In retrospect, they could have just simply ported LittleBigPlanet 2. You know, gussied Sackboy’s signature PlayStation 3 adventure up a little with some obvious and user-friendly touch-related features, shipped it to market and called it day. Lord knows that the PlayStation Portable was littered with plenty of ports.
Instead, Double Eleven and Tarsier Studios took the blueprint that Media Molecule created and built a new house precisely to PlayStation Vita specs. LittleBigPlanet Vita takes the best of an already awesome franchise and seamlessly brings it to a new touch-tastic level.
This go-round, Sackboy’s got an actual story to play through instead of a set of wackily themed levels: He’s been recruited to save the planet of Carnivalia from the malevolent Puppeteer and his creepy Hollows, a set of drones who look like wooden versions of the goons in Escape Plan, with animator’s crosses where their eyes and mouths should be. Like most of the bizarre characters who inhabit this patchwork universe, from the cartoon-beefy Sean Brawn to the schnozztastic Colonel Flounder, the levels also ooze charm, particularly in the tech- and comic-book vibe of Jackpot City, where electrical fields threaten to fry our hero into sack-ashes, and a pinball-themed level stands out as one of the best parts of the story mode. Stephen Fry is naturally back for another go-round, leavening the proceedings with his typically droll narration.
LBP Vita features some of the most effective uses of touch-screen features we’ve seen in the Vita’s brief lifespan. You’ll be letting your fingers do the walking to accomplish all sorts of functional things, like pushing the front and rear touch–screens to create timer-dependent platforms (more shades of Escape Plan) and swiping spring-plunger-blocks to send Sackboy hurtling skyward toward the next challenge. At certain points, Sackboy gets to tote a rocket launcher, and you’ll use your fingers to swipe and guide the projectiles around obstacles to their targets, adding yet another fun gameplay wrinkle.
Completing levels accumulates the standard pile of objects and backgrounds we’ve come to know and expect from LittleBigPlanet’s many incarnations, but here, it also unlocks lots of touch-centric mini-game side levels. Many of the tropes are familiar—there are variations on themes like whack-a-mole, Bust-a-Move and air hockey, for instance. A separate arcade hub, meanwhile, features a beefier set of mini-games that could have debuted by themselves on the App Store. Games like Tapling, an app-like game that feels and plays like a dark-themed mix of Angry Birds and Contre Jour.
Of course, this is Sackboy we’re talking about, which means there are still physics issues to, um, complement the game’s uber-cute aesthetic. Sackboy’s jumps remain some of the floatiest hops in all of platforming. This issue is further complicated by the game’s heavy reliance on a grappling mechanic that often has to be executed with laser-like precision to avoid another score-killing death. Trouble is, the left stick controls both your velocity/trajectory and how much cable you’re swinging from, and it’s more than a little annoying to have your attempt to swing result in merely spooling out more grappling cable. LBP Vita’s checkpoints occur about as often as political TV attack ads, so you won’t lose much ground when your grapple goes fatally awry, but for those for whom online leaderboards are a major concern, dinging your level score will be a big frustration.
LittleBigPlanet’s enduring appeal has always been its strong DIY vibe, and the seemingly endless stream of user-created levels that flow from its user-friendly creation toolsets. Touch-screen functionality boosts that creative spirit in an easy-to-use way—you’ll use the same two-finger approach to squeeze, size-and-rotate your level pieces that you’ll use to place stickers in the single-player levels. Thanks to the Vita’s onboard camera, those objects and stickers can now include totally ridiculous pictures of your friends and pets. Now that’s the kind of personalization we’ve been waiting to rock.
It’d be silly to think that Sackboy won’t continue to show up as a staple on future Sony platforms—he’s too cute and accessible to so easily dismiss—not to mention that he’s set to show up again in LittleBigPlanet Karting in November. That said, I’d argue that with LittleBigPlanet Vita, he and his SackNation have reached his state of highest evolution, and might want to think about taking a longer break before returning to the PlayStation 4 stage. As if.
+ Brilliant use of touch-screen elements
+ Adding a clever, engaging narrative to the mix feels like the perfect forgotten ingredient
+ Vita camera opens up new decorative horizons
– Grapple physics are a major pain in the level-score butt
– Great game, but we’ve reached the point of Sackboy saturation
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Developer: Double Eleven/Tarsier Studios
Release Date: 9/25/2012
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-4 (2-4 local same screen, up to 4 online)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher