There’s something instantly endearing about LittleBigPlanet; you don’t have to play the game to notice it. It comes across in every screenshot and video. From the quirky music and the eccentric level design to the humourous antics of Sackboy, Media Molecule seem to have got it all spot-on. And Sony have recognised the limitless potential of the game; they’ve even come out and said that it’s their biggest title of the year. Who can forget the epic sales presentation from this year’s E3? It indeed has the makings of one of the year’s most outstanding titles. But while it looks great and sounds fun, does it play well? Me and a couple of others from IndianVideoGamer spent a good 7 hours with the game, and here’s what I think.
As you start the game, you are greeted by the awesome Stephen Fry, who is the narrator in LittleBigPlanet. You will be hearing from him a lot throughout the course of the game, especially when you first delve into the create mode. The first order of business is an introduction to the star of LittleBigPlanet – Sackboy. Now, in most platforming games, there’s not much you can do with characters besides jumping, interacting with the environment and engaging in combat. But here, there are so many ways in which you can control Sackboy. First, is the usual running and jumping. You can either slowly walk by pushing the left analog stick only slightly; tippy toes as Fry puts it. Then, of course, you can make Sackboy run like the wind. Just watching him scamper across the screen will bring a smile to your face; it’s all very cute. The length and height of a jump too can be regulated by how long you hold down the jump button.
You can also make Sackboy change his facial expressions. There are four basic expressions that are mapped to the D-Pad – angry, sad, worried, and happy. Also, there are three variations to each expression. For example, if you want your Sackboy to look happy, you can either choose a tight-lipped smile, a wide open beam or a big smile with his tongue hanging out. Holding L2 and R2 simultaneously turns your analog sticks into Sackboy’s arms and you can move his arms by pushing the analog sticks accordingly. The SIXAXIS controls are either used to make Sackboy look around by tilting his head, or, if you click the right analog stick, the SIXAXIS controls will help you move his torso. Much of this is not even required to play the game, but they are great additions nonetheless and the attention to detail is praise-worthy. Oh, and did I mention that slapping Sackboys around is insanely fun?
All the levels we played were done so in co-op mode. Initially, it was just Amol (CarbonCore) and myself; Kailash (Krackchap) joined us later. It is important to note that while every level can be played in co-op mode, in neither of them is co-op a necessity, although some levels have certain co-op challenges that require more than one player. Again, these only unlock stickers and other collectibles and your progression through a level will never be dependent on the outcome of a co-op section.
After we dressed our Sackboys up (I chose a punk rock hairdo with a straw hat and pink tuxedo, Amol went with a Zebra head, and Kailash played the bride) and slapped each other around to our heart’s content, it was on to the platforming. You use an in-game controller to select levels and switch between the play, create, and share modes, each represented by a different planet. The ‘play’ planet is Earth and you start out in one of the game’s 50-odd pre-existing levels in Africa. The gameplay is heavily dependent on physics. The behaviour of objects, their weight and their positioning dictates how you would need to control Sackboy to interact with them. For instance, a fluffy sponge block can easily be knocked around and even flipped over, whereas a harder rock would need Sackboy to use every ounce of strength to move it. Similarly slopes greatly affect Sackboy’s momentum and making a jump off a downward slop would require a smaller jump, whereas a jump off an upward slope would need you to hold the jump button for longer. But LBP is more than simply jumping and pushing blocks around. In the little we played, we came across some ingenious contraptions, including skateboards, mini-trains and jet packs. We also had to use explosives in some levels to clear our path, and getting too close to an explosive that is about to go off will leave Sackboy hilariously charred and crispy, if not dead. By the way, explosives + jetpack = best combination ever.
The levels themselves vary in nature. First off, there are the hardcore platforming levels. Some of these are extremely difficult and Amol and I were quite embarrassed about the fact that we were unable to pass a certain level even after five attempts. Although there are respawn points throughout the level at regular intervals, you only get a fixed number of respawns, and in co-op, these respawns are shared by all players. We finally managed to get past that level after a few attempts, but this game is certainly not easy. But even though we found some levels extremely difficult, they were equally enjoyable; even watching Sackboy die will make you laugh.
There are also smaller levels, such as point to point races, where you hop on to a skateboard, race downhill and then make a run for it on foot and to the finish line. And then of course, there are some levels that aren’t even levels; they’re just thrown in for the fun of it. For instance, we played this one level where you’re on a rodeo bull and the longer you stay on, the more aggressive it gets, and the more points you earn. This simple level also brilliantly shows off the game’s physics. So there we were, three Sackboys atop a bull. Kailash’s Sackboy was the first to be eliminated after he tripped over his own bridal gown. Amol’s Sackboy, with its zebra head on top of its already large sack head, had significantly raised his centre of gravity and as a result, he didn’t last long either. I was the last Sackboy standing, and of course, as the winner, I was bound to get slapped around a bit at the finish line. But my Sackboy took it with a smile.
There’s been a lot of talk about user-created levels in LBP. Every other day a new level crops up on YouTube and it’s easy to forget that creating levels is only an optional part of the game. The creation tools and community aspects of LittleBigPlanet are secondary. First and foremost, this is a side-scrolling platforming game, and an extremely good one at that. There are 50 levels already in the game for you to play through. For those who would like the try their hand at the creation tool, it is extremely heartening to know that each of the 50 in-built levels is made using the same tools that are available to the player. So there’s no limit to what you can achieve. And judging by what we’ve seen, I can’t wait to see what kind of levels people come up with once the game hits shelves.
We did play around a bit with the create mode ourselves, but it’s clearly not something that you can get a hang of in a limited timeframe. While the tools are easy to use, there are so many of them that the game makes it mandatory for you to watch tutorial videos before you can use them. We did have some fun with it though, especially Kailash, who seemed to overdose on the huge selection of stickers and props, all of which, by the way, you will need to collect in the game before you can use them in create mode.
The LittleBig game that could
The only thing that could dissuade a PS3 owner from wanting to play LittleBigPlanet is a dislike for the platforming genre. There is no other possible reason for a PS3 owner not to buy this game once it hits stores later this month. And I didn’t even get into the visual aspect of the game and its wonderful dynamic lighting (‘The Darkness’ level will make your jaw drop). The guys at Media Molecule have done a remarkable job with this game and, in Sackboy, they’ve given us one of the most loveable new video game characters in a long, long time. Despite having played the game for only a few hours and that too, without trying out the create and online modes, I can safely say that LittleBigPlanet is shaping up to be better and more fun than anything else I’ve played this year.