In 2008, at a time when platform games weren’t considered cool any more, English developer Media Molecule released a puzzle platformer, LittleBigPlanet. That game was a smash hit and spawned sequels and spin-offs galore. Now it is time for Sackboy to make his début on Sony’s latest handheld.
Firstly, Sackboy’s biological parents aren’t looking after the young man on this journey. Instead, he’s under the guidance of Double Eleven Limited (which was founded by former Rockstar Leeds employees), Tarsier Studios (have made some DLC for both of the LittleBigPlanet PS3 titles, as well as Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic) and XDev (who manage games that are from independent studios, which are then published by SCEE). On this occasion, the old adage of “too many cooks…” does not apply. This is more LBP, and that is definitely not a bad thing.
In the preview code we received, the entire first world was open, a section of the game called “The Arcade” – which I’ll get into – as well as the wonderful community levels and creation tools.
Once LBP Vita kicks off, Sackboy arrives at a stage and gazes into a vortex that lies behind the curtain. He is warned off by Colonel Flounder, a circus ringmaster. He informs Sackboy of the regular sackfolk that enter this vortex and come out as “The Hollows”, sackbots that are devoid of personality and serve The Puppeteer in the world of Carnivalia. Carnivalia was once a happy place where the greatest entertainer was The Puppeteer. However, on one occasion he received choruses of boos from his once adoring audience and took control of Carnivalia.
The story begins in La Marionetta, where Flounder shows Sackboy the ropes. Like previous incarnations of LittleBigPlanet, the player is taught how the basic mechanics work in the game; jumping, score bubbles, grabbing objects and so on. Where touch first comes into play is in navigating around your Popit, your own personal hub for customising your Sackperson, accessing stickers, text chatting and hitting the Try Again option to voluntarily combust your Sack. This all feels very natural as the player can swipe to get to the different screens in the various menus. In terms of gameplay, the front touchscreen is an option for placing stickers around the environment. The player can pinch to make the sticker smaller, enlarge the sticker by moving their fingers in opposite directions, rotate and place by tapping. Again, this is done with relative ease, however, the quicker method is to use the buttons on your system.
Platforms and objects that can be manipulated through touch are identified by their bright blue or bright green colour, blue meaning front touch and green meaning rear touch. There are cushion-like platforms which are used to create stepping stones for Sackboy to get to a higher plateau, but they are so sensitive that your Sackperson can end up getting squashed if you’re over zealous and ram his head into the ceiling. That is the only instance of the front touch’s implementation being haphazard. You can help Sackboy along by pulling back on a spring-like platform and shooting him into the sky for instance, which works very well, as do the spinning wheels and the protruding platforms that can pushed back with a simple tap.
Like many Vita games before it, the rear touch can be a hindrance in LittleBigPlanet. As seen in Escape Plan, you can push platforms that are in the back plane to the foreground. Unlike Escape Plan, there is a marker on the Vita’s OLED screen to correspond with where your finger is placed on the rear touch, which helps the situation somewhat. From what was on show here, the rear touch capabilities are kept to a minimum, which is a good thing. The majority of the front touch application works, so hopefully efforts are focused upon that in the final release. The Rear touch in LBP Vita is one of the better uses I’ve seen, yet is still not perfect.
One of the striking things in LBP Vita is the fact that these levels look like they could’ve appeared in LittleBigPlanet 2. The game looks stunning and the attention to detail is of a very high standard. One particular level – Palace of the Peculiar – has excellent platforming ideas and is nicely challenging. The boss level in the world, a maniacal accordion, also uses a lot of touch ideas that aren’t intrusive. One thing that I’d like to see more of in the final release is interactive backgrounds. One specific example of this was a guitar that looked like part of the scenery in a level, but could be strummed when I dragged my finger across its strings.
Another innovation in the series are the levels that require you to tilt the system on its side. In La Marionetta, there was one side-level where you have to do this in order to play. It turned out to be a level inspired by Whack-A-Mole, where you’re whacking Sackboys and racking up points.
The Arcade is a world in the game that contains five unique mini games. Here, one of them was open to me; Tapling. Tapling is like a mix between World of Goo, Super Meat Boy and Limbo, where you must shoot a black globule across levels and save white blobs from their cages whilst razor blades and evil nasties try to dispose of you. It contains eight levels of simple gold. This game could easily be its own iOS app and have garnered a following.
Of course, LittleBigPlanet is about creation and the level editor is just as intimidating and open as it was in LBP 2, however, people are already creating works of art. One cool thing about the community levels this time around (as well as being able to queue them up) is that you can download them onto your system for offline play. What was once a place where people had interesting ideas has now become like an iOS App Store. Games can now store high scores and save progress. The possibilities for genius UGC are endless.
This is essentially more LittleBigPlanet, but the innovation is there and the majority of it is a welcome addition. The controls were very wonky in co-op and the latency at times was ridiculous, but I can only imagine that it’ll be sorted once we get the final product. Sackboy proves once again why he’s not just a pretty face with the makings of another terrific game.
LittleBigPlanet for PlayStation Vita will be released on September 25 in North America and September 19 in Europe.