Approachable. Brilliant. Classic. Dynamic. Exciting. Fun. Gorgeous. Hilarious. Innovative. Jammin’. Kooky. Lovable. Magical. Numinous. Open. Playful. Quirky. Robust. Splendid. Transcendent. Universal. Vibrant. Wacky. Xenial. Youthful. Zany.
These qualities pervade this big title from the little Media Molecule, a previously unproven team of 30 or so individuals. I’d venture that they’ll have something to put on their resume from now on.
LittleBigPlanet is a masterpiece – that’s evident from the moment you boot it up. For those unfamiliar with the game — all three of you — LittleBigPlanet is a platformer at heart, but often transcends its own genre. What’s on the disc, however, is primarily platforming action. As you travel the LittleBigPlanet globe, you’ll meet the seven Creator Curators, who require your assistance for their odd, often comical requests. A coherent story is essentially non-existent, but the game has such a quirky, funny style that a narrative isn’t necessary.
Not that LittleBigPlanet won’t touch you. It’s certainly not the elusive “game that will make you cry,” but it will absolutely make you laugh. To be brutally honest, SackPeople are ridiculously cute. Their wooly exteriors are adorned with tiny little zippers, shiny button-eyes, and whatever else you unlock or create. To further express your endearing SackPerson, four different emotions — happy, sad, scared and angry — are mapped to the directional buttons. The mechanic sounds goofy and unimportant, but it’s supremely satisfying to slap a big grin across your SackBoy’s face as you ruthlessly whack your comrades into a nearby fire-pit.
But that’s just the frosting, so what does the cake taste like? First of all, it’s a three-layer cake. LittleBigPlanet is obviously rendered in 3D, but to the untrained eye it appears to be a 2D platformer. That’s partially correct. There are three “dimensions,” a foreground, middle, and background, in which to play. Swapping between these dimensions is relatively simple, but can be a bit irritating at times. This is the game’s principal fault.
On level ground, tap the left stick up or down to move into the background or foreground. This works fine. On uneven terrain, however, it gets a bit trickier. If you jump upwards, SackBoy will automatically move into the background if there’s higher ground above. That can cause some issues. To pinpoint a specific area where I had trouble with this mechanic, on Uncle Jalapeño’s level Boom Town there’s a short segment where you can jump up a small cliffside, present in all but the foreground. Every time I tried to jump up the middle cliff, I’d move right into the background, where I could no longer proceed. I hopped back down to the middle cliff and tried again, but the same thing occurred four or five times before I made it up.
Instances like this are few and far between, so don’t think that the gameplay is inherently flawed. Thankfully, the rest of the primary mechanics are as buttery as could be. You can run, jump and grab with ease, then perform other actions like tilting your SackPerson’s head or hips with motion sensing, and using L2 and R2 to control your SackArms. One thing will take a bit of getting used to, however, is the game’s physics system. I’ve never before played a platformer with such a heavy emphasis on physics. This took a bit of time to become accustomed to, but once I spent a couple of minutes with the game, I immediately saw the benefits of such a system. Movements aren’t predefined whatsoever; velocity and acceleration are taken into account at all times. This gives you the freedom to replay levels without them feeling stale.
Another key implementation in LittleBigPlanet is its multiplayer component. The folks at Media Molecule wisely fused all of the standard multiplayer modes from other games into one grand experience. Multiplayer is neither offline nor online, competitive nor cooperative; it is all of the above. Play with any combination of up to four offline and online SackPeople. Explore story levels or head into the online arena and discover new creations. Compete vigorously for score and prize bubbles, work together to get them all, or ignore them entirely. It’s up to you.
So, you’ve beaten all of Media Molecule’s levels. What do you do next? Let’s say you want to create a level. LittleBigPlanet can be twisted and kneaded into whatever you desire. Want to create a modified version of Tetris? It’s already been made. How about staging an epic battle where you valiantly stave off a dragon with a cannon? My SackBoy will always wear his battle scars from that level with pride. Or, instead of all this fancy-shmancy genre-transcending stuff, you could always just recreate Super Mario Bros: World 1-1, though your level may get lost in the pack of the countless reconstructions that already exist.
All of this falls under the ‘create’ aspect of LittleBigPlanet. With such a powerful suite of tools, you’d expect content creators to be limited to a niche audience willing to learn an insanely complex toolset. That’s simply not the case. LittleBigPlanet has both the most user-friendly and most powerful content creation system ever seen in any console game ever. Once again: ever. A series of helpful tutorial videos and tasks, narrated by the jubilant Stephen Fry, will have even the most un-technical people creating levels in no time. Grab Grandma and have her create a level that bring those “good old days” she’s always talking about to life, or tell little eight-year-old Jimmy he can finally make those ninja dinosaurs he’s been whining about for years. Anything is possible.
Once your level is done, publish it to make your mark on the LittleBigPlanet community. If it’s popular, it will rise to the top of the “cool levels” category, and you could very well become a “cool creator.” Yes, there are countless horrid levels that people have made, but there are ample diamonds in the rough as well. The cream of the crop rises to the top due to the intelligent filtering system that Media Molecule has built. But say you’re looking for your friend’s level, which hasn’t been the most popular in the past. No problem – you can use the search option to find a specific level or author. There’s also an in-depth system of tagging and hearting levels. Tagging labels a level with a word that describes it, while hearting a level is the equivalent of bookmarking a webpage. It’s simple, helpful additions like these that make the community component of LittleBigPlanet refined to the point of near-perfection.
While I’m sure you’ve assumed this by now, it needs to be said. Some individuals out there on our own RatherBigPlanet are insanely gifted. To make a masterpiece, you have to have a lot of time and talent. Even if less than 1% of the creations that are published attain such a standing, expect to be inspired daily. You’ll come across levels that emulate other games and be amazed at the distinct details that went into their design. You’ll also discover original concepts that have such personality that entire games could be based off of single LittleBigPlanet levels.
LittleBigPlanet isn’t only a game for the PlayStation community – it’s a reason to join the PlayStation community. Anyone who plays games should experience this title. It’s been called the YouTube of gaming, the definition of user-generated content, the first true next-generation game and much, much more. I agree with those descriptions, but here’s something far simpler: It’s a blast, and you can’t afford to miss it.