When LittleBigPlanet was released less than one year ago, it was already hyped as one of the more inventive and enjoyable games the PlayStation 3 would ever see. The side-scrolling adventure was one of the company's premiere titles not because of the unique-looking graphics or the story or revolutionary gaming mechanic. Of all the things it had going for it, the one feature it had touted the most was the ability to create just about anything you wanted to. Traditional side-scrolling platformers, racing games, old-school game remakes, and just about anything your imagination had was possible with the game's built-in tools. Heck, even a traditional sales chart was built with the game's tools during one of the E3 conferences.
Considering that this was rarely done in non-PC games and those that let users build tracks and levels did so with only small amounts of available space and pre-set rules, the feature intrigued console players worldwide. Even though the game failed to light the sales charts on fire when it was released, it did manage to sell a good number of copies. More importantly, the plethora and variety of levels online show off the quality of those level-making tools and just how much people liked the idea of making levels for themselves. One year later, with millions of levels already created and a recent price drop for the system, Sony and Media Molecule have brought back the game. LittleBigPlanet: Game of the Year Edition is little more than the old game stuffed with some of the available DLC and some new levels, but it already shows that the title is still a modern masterpiece.
The single-player game is held together by a very simplistic story line. You play as Sackboy, a simple little sack doll charged with traveling from area to area, solving the puzzles and problems set forth by some of the background characters. A king, for example, may ask you to try and beat the challenges he created while a mother asks for help in finding her lazy child or a bully mechanic tries drag racing you to the end of a level. Toward the end, you try to save all of these misfit characters from someone who's out to kidnap them all, forcing them to build levels just for him.
At its core, the single-player game is a platforming adventure game. You'll traverse from the left side of the screen to the right and sometimes up and down in order to get from the beginning to end of each level. There will be a few instances when you can jump in and out of the background and foreground but, for the most part, your movement is done in 2-D. There will be a few enemies to defeat simply by hitting their power switches and a few bosses require some tactics during those battles, but your main enemy will be the environment.
There will be plenty of switch puzzles and jumping obstacles to overcome, and while there's only one difficulty level available for the game, each of the puzzles does a good job of testing your dexterity and wits. The game doesn't make things artificially difficult by making jumps too tricky to traverse, but they aren't holding your hand either, since they give you a limited number of tries per checkpoint to solve it before starting over again. It's classic game design done right, and it is only heightened when you discover that most levels have multiple customization items to grab and several of them are hidden away. Some of those hidden areas can only be opened with the right sticker switches while others must be opened via teamwork with other Sackboys in tow. While most players will be fine with not grabbing everything in sight, those who love collecting every little trinket in a level will have a blast playing levels over and over again just to see what sticker or costume piece they can unlock this time around.
As good as the single-player is, the multiplayer portion doesn't quite shine as well. Multiplayer offline play can be done with up to four players, and the mode is a mix of competitive and cooperative. The inclusion of more players in a level means that certain paths that were previously impossible to get through will be easily accessible now, giving you the chance to obtain that last costume or level piece. While players will have to help each other out in order to get through the levels, they are still competing with one another for higher scores. As a result, there will be constant fighting for every score bubble and object within the level in order to get the top spot by the end. There's nothing wrong with this on paper, but in practice, it doesn't play out as smoothly as one would hope.
The camera is the biggest culprit here, as it constantly zooms in and out to ensure that all four players are on-screen simultaneously. The constant camera shifts are disorienting, but the zoom doesn't go very far, giving players only so much room to get away from the rest of the team and restricting how far anyone can go before he has to wait for the trailing player to move forward. A team of players who know exactly what they're doing will be fine here, but those who have clueless players will experience more frustration than fun. Think of games like Gauntlet, where the screen doesn't pull back very far, and you'll have a perfect example of what can happen here. Couple that with the fact that each checkpoint makes you share a life pool with the rest of the players, and you'll understand why offline multiplayer isn't exactly the best option for this game.
Online multiplayer is a bit more forgiving, however. Not only can it be played with any combination of offline and online players, but the game also no longer feels restricted by having to show all of the players in the same area at the same time unless they all enter the same level simultaneously. At least the game doesn't suffer from lag, or else it would really be considered a game that's only fit for single player-mode.
Creation and customization play a big part in the game's appeal, and a big part of that appeal has to do with the freedom you're given as the player and creator. You'll start with nothing more than a backdrop of your choosing and a plethora of objects at your disposal. A large amount of memory gives you the freedom to create large or small levels, and the same also goes for objects, which can have their sizes manipulated in any manner possible. Each object isn't static since you can use the tools to mold anything into any shape you want. Materials dictate the object's physics and strength in terms of whether it will disintegrate upon contact and everything can either be made immobile or mobile. Objects, switches, music, decorative stickers and obstacles can all be placed anywhere you desire, and you can even design rewards for players who have completed the level or tasks in said level.
