Discussion Review: LittleBigPlanet PSP

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Although Matt never was able to do a full review, he made it clear that he absolutely loved the PS3 game LittleBigPlanet and considers it one of the gems of this console generation. Ever since Sony announced they would bring the game to the PSP, we have wondered how the downsizing would work. Now we have our answer, as LittleBigPlanet PSP has arrived! Matt got a review copy on UMD, and I couldn’t resist grabbing it when it eventually arrived on PSN, so we just had to discuss it. So how did Sony do translating the experience to the handheld world? Read on and see!

Mike: OK, Matt, before I even get to the game itself – which, by the way, I think is wonderful – I really need to slap Sony upside the head with a Sea Bass! I mean, on October 1st I shelled out $250 to get the PSPgo and ever since then they have sent me three clear messages: first, “if you want to get all the best new games right away … buy last year’s system”! Second, they have said “if you live in the US and bought a PSPgo in spite of the fact that we screwed you out of all the bonuses we gave the rest of the world, we feel we have evidence you are an idiot and assume we can just release PSP minis elsewhere and not worry about supporting you.” And finally … “SUCKER”! Seriously, I love the new hardware, but am constantly frustrated – and LittleBigPlanet is just the latest example! I mean, I know Sony can’t force third parties to release to digital at all let alone on time, but you would figure with their own games – especially one of the biggest releases of the year – they could do a bit better than a week late.

But fortunately it has arrived, and has largely dominated my PSP gaming time ever since. The game is a cute little platformer that is enhanced by loads of interactivity as well as a realistic use of physics and material properties to provide a somewhat puzzle-based game that brings together many of the best elements that casual games of the last few years have provided. But before we delve much further, I want to get your perspective, Matt. As someone who has played and loves the PS3 game, how does this compare in terms of content and experience?

Matt: How does LittleBigPlanet PSP compare with the PS3 version, you ask? Remarkably well, actually, which I honestly was not expecting. Given how much I love the PS3 version I was obviously thrilled when the PSP version was announced and I was optimistic it would turn out well, but in watching trailers and pouring over screenshots pre-release I was afraid that the game would lose some of its charm and inventiveness in the transition — perhaps too much to make up for. And while certain things are indeed missing, LittleBigPlanet PSP manages to deliver the same infectious “Play, Create, Share” platforming fun of its older PS3 brother.

I guess the first thing I should point out is that LittleBigPlanet really isn’t just a “downsized port” of the PS3 game as the game is often categorized. In fact, in certain areas I think the PSP version is actually a better game. The developer-made “story” levels are all completely new, and overall they are even more fun and creative than those of the PS3 story mode.

Another small tweak to the core gameplay is the elimination of the third environmental plane. The game plays like a typical Mario-style 2D side-scrolling platformer – with some fun swinging acrobatics and well-designed switch and physics-based puzzles adding extra pizzazz — but the levels are actually 3D in that you can move Sackboy back and forth along the Z axis. In the PS3 version, there are three planes of depth, and really the only nagging flaw to the game is its inconsistency in recognizing which plane you are trying to get Sackboy on. However, in the PSP version you only have to worry about navigating Sackboy on two planes, so there is much less room for error. It may not seem like a major modification, but I thought it really made the gameplay less frustrating and even more fun, and the level designs are so incredible that I didn’t feel like I was missing out on not having the third plane.

Unfortunately, some of the other changes in the move from PS3 to PSP aren’t as positive. Of particular note, LBP PSP is devoid of multiplayer. It’s an understandable loss considering how much of a challenge it was for Sony and Media Molecule to adapt a game of such breadth and innovation to a smaller, less powerful device, but that doesn’t make the omission any less painful. Being able to hop online and join up with other Sackboys and Sackgirls is a key reason why LittleBigPlanet remains such a popular game on the PS3. While the PSP version fully supports level creating and sharing, which is more than enough for me as a predominately solo gamer, it’ll be interesting to see if the community remains as dedicated over the long haul without multiplayer interaction.

As someone who hasn’t played the PS3 version, what are your thoughts on the multiplayer removal? Do you find yourself missing such a feature or have the story levels, creation tool and online level sharing been enough to keep you happy?

Mike: I would never have noticed the lack of muliplayer if its absence hadn’t been proclaimed so widely, and for two reasons: first, because what IS there is quite good enough for me, and second because the general state of PSP multiplayer is so pitiful that what we get in LBP towers over the vast majority of other games. Yes, I know I browbeat Sony and third-party developers regularly for this stuff, but really, with the excellent hardware capability it is just a shame that more folks don’t make more of an effort in this regard. So kudos to Sony for implementing enough of the core game that it doesn’t feel like we got gypped!

I think it is an interesting question about how long the community will support this game without full multiplayer. I think there are a couple of considerations: first, the longevity of handheld games differs widely from console games, particularly for casual games like this – just look at some of the top selling DS / Wii games for evidence! On the other hand, it will depend on folks using the level creation tools and sharing their creations with one another.

Have you used the creation tools much? I started playing around with them a bit upon release, and my kids have had the chance to play with them as well. They are … a mixed bag would be my best description. On the one hand, there is so much you can do, starting from templates or just a blank world, to create whatever you are thinking, and it is just amazing. When you are playing levels, you will probably be thinking about the design and how you could make your own levels – and the tools provided allow you to do just that.

On the other hand, let me ask a question: have you ever done serious web browsing on the PSP? Probably not, and with good reason – the controls are poorly suited to the experience. Creating levels with the tools is not nearly so painful, but it is clear that the power of the tools is out of whack with the PSP’s ability to provide a proper control scheme. I found myself fiddling more with things than I should have needed to based solely on the PSP’s controls. My kids also found it somewhat frustrating, but found the basic ability to create levels so compelling that they powered through the controls.

