LittleBigPlanet has been one of the most highly anticipated titles for the PlayStation 3 since its first showing at GDC in 2007. After several delays, including a bizarre one involving censoring the vocals from a song in the game, LBP is finally here, and its charms are slowly spreading across the land. All of the delays were worth it, as the end result is a stunning game that is undeniably charming in every single way. It's simple to pick up and play, yet diving into it can result in a time-consuming and deep gaming experience that's among the most fun and unique titles on the PlayStation 3.
After a brief installation, you'll be greeted by an introductory level that serves as the game's credits and an introduction to the basic gameplay. Without even reaching the main menu, you're introduced to Stephen Fry's brilliant narration, the gameplay mechanics, and the artistic style, all while you're running by and blowing up pictures of the development team.
As you play, you'll notice that LBP is a pretty good-looking game. While it doesn't have the sheer graphical might of Metal Gear Solid 4 or MotorStorm: Pacific Rift, developers Media Molecule have created a game that looks good, but becomes memorable due to its incredible artistic style. LBP takes place in a world that's 3-D, but it's not truly playable in 3-D. All of the action takes place on a 2-D plane that has three layers to it: front, back and middle. Everything in the game looks like it's made out of cardboard, metal, sponges or wood. While that sounds pretty normal, it all looks as though it was crudely pasted together, appearing as though this world were created by a five-year-old with a lot of free time in an arts and crafts shop. It works incredibly well. There's an amazing charm to jumping into a car that looks like a cardboard toy that can fall apart at any time.
While the game world manages to have incredible charm, the true stars of the show are the playable characters, the sackboys. These are the small, cartoony humanoid creatures that you'll find yourself controlling for the entirety of LBP; you have complete control over them, and it's very simple to do. Adorable facial expressions, massive customization to the character, charming animation, and a general over-the-top factor make it hard to not smile at them at every turn. Even when your sackboy dies, which he will with great frequency, it will probably bring a smile to your face.
Completing the package of charm is LBP's audio design. From fantastic music that fits in wonderfully with each stage to fantastic sound effects, LBP is just as awesome to listen to as it is to look at. Topping it off is an absolutely perfect narration of the game's introduction and tutorials by Stephen Fry. His voice is the perfect fit for this game, and I can't possibly think of a better voice to narrate it.
Of course, once you get past the charm of LBP, lo and behold, there's actually a game to be played! LBP offers you three main ways to play: Create, Play and Share. When you first start playing, the only thing you'll have access to is Play, which is the story mode, where you'll traverse eight different locales over the course of 25 levels, along with several smaller challenges. The story is paper-thin and of zero interest, so all you need to know is that you need to get from point A to B without dying very often.
LBP has its fair share of platforming segments, and the vast majority of the platforming relies on physics. You'll frequently find yourself grabbing onto something and using momentum to hurl yourself or something else to the next solid ground. This is where the gameplay shines. Many of the games physics puzzles are a blast to play through. While most of them are extremely simple, watching your sackboy solve the problem is fun, and despite however many times you repeat the style of puzzle, it manages to never get old. Physics puzzles can include knocking things over, or driving a car through a multileveled city or an ice skating section that feels oddly similar to some of the early Sonic titles. Most of the levels are well-designed and fun to play, but most of them don't last longer than 10 minutes. As a result, you'll be done with the main levels within a few hours. However, you'll want to complete all of them and go back and hunt for the ridiculous amount of unlockables.
There are a ton of unlockable items in LBP, with each level having anywhere between two and five dozen hidden unlockable items. It's hard to hide all of those, so many of them are along the main path, but many more require you to make a few clever jumps to get to them, so you'll often skip over them or deem them unreachable until you go back and play the level again. Several of these unlockables require you to come back with multiple players. In many stages, there are points where you'll get a sign that the optional puzzle ahead requires more than one person to complete. Thankfully, if you don't have any friends, you can party up online and jump around in any level with three other people, resulting in the chaos of four sackboys trying to get through the levels at once.
While you unlock it right after finishing the tutorials, you probably shouldn't touch the game's second mode, Create, until you've finished the first. It's basically a level editor that lets you create playable levels for the game, so if you saw anything you liked during the story mode, you can make it with the powerful creation tools. Once you get the hang of things, it becomes very easy to create reasonably complex levels in a reasonable amount of time, but it can be a little overwhelming at first. LBP forces you to do a tutorial stage for many of the components of the game creation tools.
The final mode of play is Share, where you can share any level that you've created with any of the other LBP players connected to the PlayStation Network. You can also play any levels that somebody else has made. It's only been a few weeks since the game came out, but there is already a tremendous amount of playable content that's been made available by the community. Levels range from ones built to get some of the Trophies to awful levels that can't ever be beat, and there are some truly amazing ones that are even better than the levels designed for the Story mode. Helping you to sort out the great levels from the bad is a rating system that makes you rate the level you just played on a scale of one to five and label it with a tag to help with searches after you play it. If you really loved it and want quick access, you can "heart" the level, which will greatly increase its popularity in searches. As a result of the easy-to-navigate system that lets you just browse through "cool levels," search for levels, and even check the levels that people on your friends list love. I've already found some amazing levels inspired by things such as Mirror's Edge, Ninja Warrior and Takeshi's Castle. There's even a level that works as a calculator. The sheer amount of content being created by the community means that there's almost always something new to play, and if you can't find what you're looking for in a level, it's reasonably easy to just create it yourself.
There aren't that many flaws to find with LBP. Other than occasional physics glitches and some clipping issues here and there, which are generally forgivable due to the highly customizable nature of the game, the controls end up being the one sore spot in the title. For a game that relies on platforming so much, the controls aren't really as sharp as they need to be. When you get close to edges, things often go terribly wrong. Your character won't stop in time, you'll think he's on a ledge but he falls off, random little annoying things like that. The other annoying bit is how the game deals with the three layers of playing. Switching between the fields is usually a reasonably easy task. However, in a number of platforming cases, the game will push you back to one of the deeper field for seemingly no reason, which can often make physics puzzles and some of the platforming sections significantly harder than they appear to be.
LittleBigPlanet is a fantastic game. It's a great platformer with incredible artistic direction and sound, and with some great gameplay to back it up. While the main game is short and can sometimes be a little hard to control, it remains a ton of fun to play, and the fantastic level creator means that as long as LBP has a community, there will always be new levels to play, giving this game a seemingly endless replay value. It's not flawless, as the controls can and will frustrate you as you play, but everything else is just so much fun and so well done that you should not hesitate to play this game, even if you have any remote interest in it. This is certainly one of the PlayStation 3's finest games and an excellent addition to anyone's video game collection.
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