E3 2011: LittleBigPlanet Vita Hands-on Preview

LittleBigPlanet Vita, like LittleBigPlanet PSP before it, brings Sony’s lovable Sackboy into the portable realm. I played a level of the game at E3 2011 which made brilliant use of Vita’s expanded feature set. Placing Vita’s bevy of unique features — not to mention its enhanced graphical and online capabilities — at creators’ fingertips, LittleBigPlanet Vita has a lot of promise.

For those of you not ‘in the know,’ here’s a quick recap: LittleBigPlanet is more of a content creation toolset than a fully featured game experience. LBP Vita contains a number of levels made by the development team out of the box, but its online community and user-created levels make up the core of the LBP experience.

Whereas LittleBigPlanet PSP started with an entirely fresh slate, Tarsier Studios’ LittleBigPlanet Vita aims to integrate some pre-existing levels from the console versions. “If we make even 10% of the levels compatible [with LBP Vita], that’s 400,000 levels that are already available,” said the producer that guided me through the demo. This wasn’t a confirmation as much as a goal, he insisted. Either way, a community of creators will surely spring up and create thousands of Vita-powered levels.

The game’s visuals are rich and detailed, nearly rivaling those of the original LittleBigPlanet for PlayStation 3. The game retains the ‘soft’ feel of its predecessors, boasting spongy, inviting textures which I could practically feel as I touched the Vita. The game also features online play for up to four Sackpeople, so that multiplayer experience so integral to LittleBigPlanet 1 and 2 will be available on Vita.

The level I played was, for the most part, a typical LittleBigPlanet platforming experience. I guided my Sackboy through a variety of obstacles, running, jumping, and grabbing my way through the level to progress. But nonetheless, this level could not have been accomplished on another platform, using Vita’s touchscreen controls and motion sensing capabilities surprisingly well.

At one point, my Sackboy stood in front of a door, unable to progress. Piano keys lined the wall behind me. After a moment of confusion, I tried tapping the keys with my finger, and surely enough, the keys pressed down and played their respective notes. After playing the correct sequence, the door opened up, allowing me to progress. Later in the level, I jumped and grabbed onto a roller, but Sackboy hung motionless at the bottom. “You have to spin it,” said the game’s producer, pointing to the screen. I swiped at the screen and the roller spun into action, flinging Sackboy above and beyond the obstacle.

Perhaps my favorite use of the touchscreen came soon after that. In a Tetris-inspired puzzle, I had to push blocks ‘out’ of the wall by using the Vita’s rear touchscreen. I could push them back ‘in’ by pressing on the front of the screen. So I hopped up the blocks, arranging them as I went. To reach the top of this area, I jumped and pressed the rear touchscreen at the perfect time, popping the block just beneath Sackboy’s airborne feet. At other junctures, I had to tilt the Vita to move certain on-screen object in my direction, or pull a slingshot to fling Sackboy high into the air.

Unlike in other Vita games, the touchscreen and motion controls work flawlessly in LittleBigPlanet. Plus, with the system’s sizable horsepower, LittleBigPlanet Vita stays true to Media Molecule’s original artistic vision for the franchise. I can’t wait to see what inventive creators design for LBP Vita when it arrives next year.