Game Review: LittleBigPlanet (PS3)

Genre: Platformer
ESRB: E for Everyone
Developer: Media Molecule
Platform: Playstation3
Price: $59.99
Release Date: October 27, 2008

If you’re looking for a fun game for adults, kids, or both, LittleBigPlanet for the Playstation 3 is a very safe bet. The new platform is certainly one of the most unique games of 2008 if not this entire gaming generation. How can you go wrong with a culturally diverse game starring little “sack people” in a world of marionettes narrated by Stephen Fry in the same humorous manner as he did the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?

There’s not much to the “story” of the single-player game. You are your own sackperson, exploring the imaginary parts of LittleBigPlanet as you learn the ways of the game. Along the way, you may notice a bizarre looking creature ease-dropping on your fun or even sneaking away with one of your friends, but there isn’t much more to say about him until the very end.

The gameplay is very standard platforming. You run, jump, grab, move blocks, blow stuff up, and jump on bad guys to make them disappear. Even so, the game finds new and creative ways to implement the simple controls needed to move your Sackboy or Sackgirl around the world. There are only a handful or so “devices” used by the game but hundreds of variations on how they can be used. The first few levels walk you through the basics, but the game includes video tutorials and demos to teach you about all the possibilities, and even those contain some humorous jabs. I half-expected a bowl of petunias to fill from the sky at one point. Overall I found the game’s atmosphere to be very clever and one of the few games I found entertaining to learn the game.

As you move along the world, you can find new stickers (images) decorations (physical items), materials (literally the fabric of reality in LBP), and costumes (the fabric of your character) to help you explore new areas or just have fun customizing your character. Already there are an abundance of tutorials on how to make your sackperson look like Spawn, The Joker, Scorpion, Batman, Harry Potter, you name it.

But the purpose of the game is clearly to enjoy it other people. You can invite friends to join your game or jump into a level with random people from around the globe. I recently found myself in a game with a person from Virginia and another from Belgium. In fact, some part of a level are only accessible when 2-4 players work together to solve the puzzles. You can use a compatible headset to talk to others or use an internal type pad.

This is perhaps, where the gameplay of LBP has its most noticeable flaws. There is no “lounge” or community room where you can meet other plays looking for the sames things you are. Instead, a player must jump into a level and wait for (hopefully) the right number of people to join your game. Sometimes this can happen in a few seconds, sometimes… a lot longer. There is no way to tell what levels have players waiting and if those players have any interest in completing the multiplayer challenges with you. Some may only be interested in winning races or they just trying to get through the level and need help from someone who has completed it. There’s nothing wrong with either of those, but it would be nice if players could choose who they play with based on what their interests are. Needless to say, finding multiplayer fun can sometimes be a challenge and a bore.

Then there is the internal text messaging system, which works exactly as it would on a cell phone. You want to type “Hello”? You have to hit the “GHI4” button twice (5 times if you want a capital H) then the DEF3 button twice, and so on. And if you enter the wrong letter by mistake, hitting the back button will delete the entire word you were working on, not just the last letter. The game, like most cell phones, has a predictive dictionary, but that doesn’t make up for the extremely frustrating input system. The main PS3 operating system uses a full virtual keyboard, so I am not sure why this could not be implemented into the game as well. The silver lining to both of these flaw is that we live in the age of the internet and easily accessible game patching. Already the game is running version 1.05 as of this review, so it’s always possible both of these problems could be addressed by a future update.

Earlier this year, Sony updated the PS3 to include trophies, which can be unlocked by accomplishing certain objectives, some easy, some incredibly difficult. Admittedly, I’ve become a bit of a junkie for these trophies. With LBP, the trophies and internal reward system increase the replay value three-fold at a minimum. Players unlock new items, costumes, and stickers for completing levels without dying or for finding all of the items hidden throughout the board. At different checkpoints, like finding 25/50/75 percent of total items in the game, you unlock trophies as well. Now, unless you are really really good, odds are you’re not going to find every item or complete a level without dying on your first time through, so there’s good motivation to return to and re-explore every level.

While the story mode is both creative and fun, the true purpose of LBP is the user-created worlds you can explore. Everything you collect and design during the story mode is simply building up supplies for the creation and publishing of your own worlds. It is here that LBP has both its greatest strength and its biggest weakness. Everyone has the ability to create levels, so amateur game-makers can have a field day with the possibilities. Training videos and tutorials train users about the details, but then you’re set free with a blank canvas. Some truly creative levels have already been published, including some designed specifically to help players earn certain trophies, while there many, many others that show that just having the tools is not enough to make decent levels. There are some pretty awful ones out there. A large number of the bad ones are quick imitations of other popular video games/movies but Sony isn’t letting those stay up for long, copyright issues and all. Some are brilliantly done (I played two clever remakes of the Ghostbuster films) but they’re taken down quickly for the same reason. So keep it original if you’re going to publish your own levels. I’m working on creating my own zombie-inspired level as we speak. We’ll see how it turns out, but it is a blast creating a level literally from the ground up. The world is ever-expanding and Sony has already release numerous costume and design packs to inspire even more creativity in others.

Things are only getting started in the LittleBigUniverse and I expect this game to be an incredible start to an amazing franchise.

If you have the game and want to play sometimes, feel free to invite me. My screenname there is the same there as it is here.

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