LittleBigPlanet - Big Things Do Come In Little Packages

October 30, 2008

Since man has had videogames, he has wanted to create them, jotting down maps in school notebooks or sharing ideas with friends. And then one day they discover that programming is hard. The past has tried to compensate with pinball construction sets, RPG makers, and the archaic but lovable ZZT, but the LittleBigPlanet is set to eclipse them all, giving the tools, the network and pizzazz to facilitate a large microcosm of game production, but are we all ready to let our inner Miyamotos out?

LBP’s story mode, which is actually fairly plotless, could be considered the single-player portion of the show. However, since Sackboys tend to travel in packs, all of the levels are playable with up to three friends. Story mode is a competent platformer, where fervent adventuring nets you extra parts for creation, as well as unlockable subgames and other themed worlds to explore. The levels always have a final goal, but in between, bosses, puzzles, and hazards loom in every corner. Secrets always seem to be just off-screen. And while this single-player portion would usually be the heart of a game, here it’s a six-hour inspirational appetizer for the creation tools.

Simply jump out of your pod and head over to your own private moon and start working your magic. It’s overwhelming at first, with supplied templates feeling either claustrophobic or huge and empty. A seemingly endless supply of tutorials will walk you through all of the goodies, and soon you’ll be bringing creations to life, setting off switches, and sending rockets into the ionosphere.

It will take time, patience, and lots of testing to make a level worth sharing online, but hilarious abominations can be created in minutes, and there’s definitely a thrill in playing your own creations. With the ability to rewind and pause time, it’s easy to mess around with the levels, or pepper your world with the spoils of the story mode. Even the most complex interactions are all funneled through real world symbols that fall well south of C++.

The final aspect is the community, where you can partake in others’ creations. You can search for levels with high ratings for the quality experiences or go slumming for hidden gems. It’s a simple but productive system that lets the best rise to the top, and the fluff get blown back into the ether. Only time will tell if the player support will truly be there.

LittleBigPlanet definitely asks a lot of the player. You must explore the levels supplied to get materials, master the intricacies of the design tools, and finally, participate. It’s definitely not for everyone.

The story levels start innocently enough, introducing LBP’s core concepts like jumping, racing, pulling--and not to play with fire. Soon enough you’ll be dealing with innovative bosses, and slapping stickers to activate switches that reveal secrets. And then there’s cursing the floaty jumping or the lack of logical checkpoints. But like any good platformer, the aggravation and challenge aren’t without reward. Completing a level or finding that final item gives you a nice sense of accomplishment.

Sackboy has taken an interesting trip into the third dimension. While it’s played predominantly from a 2D perspective, you can also shift on three planes of the Z axis. The game will attempt to auto shift you to the best plane to grab what needs grabbing, or land on what needs to be landed on. It can be dicey.

All of these story-level issues exemplify the same problems you’ll deal with in creating your own levels – because anything and everything you’ve seen in story mode can be done from scratch in LBP’s editor. Both the jumping and depth are brilliant compromises. The high jumps leave lots of room for error, and the side-scrolling gameplay can be understood by anyone.

The core gameplay has a few issues, but there’s a reason, and the supplied stages contain real honest-to-goodness moments of brilliance. The beta has already shown shining examples of user-generated content, and we all know games are better when played with others.

From the adorable emotions of the sackpeople to the fashion tornados unleashed with the randomize button, the LittleBigPlanet is big on charm. The objects, textures, and assets all gel with the aesthetic of a burlap sack. The soundtrack keeps the charm flowing with a suite of seemingly innocuous music that you’ll find yourself humming as you go about your day. The presentation is rounded-out by great tutorial voiced by an older British chap who sounds familiar enough to be a favorite uncle.

It seems the web 2.0 revolution has been televised--and in burlap no less. LBP lives up to its promise of playing, creating, and sharing. It’s a strong 2D platformer that darts into the shadow of trouble once in awhile, but it’s ultimately redeemed by its daring design. You’ve never played another game like it. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it will take longer to make a superb level than most will want to spend, but finally those pages of graph paper from your more optimistic days can come alive.