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LittleBigPlanet: Bigger Than You Know

20 July 2007

When you first get your hands on LittleBigPlanet, your reaction will be to laugh at it. It might be even a little giggle, but some form of laughter will definitely come due to such fun and brilliant innovation presented by Media Molecule, the talent behind Rag Doll Kung Fu. LittleBigPlanet begins primarily with players learning about their character's powers to interact physically with the environment. There are obstacles to explore, and puzzles to solve, all of which requires a combination of independence and valuable teamwork. As players continue to explore, their creative skills will grow and they will be ready to start creating and modifying their surroundings, the building blocks to reveal that special magical forest you had imagined for weeks. The most exciting part about LittleBigPlanet is the sheer creativity to make for a personal and very fun gameplay experience, and the interaction of the players to their surrounding and each other to fuel this creativity. When all is done, they can invite anyone within the LittleBigPlanet community to come and explore their area.

 

 

The game begins and we start to discover all the fun by taking control of Sack Boy, who's so adorably standing there in the close to finished version of this game. On first touch of the controller, the tilt allows a very unique and dynamic experience with your character. A slight tilt to the left makes him bend left. A turn to the right, a bend right. You get the idea. To hit anyone, for whatever reason, you move to their direction and as soon as your opponent gets within face distance, jerk the SIXAXIS down for a light slap. Jerk it up for a little more of a brawl. Aside from all the fight club-like cute experience, hitting Square brings up a menu, conveniently titled a “Pop It”, which is filled with costumes and items to dress your character with. It's packed with all sorts of weird and crazy items of clothing, from space outfits, ninja suits, a get up that looks surprisingly close to Mario’s, a grim but insanely cute item selection such as a skull outfits, a roman general outfit and what not---with a myriad of things to come. The most noticeable item that we got our hands on was the custom shirts. All of a different template, ranging from blank to plain out spacey outlines with a center attention block for pictures, users are able to directly access their hard drive and choose to use any picture on the t-shirt.

 

The process of selecting an outfit is as simple. You bring up the “Pop It”, goto the clothing symbol and choose any costume by hitting X. I personally went with the box over his head, to remain mysterious to all the Sack Ladies out there. At this point we were also shown how the player can alter Sack Boy's mood, by pressing the d-pad to make him happy, sad, angry or frown. The change is reflected by the extremely detailed and surprisingly realistic look on his face, he grinds his teeth at us full speed if he’s very angry, and has a big smile when he’s not. In addition, the moods affects the way he is controlled, so he bounces when smiling and lowers his head and slightly pouts when he’s feeling a bit emotional. From an aesthetic view, you get the idea. But what we here at PSU wanted to know was how these mood changes would factor into the game play, if any. Luckily, Alex Evans let us in on just one important tidbit. Some levels can be factored to only be progressive with certain moods in certain areas, as the moods can not only be important aesthetically, but progressively as well.

The number and type of objects a player can create depends on how much sponge they collect. This count is conveniently represented in an overview HUD to the right of the screen. These yellow sack-type lemons are scattered around the level, mostly within easy reach but sometimes puzzling to get to. When you find that you’re unable to reach up for one, there’s conveniently a platform for someone else to stand on to enable the shoot up for another person.

 

Sure. You can be a little show off in the game and try to run ahead of everyone. But keep in mind, playing as a team in this game is the key to solving some of the more challenging puzzles, but it's also one aspect that's likely to create a rift between players. You see, while two or more of the group is helping shift columns of certain barriers, the remaining Sack Boys are free to steal the sponge. Despite this, even though there is a grab and jet factor, there is an even greater factor of team work when it comes to paying each person his due. Teamwork! Organize, organize! Luckily for us, there will be in game voice communication of some form. Therefore, if players truly understand the meaning of teamwork in this game, they will learn to make a plan to evenly distribute sponges among fellow team members. Sponge isn't shared between players at first, but Evans let me know they might possibly implement it after the game is released, or leave that confusion factor in there for team work effect.

One significant area which requires teamwork is the jetpack area, in which any obstacle can be blocking the right path. It can only be removed by filling the tray at the top of the screen with heavy objects, such as the acorns lying on the ground. Some are small enough to be carried alone, by grabbing a jet pack and zipping down to the ground before scooping up the acorn and dragging it to the tray above. Larger objects are only movable by two people, each using the directional pad and default SIXAXIS for effect.
 

 

The first most noticeable puzzle that truly demonstrates the teamwork aspect in creation is the garden level with a huge basketball to surpass. A direct approach is available by jumping on the brown sack and onto the ball before leaping to the ledge on the other side. There are alternative ways of getting past the same puzzle: one player could push the ball along while another grabs on, so he's dragged around to the top as it rolls. Or, to fuel the creation, players can move the ball to the very corner, and build an elevator if they so wish and rise up for 3 seconds with a smirking smile. There are many such puzzles to get through from basket balls, to platform spacing in the space level (surprise), to cactus’s sprouting water in the desert, to statues in the Yen garden, etc---with many more to come due to the nature of this customizable experience.

As for the story, Evans revealed that the game’s main plot focuses on the power of teamwork to reach a goal for rewards. In addition, there is a single player factor with a similar story line, but that’s still being discussed. For announcements on new modes, there will definitely be a fun little PvP mode to the game. For a new look, Evans showed me the racing mode for a few bits. The levels start off like any other level, but they are slightly revamped from the originals, all designed for racing. The main object of the racing levels is not only to collect the most sponges, but also to get to the finish line. But that’s not all. While you’re running, you can give your opponents a tougher time - from slapping to tossing objects behind you.

 

LittleBigPlanet is one of those rare examples of a game that allows others to explore environments limited by your mind’s creation, and is quite possibly shaping up to be the best game we’ve seen for ages. There's a whole lot of fun coming to your PlayStation 3 in early 2008.

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