Developer: Media Molecule
Publisher: SCEE, SCEA
Game Rating: E (Everyone)
Speak to someone involved in producing or marketing a console (or computer platform, for that matter), and it won’t take long for the term “killer app” to come up. Simply put, the killer app is what keeps your chosen machine from waking up as a Betamax. Well, it took the Playstation 3 a long time to become a viable console, but with a slew of cool titles either available or looming, it’s probably safe for owners to let out the breaths they’ve been holding. Not only is the PS3 here to stay, but it also has its own killer app, in the form of Media Molecule’s LittleBIGPlanet. AndLBP is a killer app in the classic sense of the word: the game is fresh and hot enough that it’s actually helping to move hardware units, as well as providing Sony with an overdue membership in the mascot club.
Here me out: Some say that, in the world of console gaming, a platform only truly grows up when it gets a mascot. These same people would point at Nintendo’s Mario and Master Chief on the Xbox as proof. In this world-view, Sony’s lack of a central, identifiable mascot looked pretty shabby. Enter the cute, British Sackboy, who looks set to take centre stage as the face of the PS3.
In today’s innovate-or-die atmosphere, Sackboy is an unlikely hero: instead of developing some brilliant new driver or shooter with fantasy physics, Media Molecule instead opted to breathe new life into the practically moribund platform genre. In LittleBIGPlanet, your Sackboy runs along a side-scrolling world, jumping through hoops to get to the end of each level and collecting costume pieces, gifts and decorations for his home (aka “Pod”) as he goes. Where LBP expands on the model is in the three-layer gameplay: Throughout, your Sackboy switches between the foreground, background and middle zone to get around obstacles, pull stuff around or jump onto ledges. This is both a strength and a weakness. Generally it works smoothly, but on occasion it can be downright sticky. Twice, my Sackboy jumped off a ledge and fell to his doom instead of the layer-switch that I was expecting, and trying to push or pull objects could be frustrating. Also, on occasion, Sackboy would run blithely past something I was expecting to run up onto, but it stopped happening after an hour or two of trial-and-error.
In story mode, the levels are interesting and creative, breaking down into eight themed areas that each have three or four levels. As the player guides his Sack-person through one level, it unlocks more of the story, opening up new areas to explore. Action takes place on three planets, each of which represents one area of the game’s functionality: the main planet is the LittleBIGPlanet, which is where the gameplay is concentrated; then there is My Moon, upon which players save and access their created levels; the Info Moon holds the player’s friends list, scores and other information. Access is through the control computer in the Sack-person’s pod.
In truth, the initial story mode is only part of the fun. Once you get online and have friends to help you get through the teamplay-specific parts of the maps, things start to get interesting. Not only can you play together, but you can also find and play one another’s generated maps. And the content creation features used to make those levels opens up a whole new world of awesome. The level-creation process is easy and robust, and works as a series of tutorials to help get you creating without overwhelming you in the early stages. However, it would be better if you could set your own path through the tutorials: it’s annoying to be trying to do something specific and to have to go through stage after stage of exploits before you can get to the tutorial for that one action.
Unfortunately, I had some exasperating moments when I initially tried to connect to the network play. Also, the process for finding friends to play with, though ostensibly seamless, is just plain confusing for new players. It would be nice if there was an option to show a more traditional map listing, with info on how many players were already playing each map.
Even in terms of the Sack-person itself, you get an amazing degree of control, from choosing clothes to dancing and even manipulating its expressions. It’s whimsical little touches like these that pop the game straight to the head of the class. LBP isn’t perfect by any means, but the mix of beautiful imagery and unmitigated fun generally equals a terrific game experience.
The game is a beautifully designed cutouts-and-toys world that feels like you’re playing in your backyard or under a blanket-tent in your bedroom, with all the optimism and escapist fun entailed by that. The irrepressibly bright little Sack-person moves in a real-world fashion, with body physics affecting hair, clothes and limbs during jumps, pushing, pulling or general movement. In fact, the entire game is based on real-world physics which can be a bit of a shock for players used to the mid-air direction changes of other games. You can still do it in LBP, but it works differently. Player beware.
It’d be nice if the game was 1080p-native, but honestly, looking for a game on any console that doesn’t up-convert is like trying to find the right haystack in Montana to search through for that proverbial needle. As it is, the unique, photo-realistic toy-and-cardboard paradigm is well rendered and gorgeous to look at, even at a native 720p resolution.
The sounds are cool and well-executed. The use of nonsense syllables instead of audio dialogue simultaneously betrays the game’s European pedigree (a quick change to a speech bubble is all that’s required for localization, which is a no-brainer to a developer who’s surrounded by that many languages), and a fun, fanciful approach to the overall soundscape. That being said, the game could have benefited from three or four more songs in the soundtrack.
Movement is both elegant and wide open. You can not only move your Sack-person through the world, but using specific button and stick combos you can push or pull objects, as well as the facial expressions and dancing mentioned above. This level of control is a nice touch, adding whimsy to an already childlike experience.
Even with the aforementioned issues, the game is enthralling. Not only because of the physics-based play, character customization, level creation and total beauty of it, but also because Sackboy is so damned cute!
Crave Factor: 9