When it was released more than two years ago, Media Molecule turned more than a few heads with LittleBigPlanet. Since then, the adorable Sackboy has served as an unofficial mascot for the PlayStation brand, representing one of the most artistic, addicting, and clever platformers to date. The LittleBigPlanet community, given the opportunity to conduct some basic game development, has constructed more than three million user-created levels—an unprecedented feat on a console. At the time of the original's release, it seemed a sequel was unnecessary as gamers had a nearly endless supply of new levels, stickers, outfits, and other goodies to keep them busy. When it was revealed that Media Molecule was releasing LittleBigPlanet 2 in early 2011 (delayed from late 2010), it was obvious the developer had more it wanted to show off, and after spending time with the game, it’s clear this new entry was handled quite well. Everything in LittleBigPlanet 2, from the slightly enhanced gameplay physics to a near overhaul of the level creation system, is an improvement upon the original. LBP2 will extend the franchise indefinitely and provide many more years of dazzling entertainment.
There are few games that offer as much variety as LittleBigPlanet 2. It has the skin of a platformer, but its heart is an empty canvas, waiting for brilliant designers to build their masterpieces. There is more variety in the gameplay than in the original. In one level you’ll pilot a bumble bee through a side-scrolling shooter, and in the next you’ll be playing hoops against user opponents. It’s the retooled level creation system that gives new life to the game. Building levels is still slow and time consuming, but you are no longer restricted to the basic platformer style; you can create just about anything your imagination can conceive of—after all, that is the game’s original intention.
Those new to the world of LittleBigPlanet, and even those returning from the original game, will want to start with the Story mode. There are 30 new levels to play through, all of which are varied and showcase what you can do on your own in the Create mode. An actual story is virtually non-existent (as it should be), though the basic premise involves the evil Negativitron invading Craftworld. As Sackboy or Sackgirl, you're tasked with destroying the beast. A quirky cast of characters, which provide tutorials for the new devices and gameplay features, aid you in your quest. More than anything, the story is intended to show players what they can build for themselves.
The basic platforming elements remain virtually unchanged in LittleBigPlanet 2. Sackboy has three planes to move on—tapping up or down twice will move him across each plane—and he has two basic moves: jump and grab. There is still a particular weightless feeling to Sackboy’s movements, and surfaces still feel a bit slick (although this isn't as drastic as in the original game). The controls are extremely simplistic, but getting a feel for your sackperson’s movements may take some time. You still collect point bubbles, stickers, materials, and other objects that you can use to customize your Sackboy or to create your perfect level. Needless to say, the very basics of LittleBigPlanet are completely untouched. If you only play through the first few set of levels, you will undoubtedly question the hype surrounding the sequel, but if you play through its challenges and later levels, you’ll quickly find that the game has tremendous potential.
The game looks extremely unique and sounds as fresh as an iTunes commercial. The soundtrack is simply wonderful, while the art style is moody with a vaudevillian flair. Each world looks completely different than the last. Still, up to this point, you are probably thinking, "this seems like more of the same." But the real entertainment comes in the form of the challenge levels. You can play against a real life in-game opponent in racing games, pool, basketball, even shooters. The further you progress in the Story mode, the cooler the levels get. Without being too specific, the last set of levels offer some truly challenging yet appropriately quirky space battles and a throwback to vintage gaming.
All of these interesting and new levels will likely encourage you to check out the Create mode. Clearly, there are some people who played LittleBigPlanet and became obsessed with the Create mode (as will likely be the case in the sequel). I am not ashamed to admit that I do not fit in this category. The idea of creating levels in LittleBigPlanet was genius, but it was too time consuming for my liking. Again, that was my personal preference, and it’s clear that while many of the 3.5 million levels were terrific, a large number of them were simply built to provide Trophies or new stickers. Creating levels in LittleBigPlanet 2 is a bit easier, but it is still time-consuming and often frustrating.
The creation process is guided with a series of new tutorials. Stephen Fry returns to provide narration, and while the tutorials offer a decent look at the basic and advanced level creation features, they are not overly thorough. Still, the interactive video demonstrations will get you up to speed on things like Sackbots, microchips, and sequencers. It’s easy to envision a big, epic level series that plays more like a role-playing game thanks to the NPC (non-player character) Sackbots. You can customize these mindless droids to follow you around, be hostile, assist you in traversing gorges, be fearful of enemies or dangers, or just walk around like grunts. Then, you could give your hero the grappling hook to swing across pits, and equip him with the grabinator glove to move and throw large objects. As your hero progress and adds more equipment, he can finally come across that big red button that drops the creatinator, a helmet that allows Sackboy to fire nearly any projectile (even user-created). Basically, the Create mode is limited by two things: your imagination and your free time.
Sticking with the RPG example, let's say you want your Sackboy hero to be able to ride a horse. The new controlinator, a device that allows you to give action to other in-game objects, enables Sackboy to ride vehicles (among many other functions). In the scenario above, we’d use the controlinator on the horse so Sackboy can shoot swords out of the steed’s mouth and flames out of its buttocks. This is a level we have floating around in our heads, but it was not one we could complete and publish in a timely manner. The one level PSU did publish is extremely rudimentary, and was more or less practice on the act of publishing. You will all create better levels, and we hope to see the best come from our very own community.
Searching for levels to play is easier than ever. The old star rating system is replaced with a simple like or dislike system (smiley or sad face), and you can also review a level once you’ve completed it. You’ll find the tagging system easy to use, and the filter search engine makes it simple to limit the junk and find the diamonds in the rough. All of the old levels and items are available, meaning LBP2 already has more than three million user-generated levels with millions more in the making.
LittleBigPlanet 2 is a game that keeps on giving. It's endless. You will not find a game on the market that has more playability, more likeability, and more utter cuteness than LBP2. Some may just want to play through the vast library of levels. For those who dream of creating the next great game, the enormously deep Create mode gives aspiring designers a vessel to display their masterpieces. It will still take many, many hours to complete that perfect level, but for some, that’s half the fun. Once you have finished your dream level, you can simply share it with the growing community of Sackboy followers. Media Molecule was the first to establish the Play, Create, Share motto for the PlayStation brand, and the sequel has taken those original ideas to a brand new dimension.
|LittleBigPlanet 2 Review by Adam Dolge|
-The Final Word-
Sackboy returns in a sequel worthy of the name LittleBigPlanet. An enormous toolbox for a would-be level designer and new devices like the controlinator make LittleBigPlanet 2 the absolute gold standard for PlayStation's Play, Create, Share motto.