All of this sounds daunting and, truthfully, it is. Despite having a multitude of tutorials that teach you just about everything the game has to offer, the creation of a simple level is a task that can take the player at least one hour to do the first time around. It's certainly easier to make a level with these tools as opposed to some of the more professional ones out there, but that doesn't mean that it can be churned out quickly. While it may be hard to fathom if you're starting out with the tools, they are really powerful, as evidenced by the online creations, which range from spaceship shooters to roller coasters to simple platforming levels.
LittleBigPlanet: Game of the Year Edition has both downloadable content and exclusive levels burned on the disc to help give it the new subtitle. The downloadable content consists of a few of the premium creator packs and costume packs already released on the PlayStation Network. While the provided pieces are good and the levels made from them are as good as the previously released levels on the disc, the most significant piece of DLC here would be the Metal Gear Solid 4 pack. The costumes, level pieces and stickers will please MGS4 fans, but it's the addition of the Painterator paint gun that made game fans cheer the most. It finally gave Sackboy a real weapon in the form of a non-lethal paint gun, but it also gave people the opportunity to expand ideas for their levels just a little bit more.
The real treat provided by this version of the game is the 18 levels not found online or anywhere else. Media Molecule realized that the game's success came from their fans, and the best way they could show it is by having 18 of the best creators make levels specifically for this version of the game. The choices were excellent, as some of the levels not only show off what the game can do but also surpass some of the original designer's creations. As an added bonus, you get a short video introduction from the level's creators, giving them a chance to shine before torturing you with their wonderful creations. Like the official levels, these 18 exclusive ones also give out special items and stickers, so players have yet another reason to try them out.
Like the multiplayer, the controls provide one of the few weak spots to the game. The basics of the controls seem fine, with the left analog stick handling movement and the face buttons handling Pop-It control and jumping. Grabbing on to objects is handled by the R1 button, which may initially seem like strange command placement, but it becomes second nature after some play time. For the most part, the controls are fine, but it's the jumping that will frustrate most players. It's a bit difficult to explain without physically trying it yourself, but it seems that Sackboy is a tad too heavy when he jumps. Light taps on the X button barely make him get off the ground, while hard sustained presses will finally make him take flight. If you're a longtime platform game player, you'll feel as if you have to unlearn everything you know about video game jumping and train yourself to get everything right with just this game. You will get used to it, but it's a bit annoying that this unlearning/relearning process has to happen.
The graphics remain a hallmark of exactly what the system and some good programming can do. The game world looks like it's made of plush and fabric. Sackboy has some great texture work that really makes his patchwork look come alive. The objects in the world also help go with the theme. Blocks are often made with denim or cloth material that has visible stitches to them. Levels floors, if not made with cloth, are made with cardboard, complete with corrugation in the middle. The cardboard walls also sport folds, and stickers look slightly worn. Fire looks real, however, and while it isn't a blazing inferno seen in just about every game out there, the hints of orange licking across burning logs and rocks can't be mistaken for anything else. Even the smoke and fog effects come across with an eerie realism and tie up everything nicely, making you believe that on the other side of the screen is a real, tangible world made of household materials.
The sound is both whimsical and worldly. The game wants to make you feel like a child when you play it, thanks to the various pops and cartoon effects that every object produces. Even the congratulatory noises at the end of levels sound like children cheering rather than adults. The music, however, is a different story. It's not childlike in harmony, but it's not dead serious either. The designers have made the decision to take licensed instrumental songs from around the world and fit them in the game's levels. The choices fit perfectly with the given levels, as they inspire you to have fun exploring every nook and cranny. Despite being licensed, none of the music feels out of place or feels like it would be irrelevant in a few years. If it weren't for the credits, you'd be hard-pressed to tell that these weren't all original compositions for the game. As for voice, Sackboy and everyone else may be silent but the narrator, British actor and author Stephen Fry, lends his voice rather well to the game's opening and tutorial levels. His delivery and inflections are lively and have the knack for making even the most mundane of tutorial tasks seem joyous.
LittleBigPlanet: Game of the Year Edition is made for a specific audience: new PS3 owners and those who have somehow shunned the game the first time around because of its non-hardcore look. The former group has a great reason to pick up this version of the title because it includes some of the more significant DLC packs. The exclusive levels will also inspire those people to get online to seek other levels like these or make some of their own in an effort to do one better. For the latter group, getting over the game's look will help them discover a title that definitely lives up to the "substance over style" credo that hardcore gamers preach over and over again. For those who have already picked up the previous incarnation, however, there really isn't any benefit to selling off the previous version and picking up this one instead. While the 18 exclusive levels are nice, the fact that these same authors have other creations online means that you're only missing a few crumbs off of a rather large pie. Unless you're an obsessive completionist or you must have the voucher for the ModNation Racers beta that's included in the package, leave this version to those who have yet to experience the simple joy of LittleBigPlanet.
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