So what did you think about the creation tools, Matt? And back to the game itself, did the shortness of the campaign bother you? How about the controls? Any other thoughts on the core gameplay?

Matt: I lack the artistic gene, so I’m not very good at creating levels that I would ever consider uploading for others to play, but that’s through no fault of the game. I do agree that the creation tool has control limitations due to the PSP having less buttons to work with, and thus creating levels is a more difficult and time consuming process when compared to the PS3 version — there are definitely awkward control combinations to figure out in regard to scaling and rotating objects and stuff like that. However, with time the toolset becomes easier to use and some of the controls that felt awkward initially become less pronounced. Just like with the PS3 version, if you are willing to dedicate yourself you can make some truly incredibly levels…and have a heck of a lot of fun doing it!

The in-game tutorials, marvelously narrated by Stephen Fry once again, also do a great job at both entertaining and teaching you the basics, and the returning “Popit” interface — tap Square at any time to pop open a tethered menu bubble with all your stickers, outfits and other materials — makes everything you need to play the game quickly and easily accessible.

As for the “shortness” of the story mode, I’m generally not one to harp on game length — especially as it relates to a great game like this — so you won’t get any complaint from me in this instance. I’ve always been a staunch believer that replayability is far more important than sheer length, and that’s where a game like LittleBigPlanet shines. Sure, you can blow through the game’s 30 levels in a few hours, but in that time it’s unlikely you’ll have collected all the hidden prizes on the first try. Plus, creating your own levels and playing levels created by other users is the main point of the game, and that’s where much of its value is revealed. So regardless of how quickly you can finish the story mode, this game is loaded with hours of fun and, if the community and developer support continues to thrive like the PS3 version, the replay value will prove to be virtually limitless over time.

Mike: Since I tend to get quite crabby about game length (good thing we’re not discussing Modern Warfare 2, but since whatever was in the box for the PC version was just a late April Fool’s joke and not an actual game I guess we’re safe), you might expect me to be annoyed with this.

But I’m not.

There are certain games that I really don’t mind the short length if I can go back and discover more, and if replaying again and again is a pure joy. The original LEGO Star Wars and some other similar games were like that for me, and so is LittleBigPlanet. I agree with you in general about replayability being able to make up for a very short game – except when it is purely based on online play. There are certain game types that offer branching stories or other methods of replay, whereas LittleBigPlanet just makes it so you need to keep going back over and over to find new stuff.

Of course, for replayability to matter you need to get to the end and think “I HAVE to play more NOW!” And for me, I have barely stopped playing LittleBigPlanet since its release. I have been ‘done’ with it for a while, but after needing to play some other things in the past week, last night I loaded LBP right back up again!

So my thoughts on LittleBigPlanet are almost entirely positive – it is a tremendously charming platform game with loads of replayability; built-in levels that are fun, fairly challenging and packed with enough hidden stuff to keep you coming back; a well done level creator that allows you to play and share your own thoughts; and a sharing system that makes it simple to allow others to see your creations and have fun playing theirs.

My couple of niggles are the long load times and the inadequacy of controls for efficient level creation. But those are small criticisms for a game that is an absolute joy to play and was effectively ‘right sized’ for the PSP. I have often blasted what I call ‘lazy hacked down ports’ of PS2 or PS3 games, but that isn’t the case here: LittleBigPlanet is an incredibly fun and joyful PSP gaming experience, and should be considered a ‘must have’ for anyone with a PSP.

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Matt: I’m in progress polishing off my review of Modern Warfare 2, so I guess we’ll leave that debate for the comments!

But back to LittleBigPlanet… I couldn’t agree more with your summation there. There is one other small casualty in the move from PS3 to PSP that I think needs mentioning, though, and that is the ability to manipulate Sackboy. While you can change his mood and expression using the D-pad arrows, the PSP’s fewer buttons prevented Sony and Media Molecule from carrying over the controls for posing Sackboy’s arms and body like a rag doll. Given the graphical limitations of the PSP compared to PS3, Sackboy’s expressions aren’t as identifiable either, so the charm factor has taken a hit. But thankfully you can still customize Sackboy with all sorts of crazy costume combinations, and all in all the unique art style and imaginative level designs of the PS3 game have been replicated on the PSP about as well as anyone could have hoped for and as a result the game is splendid to look at. The music is every bit as catchy and uplifting too, and I never tire of hearing the satisfying popping sound that chimes when you collect score/prize bubbles.

As I’ve pointed out, LittleBigPlanet PSP obviously has its share of limitations in comparison to the PS3 version, but anyone in their right mind should have been expecting that, and in the end it’s unfair to seriously compare a PSP translation of a PS3 game and focus on the few things that are missing rather than celebrate the many things the game gets right.

Simple fact is, there isn’t a better platform game on the PSP than this, and regardless of platform LittleBigPlanet truly is one of a kind!

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Pros:
+ Loads of fun
+ Great level design
+ Tons of replayability
+ Adorable graphics and sound
+ Powerful level creator
+ Controls better and is less frustrating than PS3 version

Cons:
– LONG load times
– Controls hamper efficient level creation
– Some of the PS3 version’s charm was lost in translation
– Lacks multiplayer
– Sony messed up the PSN release … AGAIN!

Game Info:
Platform: PSP
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCE Cambridge Studios/Media Molecule
Release Date: 11/17/09
Genre: Platformer
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review UMD provided by publisher, PSN game was self-purchased



About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!