Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: November 5th 2008
The much hyped and potential system-selling PS3 game is upon us. First unveiled at GDC (Game Developer’s Conference) 2007, the game stood out from the crowd and has since been one of the most popular and hyped games for the PS3. Around 18 months later and the game hit stores around the world (after several delays I might add). Delays aside however, the hype has been completely justified, and LittleBigPlanet is one of the most original, fresh and enjoyable gaming experiences around.
Beautiful visuals fill the world with charm
Simple controls make gameplay fun and accessible
Creation system is deep and allows for imagination to run wild
Replayability potential is high with the focus on community content
Automatic switching between layers while playing can become a pain
Making a great level can take days so a lot of players won’t bother with it
Single player mode is quite short
“Play. Create. Share.” That’s the way LittleBigPlanet works, and it’s one of the taglines used for the game. I’ll start with Play, as that’s mainly what you’ll be doing. You take control of an adorable little being called Sackboy (or Sackgirl), and his main role in life is to navigate his way through levels using what starts off as simple platforming, but eventually gets quite complicated. LittleBigPlanet is essentially a platform game, but it’s a game based entirely on a brilliant physics engine.
After loading up your game for the first time, you’ll be greeted by an introduction. You’ll be shown the very basics of movement, showing emotions with your Sackboy and how to dress him up, all wonderfully voiced by Stephen Fry. You run through this intro left to right, and as you do the Media Molecule team will pop up behind you in a manner of different ways. It’s essentially part mini-tutorial, part playable credits. Soon after this you’ll be dropped into your Pod, which is the hub where you’ll spend some of your time. It’s here where you can access the three planets that’ll you be spending the rest of your time in. First off is the InfoMoon, which contains the basic things such as your favourite levels as well as ones you’ve made, your friends list, and the news page. The next planet I’ll go to is My Moon, which is where you go to create your own levels. Finally, the third planet is LittleBigPlanet, where you can choose to play Story Levels, Cool Levels (online stuff), and Quick Play, which joins you up with some people online, picks a random level and lets you do whatever you want.
The Story Mode is where the game makes you go first, as you have to finish a few levels before the game lets you access the InfoMoon and My Moon, which to be fair was something I found slightly annoying. The Story consists of 54 levels in total (not including the Introduction which you can repeat at any time), and although there were originally supposed to be 60+, 54 still doesn’t seem too bad, right? Well, technically there’s even less than that. While there may be 54 levels, 29 of them are actually mini-games/challenges designed for quick bursts of play with friends. While that’s fair enough, having over half of the final amount of “Story” levels as mini-games was more than a bit disappointing in the end. That said, the full length story levels that are present are so wonderfully crafted and great to play that in the end, that would have been worth the £40 on their own. The imagination shines out from the screen when you play through these levels, and the most impressive thing is that all of the levels in the game were made in the creator which is included in the game. It’s only when you go into the creator yourself and try to make something good where it really hits you how much time and effort was put into making those levels. The levels are designed on three different layers, which allows for some interesting landscapes. You may be running on the back layer and then the back and middle layers are blocked off, and you have to move forward on the front layer. If you just carry on running right into the wall for a split second, the game will work that out and automatically put you into the front layer. Useful yes? In most cases sure, but there’s a few situations where you try to jump a gap and expect the game to put you onto the layer with the bridge in it, and it doesn’t do it, sending your Sackboy into a fiery death. There’s also other cases where you may be on the front or middle row, and someone has made a ledge for scenery on the back row. You want to continue running right, but when you try and jump across, the game puts you onto the ledge on the back row where you don’t want to be, so you have to manually get back to the front row and try again. It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s usually quite annoying when it does. Still, that doesn’t tamper with the fact that the levels are brilliantly imaginative and fun to play.
To get through these fantastic levels though, you’ll need to know how, and luckily the controls are simple. The left analogue stick is used to run left and right, and it’s also used in conjuction with X in some situations to move between different layers. X is used for jumping, and R1 is used to grab onto things. That’s it really in terms of playing through levels. The only other button you’ll be using is the square button, which brings up the Popit menu. This little thing is where all of your stickers, accessories, favourite items and costumes are kept. You can also type out text messages and they’ll pop up at the top of the screen (useful if you don’t have a PS3 headset in multiplayer). There’s also a retry button, which means that if you get stuck, hold in this button with X and your little Sack friend will get all angry and explode, and you’ll be sent back to the last checkpoint. Another thing you can do is use the directional buttons (D-pad), to controls Sackboy’s emotions. There are four different emotions, Happy (up), Angry (right), Sad (down) and Scared (left), and each one has three varying degrees of intensity. Tap up once and your Sackboy’s smile will get a bit bigger. Tap it again and he’ll have a big grin on his face with his mouth open. Tap it a third time and he’ll have his mouth wide open with his tongue sticking out. Tap up a fourth and final time and he’ll be set back to the default expression. One final thing to do with controls is being able to slap other Sackboys. The L2 and R2 buttons control Sackboys arms if you hold them in, and at this point you can use the left and right analogue sticks to wave Sackboy’s arms about. If there’s another Sack person standing to your left, grab hold of your left arm with L2, pull the left analogue stick to the right, then flick it over to the left. It’s sounds overly complicated to do, but it’s quite simple, and done out of nowhere can send laughs through a group of friends.
