Review: Little Big Planet
Smart platforming on a not-too-smart platform.
When you first turn Little Big Planet on I defy anyone not to smile as you are greeted by the warm tones of Stephen Fry and the music from Tony Hart’s gallery. This game wants to be friends and the introduction and credits settle you in to what is an extraordinary game.
PC gamers have had the benefit of level editors for years with high profile games like Crysis and the Unreal series shipping with highly detailed editors. However these editors are dauntingly complex and seem to be aimed at people who already have a detailed knowledge of coding in the first place. Little Big Planet revolutionises the whole concept of a level editor by making it fun to use. The whole game is built around the editor with all the functions available through the use of a streamlined and accessible menu system called the Popit.
The actual process of making your own level is as easy and intuitive as you could wish for, with the whole world working consistently to its own logic and all the materials reacting as you would expect. Sponge can be grabbed and is pretty light weight, metal is heavy and can’t be grabbed and glass is transparent and very slippy. You can craft your own shapes from any of these materials and attach them to each other either by simply placing them on top of each other or by joining them together. You can use a wide selection of joints such as pistons or bolts or strings and elastics. On top of these you can use a wide selection of stickers, and if you’ve a PS3 camera than you can even import your own images.
The Popit does a wonderful job of sorting all these tools out and you are never more than a couple of button presses away from any item you need. You can literally make anything you want to and once you’ve made a level of your own you can publish this online for the whole community to play and rate. You can also add gifts to your levels so that if you want to you can offer up your unique creations for anyone who reaches a certain score or criteria.
I’ve played music based levels where the only object is to walk along while listening to songs, epic platform levels based round horror movies or popular games and even some simple shoot-em-up clones. Each level allows you to rate it and give it a one word description such as complex or musical, and you can easily find other levels of similar styles through a very easy to use search function.
But this game isn’t just a level editor as there is a fully fledged story mode, which can be played either on your own or online with up to three other players, spanning over 20 levels and numerous minigames. As you play through these levels you’ll unlock new items and stickers which you can then take away and use in your own creations. The developers have let it be known that everything you see in the story mode levels has been made using only the in game popit, and by allowing you to see what can be done it spurs you on to craft your own creations.
This is a tricky one to rule over. I actually believe that a standard score (not that you should even be looking at the score) cannot be used for this game. It’s not a football or wrestling game, where you’ll have a pretty good idea if you’ll be interested in the genre or not beforehand. Whatever you think about LBP you honestly don’t know anything until you play it.
The game is unique so I honestly don’t think I can be arrogant enough to say what’s missing from it. I would hint that a better method for searching for level types would be grand and a system where you can recommend specific levels to your PS3 pals (all two of them). Yeah the intro levels are a bit dull, and the tutorials are many â€“ but they explain everything really well, and reward you with new items for watching/completing them.
Personally I wasn’t that excited about this game and was even quite cynical but at the same time, whenever I have sat down with this game it has been in sizable sessions, discovering genius levels online, arsing about with the level editor (not actually making a level you see, rather justâ€¦ playing with it all) and basking in the cutesiness of it all.
Little Big Planet is unsurprisingly a game of infinite potential and even in the time I’ve been writing this I’ve just had a few inspirations for levels. If you own a PS3 you will have bought this already (it’s not like there’s anything else going) but for all youse saying you would buy a PS3 just for this game… I think you already know you’d love it.
Secondary Score: 8/10
In a design stroke of genius Media Molecule have opted to use a mix between arts and craft items and everyday objects. You can now craft mountains out of sponge or cars out of cardboard and colour them all in with patchwork patterns of felt or wool. This art choice really was a stroke of genius and reminds you of hazy Sunday afternoons where you’d be making papier mache mountains and out of balloons in your living room. If this game had gone for a gritty realism then it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as invitingly fun to play. This care over the art style is also carried over to your little sackperson, as at the touch of a button you are able to make it smile or frown or wave it’s arms around. You can also dress up your sackperson with a variety of wigs and costumes and this is being supported with additional downloadable content on the PSN store. This all adds up to give a great tactile quality to your sackperson and helps to create a great connection with you.
But it’s not all good news for this game as there are some issues, which although small when taken on their own, all add up to turn into that niggling little doubt at the back of your brain. The game is set on three planes and you are able to place your creations on any of the three planes, building up to create multi tier platforms. While most of the time this isn’t a game breaking issue you do notice it with sustained play and you’ll be forever changing the position of your little sack person and adjusting where it stands. The actual platforming element of the game are also pretty weak and not a patch on a dedicated platformers like Super Mario. With platform games you need to have total control over your jumps and landings and in this game your sackperson seems to be just the wrong side of controlled. Your landings have a tendency to run on a little and you’ll never feel totally confident when going for a tricky jump.
There are also issues with the lives and checkpoint system on this game. You don’t have any set amount of lives and instead you gain continues when you pass a checkpoint, which then reset when you pass the next checkpoint. So this leaves you with a woolly system where you can never be sure when the next checkpoint will be and as a result how many lives you will have. This coupled to the floaty platforming leaves you questioning each jump and worrying whether or not you will have to restart the level.
However regardless of its flaws Little Big Planet is a unique and refreshing game which defies categorisation. It encompasses traditional genres such as shoot-em-ups and platformers, and uniquely gives the player the power to create and craft whatever they want. At the end of the day the only limitations to Little Big Planet are the boundaries of your own imagination.