Review: LittleBigPlanet 2

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After sparking the ‘Play, Create, Share’ movement and bringing true creativity and imagination back to the forefront of gaming more than two years ago, Sackboy is back at it again in another whimsical adventure on LittleBigPlanet. That’s right, my fellow Sackboys and Sackgirls. LittleBigPlanet 2 is here – and it rocks!

As Forest Gump would say: LittleBigPlanet 2 is like a box of chocolates… You never know what you’re gonna get. Media Molecule did yeoman’s work fleshing out the LittleBigPlanet creation engine, and that means whenever you put the game into your PS3, there is something fresh and exciting waiting to be played.

The same can also be said of the first game, but not to the extent that it can now be said of the sequel. This time out, Sackboy has many fun new toys to play around with, and in turn players are treated to an endless variety of gameplay styles and challenges, and budding game designers have even more creation tools at their disposal.

For Sack-loners, LittleBigPlanet 2’s story mode is worth the price of the game alone. Its 50+ new levels, built on a spruced-up graphics engine and benefiting from a significantly enhanced cinematic presentation, tell a gloriously charming tale that’ll keep you grinning the whole way through. New gadgets, such as the Grabinator, Grappling Hook and Creatinator, empower Sackboy with new abilities to pick up and throw objects, pull smaller objects toward him from far away, flip out-of-reach switches, swing to and fro Bionic Commando style, and spray the surrounding world with virtually any substance or object determined by the level designer.

These new gadgets, coupled with new creation features I’ll touch on later, bring greater level diversity and more complex puzzles to the familiar (and fun!) hop-and-bop action, and also expand the gameplay beyond the limits of a 2.5D platformer. Over the course of the storyline, you’ll find yourself racing caterpillars, hopping around on the back of a fluffy rabbit, leading a group of Sackbots through hazardous environments a la Lemmings, blasting through scrolling shooter levels, facing off against inventive boss creations, and playing an even broader assortment of bonus stages covering everything from survival challenges to basketball to air hockey to retro LBP renditions of arcade games like Pong, Arkanoid and Space Invaders.

There is a ton of replay value as well. Like before, there are secret areas, co-op paths, unlockable side levels, and gobs of collectibles like stickers, costumes, accessories and creation materials, not to mention extra prizes for going on ‘Ace Level’ runs (completing stages without dying). Pins add extra incentive to continuous play, too. These new pin collectibles serve as an in-game companion to PSN Trophies, rewarding you with badges of honor you can proudly show off on your profile avatar like a Boy/Girl Scout who has just earned a new patch. You’re looking at probably at least six hours on your first shot through the game, and most likely double or triple that to complete everything.

As just a game, LittleBigPlanet 2 is great fun. But as a creation platform and a unified multiplayer community, it is pure magic. Personally, I don’t have the artistic vision or dedication to spend hours creating levels. But fortunately, there is a vast and extremely dedicated community of far more capable designers pumping out new levels around the clock. And for these talented wannabe game designers, Media Molecule has made it even easier to build not just simple platforming levels and mini-games, but entirely new games and genres. Now, creators can control the behaviors of AI NPCs called Sackbots, reprogram every button on the DualShock to fit their needs using a new tool called the Controlinator, use an advanced camera system to produce cinematic in-game cut-scenes, compose and record their own original musical score, link multiple levels together into a continuous series, design functional HUDs and front-end options menus, and so on and so forth.

Last I checked, over 700,000 levels/games have already been made using LittleBigPlanet 2’s new tools (the first game’s 2+ million user levels are also compatible!), and while I’ve only played a scant fraction of that total, the creativity of this game’s community continues to blow me away. Already, I’ve played tower defense games, twin-stick shooters, light gun shooters, side-scrolling action/adventure games, racing games, machinima-style short films, retro arcade games like Pac-Man, and even early demo versions of what have the potential to become full RPGs and FPSs. There have been many user-based creation games over the years, but none have had this broad of a range or have been capable of producing such high quality custom content.

Designing content isn’t rocket science either. Time and dedication are certainly a must if you really want to create something special, but the returning Pop-it interface is so incredibly intuitive and accessible that just a little imagination is all you really need to create something for you and your friends and family to appreciate. The huge library of tutorials helps out a bunch too, schooling you on the inner workings of every available tool through training videos that are easy to follow, informative and interactive – and also a barrel of laughs thanks to the witty narration of Stephen Fry, an actor/comedian who shall forever be known simply as ‘the voice of LittleBigPlanet’ (at least amongst us gamers).

LittleBigPlanet 2 isn’t all sugar and rainbows, though, I’m afraid to say. Indeed, there are some flaws that put a hitch in this game’s giddy-up. First up are the platforming controls. While certainly not poor, the floaty physics, sticky jump mechanic, and occasional frustrations of getting Sackboy on the proper plane within the game world, are returning flaws that Media Molecule apparently did nothing to rectify. Fortunately, the game is far less platformer-centric than the original and so gosh darn happy go lucky that these quirks are generally forgivable. But still, it can be very aggravating going on an Ace run only to die because Sackboy gets stuck on something or moves in a manner you didn’t intend. I’m also mildly disappointed by the lack of full PlayStation Move support. There is a 10-level ‘demo’, but Media Molecule did nothing to incorporate Move controls into the core game, so the Move compatibility label on the box is deceptive. But who knows, maybe Move implementation is something they have planned for a future patch.

Another problem slowing the game down right now is its online performance, which is none too surprising for the launch of such a community oriented game with loads of people bustling to play with others and share their creations. Loading into and out of community levels (mostly when attempting to play co-op or versus) is too often a tedious and lengthy process – one time I was literally left waiting on a loading screen for more than five minutes! Actually getting connected with other players can be a pain as well. Whenever you start a level other players are in, an on-screen prompt asks if you want to join them or carry on by yourself. The leader of the party you are attempting to join can refuse, but even when they allow you access, time out errors and other connection mishaps routinely prevent you from linking up. Hopefully performance issues like this work themselves out as the servers settle in.

Two years ago, the possibilities in LittleBigPlanet seemed infinite. But it’s funny how things can change in such a short period of time. LittleBigPlanet 2 truly is an endless experience, outclassing its predecessor in imagination, creativity, artistry and user-friendliness, which is a mighty feat to have achieved. The result is a game that isn’t just a game; it’s a platform for games of all genres, a virtual arcade with new games to play every day and a never-ending supply of quarters. Every single time you turn the game on, it shows you something different and makes you smile in a different way, and that is an accomplishment the guys and gals at Media Molecule should be extremely proud of.

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Pros:
+ Story mode is loads of fun and does a great job showing what the design engine is capable of
+ Tons of collectibles and rewards to keep you coming back for more
+ Robust creation tools allow for limitless design possibilities and endless replayability
+ Intuitive interface and interactive tutorials make creating content easy to learn
+ Dedicated community keeps content fresh on a daily basis
+ Great fun as a single-player game, but excels in multiplayer
+ Improved graphics and story presentation
+ Stephen Fry is back as the narrator… ’nuff said!

Cons:
– Control issues from the first game persist
– Slow loading times bog things down when accessing community levels
– Connectivity issues when attempting to play online
– Lacks true PlayStation Move integration

Game Info:
Platform: PS3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Media Molecule
Release Date: 1/18/2011
Genre: Creative Gaming
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-4 (offline and online)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher. Collector’s Edition copy purchased by reviewer.

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!