Having already re-invented the platformer and captivated PlayStation gamers with its addictive and infinitely playable ‘Play, Create and Share,’ gameplay, the LittleBigPlanet franchise is are about to take its next step on its Sackboy adventure with LBP Vita.
The closed beta of LBP Vita has now finished for the time being, but we got to spend some time with Sackboy and Co. And, though there was only a small amount of playable content available, it’s already crystal clear that this handheld version is set take the traditional LBP gameplay to another level thanks to an intoxicating blend of platforming, touchscreen interactions and stunning level design.
The story mode in this beta phase gave players access to two levels, 'The Mainframe Heist' and 'Flounder's Jump and Jive'. Set in a sci-fi world of computers and lazers that immediately zap the loveable hero if you’re not careful, gameplay in ‘The Mainframe Heist’ flows very nicely and, predictably, involves executing well-timed jumps, grabbing onto sponges and using the grappling hook to reach high platforms and swing across areas where otherwise you’d fall to your death.
LBP Vita is much more than a platform game though, and takes inspiration from multiple genres to deliver an experience that is made up of anything from puzzle solving, rhythm games, racing and shoot-em ups. What makes LBP Vita stand out from previous iterations, however, is the superb touchscreen implementation which has added an extra layer of challenge as you navigate the levels.
There’s so much more to think about and more hurdles to get past in order to successfully complete the level. Among the touch-based interactions, you need to tap on blocks, which disappear for a short while to reveal bounce pads, and you have to drag your finger across the screen to move platforms so that you can negate the effects of lazers which beam down from the ceilings. The control scheme is intuitive and simple, requiring nothing more than a well–timed tap to leap across a crevice, or holding down the right shoulder button to grab a sponge, but now you also have to scan the environment for objects that require your touch.
The controls are tight, and Sackboy’s floaty jump from previous games has been replaced by a much more realistic movement that ensures that it’s much easier to judge his leaps, while touchscreen tapping and sliding slots into the gameplay perfectly, adding yet another layer to the environmental puzzle solving. Indeed, if there are more levels like this in the final version, LBP Vita is set to be the most challenging game in the series thus far.
In 'Flouder's Jump and Jive', Sackboy is tasked with racing through a level as fast as he can, jumping through hoops to improve his time and attempt to top the leaderboard. The platforming gameplay is typical of other race levels in the series, but once again touchscreen puzzles make it more challenging as you drag down a blue block to send Sackboy flinging into the air and constantly keep on the lookout for this type of touch interaction in order to burst through the level at speed.
LBP Vita looks fantastic on the small screen. Production values are high and it looks just as good as its console cousins with colourful artwork and rich textures adding depth to the backgrounds, while the pleasant sounds of bubble collecting, the subtle beeps and the satisfying sound of opening your popit add to the pleasant ambiance and the high quality audio experience that we’re used to from the series.
Aside from the story mode, the closed beta allowed us try out Tapling, a physics-based platform game which looks to have taken its inspiration from the iPad hit game, World of Goo. The minimalistic black , blue and white art design is immediately striking and it feels like it isn’t part of the LBP universe at all. This is a totally different type of game experience that gives us a hint at the variety of mini-games we’re likely to see in the final game.
Gameplay involves controlling a Tapling, a small blob with eyes, by tapping anywhere on the screen, which then launches him in that direction. Gameplay is entirely touch-based and the idea is to save the white spheres (smash into them) which are randomly dotted around the levels.
Gameplay is really about navigating the environment and ensuring you launch the Tapling at exactly the right angle in order to collide with the white spheres. Gameplay gets more challenging as you progress, with sticky walls that the Tapling can attach to, and blue bounce pads that can be used to get further elevation. Tapling is an enjoyable pick-up-and-play game with multiple levels that gain in difficulty and it showcases the diversity of the mini-games that should feature in the finished game.
LBP Vita’s crowning feature is, of course, the ‘Create’ mode, which should ensure that it has infinite replay value. And we’re glad to report that the toolset is much easier to use than previous games, thanks largely to the fact that you can now use the touchscreen to resize, rotate, edit and place objects. Once again, there’s a huge amount of objects and materials at our disposal and with the option to input touch-based mechanics there should be some brilliant user-created levels.
The closed beta of LBP Vita has left us desperately wanting to see more. Not only does it look fabulous on PS Vita’s screen, but the control scheme is slick and the touch-based interactions further draw you into its colourful world. PS Vita is perfect for the LBP franchise and if this little taster is a sign of things to come we can all look forward to the most creative and challenging LittleBigPlanet game so far.