LittleBigPlanet PS Vita Preview

LittleBigPlanet was a revelation when it was released on PlayStation 3 back in 2008. Developed by Guildford-based Media Molecule, it spawned the unique tagline “Play. Create. Share” emphasising that it was much more than just a platform game. The unique and colourful world of LBP, clever level design, and loveable SackBoy character, has set the series on its way to critical and commercial success, while its lavish customisation options and ability to create and share levels has placed creativity firmly in the hands of the players.

Despite the development of LBP Vita being handed over to Swedish developer Tarsier Studios and Middlesbrough-based Double Eleven, the foundation of Media Molecule’s initial work and the “Play.Create.Share” concept are still at the forefront of this latest platform title. Like all LBP games, players are introduced in typical colourful fashion to the control scheme and narration is handled once again by the witty and funny Stephen Fry. LBP Vita boasts a brand new story-driven adventure surrounding a mysterious character called the Puppeteer, who lures sack-folk to a carnival planet called Carnavalia where he’s hatching a plan to suck the fun out of the LittleBigPlanet universe.

You start the game in the Pod, which will be instantly familiar if you’ve played LBP before, as will the Popit menu, from which you can decorate the Pod, dress up your SackBoy in various garments and access stickers and decorations to interact with objects in the world. The Popit menu also gives you the first taste of Vita’s touchscreen controls and ensures that the menu is intuitive and quick to navigate. The touchscreen is also used to rotate around the planet and choose your level within the story world hub, which is identical in design to previous LBP games.

Gameplay too is, for the most part, unchanged from previous games as you control SackBoy through a series of wacky 2.5D platforming levels collecting score and prize bubbles, navigating tricky obstacles and using the likes of the Grappling Hook to swing, pull and grab. However, LBP Vita differentiates itself because it takes full advantage of the Vita’s front and rear touch capabilities, which opens up a whole new world of possibilities and challenges.

The front touchscreen is used to manipulate objects that appear with a bright blue colour. These are used for activating objects such as floor blocks and spring loaded platforms, which catapult SackBoy to great heights. The rear touchpad is implemented in a similar way. However, when you are using it, the game displays a circle to show on the front screen which area you’ve touched. The objects that can be activated using the rear touchpad appear in green and are mainly platforms which can be pulled out so that SackBoy can jump onto them. These objects then turn blue when interacted with, so that you can move them with the front touchscreen to shift them back to where they were originally.

Touch interaction brings a whole new dimension to the gameplay and doesn’t feel tacked on at all. In fact, it makes the levels more interesting and challenging as you tend to be on the lookout for objects which can be manipulated by the touch controls, and there are always hidden extras to discover in the levels. The level design is great too with brightly coloured carnival-themed stages providing a fun, interactive backdrop.

The front touchscreen is also implemented in the side quests. As one side mission demonstrates you need to turn Vita 90 degrees to play a whack-a-mole type game, hitting the SackBoys which pop out of holes as fast as you can. Hitting them quickly gives you a bonus and is the key to gaining a high score. In the final version we can expect to see a lot of mini-games to get involved in outside of the main story mode and Vita’s intuitive touchscreen implementation should make them a lot of fun to play.

The level creator makes a return as well and is just as in depth as previous games. Every tool you could ever need is included and a variety of new tools added, including the Touch Sensor and Touch Tweaker, which allow you to make any object compatible with the front and rear touchscreens. And the touchscreen can also be used to make level designing easier so you can drag items across the screen and place them with a tap. To some people, level creation may be daunting but there are some great tutorials that explain what each of the tools can do.

Before long we should see some user-created levels that are just as good as the ones in the game. The Vita version will also use ‘Near’, the social app allowing you to instantly tell your local friends about levels you like or have played. Just like previous LBP games, the replay value of this Vita version should be infinite with the ability to download and play hundreds of new user-created levels.

Overall, LittleBigPlanet Vita is shaping up to be one of the stand-out titles for Sony’s handheld with its slick touchscreen implementation, clever level design and in-depth toolset which should enable the community to create and share some amazing levels. LBP Vita’s colourful art style also shines on Vita’s 5 inch 950×544 resolution screen too and looks just as good as the PS3 games in the series.

There’s not too long to wait either as LittleBigPlanet Vita launches on September 19 in Europe and September 25, 2012 in North America.