Reviews

LittleBigPlanet Hands-on Impressions Part II

Click here for Part 1 of IndianVideoGamer’ hands-on impressions

LittleBigPlanet is not an easy game to describe, and if you’ve been following its progress since it was first revealed almost 18 months ago, you’ll probably know why. Yes, in a nutshell, it’s a 2.5d side-scrolling platformer, but that’s like calling GTA a car stealing game. There is so much to do in LBP simply because this game can be anything you want it to be. It can be a simple ‘avoid the bottomless pit’ Mario-type platformer, or a downhill skating game, or a car racing game, or a shooter where you lob explosives at each other, or an uphill race to rescue your sack-princess. The possibilities are only limited by the imagination of the player.

This is probably why, when it comes to LBP, there are two very distinct opinions amongst gamers. There’s one group that thinks LBP is Sony’s killer app for the PS3, the next big thing to hit gaming and a poster child for the concept of user generated content. Then there’s the other group who say they ‘just don’t get all the hype’, ask why it is priced at full $60 and if it’s a PSN game. There is also a tiny third group who wouldn’t touch LBP because they prefer playing M-rated games, but let’s not go there. No matter what your take on LBP is, there’s one thing no one can deny – LittleBigPlanet is an absolutely adorable game. There’s a certain charm to it that you simply don’t expect to find in a videogame. At the Milestone office, we spent about six hours playing LBP almost non-stop, and we could’ve played it all the way through the night if there was no time constraint. It’s that good.

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When you boot up the game for first time, you get a cool video introduction followed by a five minute tutorial, a credit roll and Stephen Fry all rolled into one kickass intro. The credit screen probably represents the kind workflow followed at Media Molecule. There’s no management hierarchy, no mention of who does what; just names and photographs popping up in the background as your unaltered, naked Sackboy runs along the floor. The tutorial tells you about basic stuff like running, jumping, changing expressions etc. Mr. Fry, however, doesn’t tell you how you can slap other Sackboys; that’s up to the player to find out and it didn’t take us long to figure that out.

Once that intro is over, the player is transported into the pod, which is like the main menu. The player can customise his Sackboy here before jumping into the level. In fact, you can customise him at any time while playing the level. Just hit Square and the customisation menu, called the pop-it, pops up over his head. There are tons of options here, from painting him with basic one tone colour to selecting from seven different types of moustaches. And if you’re not so much into the looks of your character or don’t want to go through the selection process, there’s also a randomise button. Every time you hit it, the game auto-selects a bunch of stuff from Sackboy’s wardrobe for you. And rest assured, with the amount of stuff available for customisation, you will not see the same Sackboy twice. Thankfully, you can save your Sackboy if you like what you (or the AI) have done with it.

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The pod has a giant PS3 controller in the centre and three planets to select. The Earth is where your local levels are placed, both on disk and downloaded levels. The Moon is for your own levels and levels created by other players when you hop online. The third planet, on the left, shows you statistics, profile information, etc. Sadly, we couldn’t try the online part because of technical difficulties. The levels on Earth are divided into continents starting with Africa. Each level has a certain vibe attached to it based on the continent it is in. The African levels are bright and sunny with sandy environments and tribal music, while South American levels have flamboyant décor and samba music to go with it. It is distinct enough to tell you which continent you’re in. Each level takes you further into the overall story. Yes, there is a story, told through Zelda-like text overlays. It’s not important to read and understand all of it to play the game and only one of us bothered to read through all of it (guess who?). But it is good to know that it’s not just point A to B platforming; your Sackboy is on a mission of his own.

The levels start out pretty easy, few jumps and swings and you’re through. But by the time you reach South America, about 5% into the game, they start getting longer and tougher. Some of these levels had more than 10 checkpoints, and we were using almost every checkpoint to respawn. Each checkpoint has a limited number of spawns and everyone shares it. So higher the number of players, the faster each checkpoint goes out of commission. And the fact that these levels are completely based on the laws of physics makes them kinda unpredictable. There was one section where we had to hop into a mine trolley, roll down a slope and jump across a big gap. All three of us jumped into one trolley and soon realised our mistake. It toppled halfway across the slope, sending our Sackboys down to a fiery death.

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The ‘create’ part isn’t so much a ‘jump in, jump out’ experience like the ‘play’ part. You’ll need to spend a considerable amount of time with Mr. Fry to learn about every tool and object. At the end of each tutorial, a new object is unlocked that can be used in level creation, but the game simply won’t let you use it until you finish the tutorial associated with it. It’s obvious that Media Molecule wants to make sure that the player thoroughly understands every nook and cranny about level creation so their servers aren’t flooded with user generated garbage.

Even though the game is an absolute blast to play and seems like another ‘perfect 10’ contender on PS3, there are few things about it that I personally didn’t like. First off, as always, the camera. You can’t control it at all. It randomly zooms in and out. It would’ve been nice to manually zoom in on individual Sackboys while customising or showing off expressions. Secondly, your Sackboy can’t jump off walls, which feels a little odd, because all modern platformers let you do that, multiple times. He can jump and grab on to walls, but can’t jump off them. The jumping animation also feels a bit ‘floaty’ and takes some time to get used to. There were also some clipping issues here and there which should be ironed out by the time the final game comes out. By the way, the graphics look absolutely fantastic; the background is blurred and out of focus, giving it a nice 3D effect. Sackboy’s own animations are brilliantly done; his expressions, the way he shakes his hand after slapping someone, all of it perfectly fits his cutesy sack figure.

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So there you have it, LittleBigPlanet, the supposed next big thing to hit the PS3 this year, ready to take over the title of “Playstation Mascot” from Insomniac’s beloved Lombax, and according to some, a showcase title for PSN, standard HDD and free user generated content. And after spending time with LBP, its clear that this one really deserves all the hype. Although playing the game has shifted my perspective about it a bit, it’s not exactly the kind of game casual players will be able to grasp instantly like I thought it would be, but it’s so much deeper for hardcore players than I ever thought possible. And besides, if you’re a fan of pure platforming games, there isn’t much to choose from these days beyond $10 arcade stuff.

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