Review: LittleBigPlanet Karting

LittleBigPlanetKarting

You could make a pretty convincing argument that LittleBigPlanet Karting is one of the year’s most unnecessary games. After all, the PlayStation 3 already has a perfectly good kart-racing game fueled by an avalanche of DIY user-created content–ModNation Racers. In a way, sticking Sackboy behind the wheel is like reshooting Life of Pi with Justin Bieber in the starring role.

The fact that United Front Games, the shop that gave us ModNation Racers, is also the one behind LittleBigPlanet Karting only adds to the do-over vibe, designed, obviously, to cash in on the ubiquitous popularity of said Sackperson. All I know is that if Sackboy makes an unexpected headline cameo in God of War: Ascension, I’m turning in my Sixaxis.

It may ride on four wheels—some of which may be made of balloons or sushi–but this is definitely a LittleBigPlanet game, with all the trimmings. From the second you see the sunny slo-mo video of people stuck in their cars (complete with Stephen Fry voiceover) you know exactly what’s coming, and you aren’t disappointed. The pod, the globe-like level menus, the popit, the familiar cardboard-cutout environments and characters—it’s all here. Instead of running and jumping around platform levels to collect score bubbles and items to decorate everything in sight, you’re driving around courses to get the same job done. And getting clobbered every other second by the opposing drivers’ powerups.

The LBP vibe is this game’s greatest strength. Even before you collect a massive stack of objects and stickers and begin doing your own thing (more on that in a bit), it’s easy to get sucked into the sheer cuteness of it all, even if you’re an old Sackboy hand at this point. It’s also easy to love the little unexpected touches, like the grappling mechanic you’ll have to master on certain courses. It’s exhilarating and also strategic—blowing the timing is to risk blowing your position. Races in the game’s extensive story mode aren’t the only game in town. Battle arenas and time-trial modes are also waiting to be unlocked, adding a different vibe to the proceedings.

Just like LittleBigPlanet’s jumping physics tended to tilt to the floaty side, LittleBigPlanet Karting’s drive-and-drift physics grind a more forgiving gear. You’re not likely to lose many races because you lost the handle drifting through a curve; you might lose a few because of the odd way the game handles jostling and bumping. Instead of getting knocked backward (or forward) when bumpers collide, you may end up slowly tumbling into the air or watching your momentum evaporate like gasoline fumes on a hot day. Those who groove on sending their kart opponents into the ditch like an out-of-control billiard ball will learn to steer clear—or get used to a sixth-place finish.

LBPK adopts a different approach to powerups and boost than ModNation Racers did, and it rips some of the strategy out of your racing-gloved hands. In ModNation, the power and control was entirely yours to deploy—filling and maintaining your boost/shield defense meter meant you were able to use it to fend off that race-killing powerup attack or, if no missiles or electric fields were incoming, unleash your vroom—a-zoom-zoom to make up needed ground. Here, there’s almost constant pressure to deploy the powerups you collect to defend against enemy attacks—the game even flashes a helpful icon to let you know when it’s time to launch them. Trouble is, if you just used one and don’t have another one handy, you’re screwed. Boost, meanwhile, comes only from driving over speed pads and successfully drifting the corners, just like every other racer out there. In other words, if you’re not clutching a powerup on that final straightaway, heartbreak is probably coming up fast in your rear-view mirror. Drag.

The ability to design your own level (or in this case, courses) has always been the lifeblood of LittleBigPlanet, which is why this game’s convoluted tutorials are so puzzling. Where other LBP games have featured a more intuitive crash course on the basics, letting you watch and learn the complex details from the DIY community, this one couches the essentials in 50(!) video tutorials, exactly none of which are interactive. You won’t have to watch them all to be able to concoct your own courses, but that’s still a lot of time to sink when all you want to do is start creating wicked embankments.

LittleBigPlanet Karting is PlayStation Move compatible, but the target demographic better beware, because unlike Mario Kart Wii, an additional plastic steering-wheel peripheral is required, not optional, to make it work. Stick with the Sixaxis and you’ll be just fine.

TryIt

Pros:
+ Everything you love about LittleBigPlanet, in a kart-course designing game
+ LBP aesthetic transfers well to kart-racing arena

Cons:
- Drives over some fairly familiar territory
- Defensive powerups & boost/shield meter
- Convoluted level-design tutorials

Game Info:
Platform: PS3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: United Front Games
Release Date: 11/6/2012
Genre: Racing
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-8 (1-4 offline, 2-8 online)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.