Speaking of friends, this is what LittleBigPlanet was built around. Sure you can play through the story levels on your own and it’ll still be a great experience, but playing through them with three other people over the PlayStation Network, or even better in the same room, is simply much more fun. You can also play through the levels online with random people, and while the company is still appreciated, it doesn’t beat the fun of playing with a group of friends in the same room.
Moving on, the next thing on the list is Create. My Moon is where you’ll find the creation tools, and when you decide to make a level, you can choose a template if you want. Most people won’t use a template, and I’d recommend not to actually because in a way it hinders you. The main reason people pick a template is because they may want a certain background. When you play through the story levels, once you get to a new area, you unlock the background for that area in the creator. So if you want to use that background and you haven’t got there in the story yet, you’ll have to pick the template you want and delete everything in the level first, which is quite a pain to do. When you first go into the creator, if you try to place practically anything, you’ll have to go into a tutorial on how to use it. The good thing about this is that most people will actually want to do the tutorials as they’re incredibly helpful. The downside is that they compulsory, so if you want to use that particular object or tool, then the game won’t let you until you’ve done the tutorial for it. It seems odd, but it works out better in the long run because then you’ll know how to actually use everything when you get to properly start to make a level.
It’s hard to explain the creation tools because they’re just so deep. With the right mindset, enough time, and a big imagination, the things that you can make in the creator are limitless. As shown in the story levels, variety of things you can do with one simple tool, if you think outside the box a bit, are astounding. There have already been some fantastic levels made by people in the LittleBigPlanet community, and I’m sure the day will come when some levels will be of such a quality that they rival the story levels. While this may make you think “Wow, once I’ve done the story levels there’s hundreds more great levels to play online made by other people!”, that’s not strictly true. Sure there’s hundreds of levels, but only a handful are brilliant, which in a way is to be expected, but also could eventually be the downside to the LittleBigPlanet community.
Share is the online experience, and as I say, one of the most promising things about the game may eventually be its downfall. Having to sift through all of the short, boring and dull levels made by bored players for the sake of it can get tiresome, and the small amount of great levels worth playing doesn’t really make up for it. The community can only hope that the certain users that have made brilliant levels so far continue to make great levels, or better yet, new users follow suit and spend the time making levels too. This is partially resolved in a way though. Whenever you finish playing a level, you have to give the level a rating out of 5 stars, and as an option you can then ‘tag’ a level with a word that you think fits the level. The highest rated levels get pushed towards the front pages of levels, and the lower rated stuff get’s shifted back into the abyss of bad levels. The 3-4 most popular tags selected for the level will then show up in the level description, which gives people a basic idea of what to expect. You can also “heart” levels and users, who then get put into your hearted list, which is essentially your favourites.
It’d be wrong to expect everyone to come out with some high standard levels, but a few more would certainly liven up the selection of levels a bit. I myself have spend many an hour in the creator only to come out with quite poor stuff, so it just depends really. The variety of levels that people have made though is great. Obviously there are the standard platforming levels, but one of my favourite types of levels are the musical levels. The basic idea is that you go into the level and get onto a slow-moving vehicle with a sensor on it. As this sensor goes past some switches, those switches activate some music sounds, and some people have managed to recreate some amazing instrumentals using this design. It takes a long time, but the end result is worth it.
The actual graphics of the game itself are astounding too. Everything in the world of LittleBigPlanet is made out of real-world materials that have been beautifully rendered and put into the game for everyone to see and use. It gives the game a really organic feel, and that’s definitely a good thing because it doesn’t appeal to any key demographic. The physics engine in the game really gives the world a great feel, as everything has its own weight, and it’s all incredibly convincing. The soundtrack is also of very high quality, with some songs that will just play from start to finish, but also some original songs composed by the team who made the game themselves. The best thing about those songs is that, in the creator, the songs themselves are split into about six parts. Rather than just having a song that plays from start to finish, the team have made it so that you can pick and choose what parts of the song will actually be playing, so you can customise how the songs plays throughout your level while still maintaining the overall theme.
Overall, LittleBigPlanet is a triumph. It manages to succeed in what it tried to achieve in trying to create an accessible game for all ages. On top of that, it then allows people with a bit more time on their hands to create more content for everyone to enjoy. Top that off with a variety of incredibly enjoyable story levels, and multiplayer orientated challenge levels and you’ve got a winner. There’s also weekly downloadable content, which although is only new costumes for your Sackboy at the moment, there’s no reason why they couldn’t add new story levels or items for the creator into the mix. The potential for replayability is definitely there. While the story levels won’t last overly long if you just run through them, there are lots of prizes to collect throughout the levels, some of which you can only collect if you are playing with two, three or four players. There’s also trophy support for this game, and one particular one wants you to finish every story level without dieing, which is a lot harder than it sounds.
LittleBigPlanet is the first of its kind, and I hope that it keeps on going and going. Whether that be in the form of a sequel, an on-disc expansion, or extensive downloadable content, this is one game that really shouldn’t be missed, and most definitely shouldn’t be left behind.