes in significantly behind the first two games for me, it's still got its musical moments. The groovy stuff that kicks in in the second half of the game did much more for me than the silly, repetitive ska that plays over the opening levels, and I spoke too soon in my first impressions of the game -- we do, in fact, get a pretty bangin' classical-themed boss battle. I hope that remains a series tradition for as long as they're making LittleBigPlanet games.
Where LittleBigPlanet Vita really comes into its own is in the level creator. The touch screen is often smartly used in the singleplayer levels, but it's a real revelation in the level-creator. It's so much easier and more intuitive to place objects, swipe through menus, and decorate the world using the touch screen. For the first time, creation in LittleBigPlanet doesn't feel daunting to me. I happily messed around with the levels, seeing what I could make. I'm not proud enough of any of my creations to upload them, but it's only a matter of time. The Vita's camera too is a fantastic addition -- you can very easily take pictures of yourself and your friends and plaster them all over your levels.
User-created levels are also a lot of fun. It's much easier to flip through levels using the touch screen, and it's also a snap to download levels so that you can try them when you're on the go. I've found some wonderfully creative levels, and while discovery is always going to be hard (there are already too many levels for me to reasonably go through and try), LttleBigPlanet's online levels should remain a lasting source of fun and goofiness.
There are so many other ways to waste (or, "spend") time with LittleBigPlanet Vita, among them the surprisingly engaging minigames, most of which play more or less like touch-based smartphone games. I found myself playing one of the games -- a funny riff on Limbo that actually feels a touch like Sound Shapes) for a good chunk of time. All of the minigames could also theoretically be made in the level creator -- there are new game mechanics you can implement, including the ability to keep track of how a player's doing over multiple levels. LittleBigPlanet ain't quite Unity yet, but it's still an approachable way to make a fun game.
All of this stuff combines to give players a hell of a lot of game under one roof. I have a downloaded copy of LittleBigPlanet Vita on my hard drive now, and I'm hard-pressed to imagine myself ever deleting it. It feels like such a comprehensive thing, almost like it's a part of the Vita -- truly, the first game to take all of the Vita's various capabilities and wrangle them into something fun, intuitive, and organic. LittleBigPlanet Vita is a cinch to recommend.