Sunday, November 2, 2008
Ever since the first time LittleBigPlanet was shown off to the gaming world a year and a half ago, we all knew it would be something special. It was hard to describe just what it was, but there was an intangible charm and sense of innovation that was immediately apparent. The developers had a genuine enthusiasm for their product, and the demo level looked like an absolute blast. Talk to someone about the game, and you'll find it's hard to describe. It doesn't do it justice to say "well, it's kind of a platformer I guess, but you can make your own levels." LittleBigPlanet offers so much more than that, and all it will take is one play to turn doubters into fans.
While FPS addicts and Xbox/Halo fanboys will probably be quick to dismiss this as a "kiddie" game, I'd like to see them say that after playing the game. It's the most immediately likable game I've ever seen, and I couldn't get the smile off my face the entire time I was playing it. The terrific Sackboy mascot, the masterfully designed environments, the creativity of the levels, and massive amount of customization make this the killer app for the Playstation 3 (even moreso than MGS4, which I never thought I'd say). I don't care if you're 8 or 80, a lifetime gamer or a soccer mom who has only played Wii Fit...LittleBigPlanet is an incredible experience.
At its core, LBP is deceivingly simple. You travel from one point in a scrolling level to another, collecting items along the way. This concept has been around since Super Mario Bros., but LBP turns a simple sidescrolling concept into an exercise in creativity. As you progress through the levels, you'll collect various stickers, objects, decorations, and costumes. At any point in the level, you can pull up your "Pop-It" menu with the square button. You can give your Sackboy an Evel Knievel helmet, place "ROFL" stickers on the environment, put underpants on enemies, and tons more. You can even take pictures using the Playstation Eye camera and stick them on whatever you'd like.
As far as the gameplay itself, you don't need to press much more than the X and R1 buttons. Traversing the levels involves a lot of jumping and grabbing, so non-gamers need not worry about being overwhelmed by a barrage of commands. You can use the L2 and R2 triggers in conjunction with the analog sticks to move Sackboy's arms around, and his hands will gesture differently based on his mood. The d-pad will switch his mood to varying levels of happiness, sadness, worry, and anger, and this determines whether you'll be giving a thumbs up, trembling, or making fists. It certainly sounds like a small cosmetic feature, but the animation and humor is fantastic. You can even smack other Sackboys around with a quick flick of your arm.
While the level-by-level gameplay is going to be immediately accessible to gamers of all experience levels, the stage creator is where you can really shine if you know what you're doing. LittleBigPlanet offers up the most robust level editor ever seen in console gaming, allowing you to create and tweak levels to an insane degree. The game has barely been out a week, and there's already user-created stages that are superior to those seen in professionally-made video games. This is where the real value of LBP lies. You can beat the built-in levels fairly quickly, but the wealth of quality user-created stages will make for infinite replay value. Anyone with the game can create their own little masterpiece and upload it to the LBP servers for the entire PS3 community to enjoy. It's an incredible system, and truly makes good on the promise of a active level-building community on console gaming. I have no doubt that this game will inspire many gamers to pursue careers in level design.
If there's one minor complaint I have about the game, it involves the confusion created by the different planes of movement. You can stand in the background, foreground, or middle, and this can lead to some frustrating moments. You're bound to miss a few jumps because of this issue. This problem is even more apparent in the level editor. It's incredibly frustrating to put an item together and try to set it on another object, only to see it crash to the floor because you had it in the wrong plane accidentally. The LBP creators have acknowledged this difficulty, so I'm hoping a patch is put out in the near future to remedy this issue.
The visual and audio design of LittleBigPlanet is no less than perfect. Sackboy could not fit the game better, and exhibits more personality and charm without saying a word than most videogame characters do over the course of a 20-hour, dialogue-ridden story. Objects in the environment behave very realistically and seem to have genuine weight and momentum to them. There are numerous areas to the main story mode, and every level features something unique that you didn't expect to see. You'll travel down tunnels full of meercats, help put together a skeleton wedding, visit a bunny strip club, and drive through a metropolis in a 50s style convertible. The gameplay might boil down to grabbing things and jumping, but it never gets stale with so much happening all around you. This is all complimented by one of the best soundtracks ever put on a game disc. Some of these tracks will stay in your head for days after playing the level, and I was looking online to buy the soundtrack within an hour of first turning the game on.
LittleBigPlanet is an absolute triumph. This is innovation at its finest, and I hope the options presented in this game open the eyes of many other developers in the future. By putting creative control in the hands of the player, it becomes a much more intimate and personal experience. When I started the game, I had nothing but cardboard walls in the main hub area. By the end, they were plastered in pictures of me and my friend's Sackboys in our various costumes, pictures I had taken with my Playstation camera, and stickers and objects we had collected throughout the levels. It had become my videogame, not a predetermined endpoint thought up by developers. Every single person that owns this game will have their own moments, own creative input, and own connection to the characters and stages. It's a milestone in gaming, and it will be offering new experiences for years to come.
First Play: 10
Replay Value: 10