Game: LittleBigPlanet Karting
Developer: United Front Games / Sony San Diego Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Available On: PlayStation 3 Only
From my youth, I have specific fond memories of video games that I recall playing to death. It’s hard to think I’d be alone in pinpointing Super Mario Kart as one of those games, because it was absolutely incredible. Before the age where I would begin to over-analyse and pick apart every little facet of life, there were karting games. It’s impossible to talk about any karting game without mentioning it, but with the cursory Mario Kart comparison out of the way, we can turn to LittleBigPlanet Karting.
Not even the first non-Media Molecule LBP game, it seems that LittleBigPlanet and Sackboy are here to stay, and are taking a similar route to other beloved console mascots, and branching out into games that may not (at first) seem obvious to the consumer. However, this isn’t the only karting game on the market this November, and there are at least two more to come this year, so what makes LittleBigPlanet Karting worth your hard-earned sack-coins?
STORY: It’s bizarre to be writing about a story for a karting game, it really is. Sure, it may not be hugely in-depth, but the tried and trusted narrative of Sackboy having to save the LittleBigPlanet from some evil force or another returns, and it’s more of a front for the inclusion of the traditional LBP menus and design than a real attempt to tell any serious tale, but it’s there nonetheless. The story plays into the art design of the tracks too, so each level will have its own mini-narrative. Again, it’s nothing major but it helps add to the overall charm of the title, and proves that United Front have understood the ethos of the universe that Media Molecule have created thus far.
GRAPHICS: If you’ve not see a LittleBigPlanet game in action yet, I feel sorry for you. The magnificent hand-made style that is evident in every polygon that meets the player is a joy to behold. You cannot play this – or any other – LittleBigPlanet game with a frown on your face, it’s just so happy. Much of the previous games is here too, and when you jump across the finish line you can control Sackboy’s arms to do a little dance as your vehicle drives towards the camera. It’s that kind of personality that is so endearing to the player, hell, even the menus are familiar, except that Sackboy is sat in a kart in his pod.
SOUND: As you’d expect, Stephen Fry returns as the narrator to guide the player through the tutorial stages. In fact, nearly all previously used assets return to LBP Karting: The cheering audience, the sound of the player collecting bubbles as they race around the track, the pop of the collection of stickers; it’s all there. At this point in the franchise, the music is getting a little repetitive though, and the cheery tunes are a little lost in the mix of everything else that is going on.
GAMEPLAY: There’s a lot to do in LittleBigPlanet Karting, because each story track (there’s just shy of 30 of them) has a versus version for you to play with friends, which you can, locally, with up four people. The only real problem is that the menus are a little cumbersome. As with the original platformer, the story is split into planets and missions, which can be a little tiring to navigate when you just want to play some kart races. It’s noble to stick so closely to the framework laid out by the previous games, but LBP Karting is a racer and, as such, sometimes you just want to get into it.
It’s not being unfair to the game to say that there’s nothing hugely innovative about the single player kart racing here. You rush round tracks and collect power-ups as you go, attacking and defending as you see fit. There’s some slight nuances to the gameplay that seem less familiar, like the on-screen indication that the player is about to be hit, allowing for evasive action if you have the ability. However, for the most part, jumping and sliding (with a boost if you slide for long enough) around corners is the standard karting fare, and it’s all present and correct for the most part; though the weapons and boosting can feel underwhelming at times.
The difference though, is that you’ll be collecting bubbles and stickers as you race around the courses, creating a distraction and a risk reward for the player. If you collect a sticker on your first go around, it won’t be there again, and this adds to the “Play, Create, Share” feeling of the game, allowing you to grab 100% of a levels items and adding longevity. Moreover, there are mini-games that also (in part) act as tutorials, but some are very easy and won’t hold your attention for too long.
A nice touch is that there are two control methods, either the triggers or face buttons to control the kart. Options are always good, and you’ll need to find the choice you are comfortable with because there’s actually a fair bit of challenge on offer, due to the usual rubber-banding you’d expect from a kart racer. It’s as frustrating as ever to be well ahead in a race, only to be hit once and have at least four other racers fly past you. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it was a shock to find it happening so early on.
Once you take LBP Karting online though, you’ll find things far less frustrating because you’ll be racing with another 7 humans, and thus the playing field is evened out. Again, there’s absolutely loads to do for you with friends and online is where you’ll eventually spend most of your time, split with offline local multiplayer.
But of course, the crown jewels is the create mode again. Due to the nature of the genre, this time you can create in full 3D, and there are all the community support tools in place, yet again, to create a never ending stream of levels for people to play. The simple idea of collecting stickers in single player, using them to create your own content, then sharing it with everyone is executed well, as you’d expect.
LONGEVITY: Because of the create mode, just as with previous LittleBigPlanet titles, you could play LBP: Karting for as long as you like. You could just enjoy the single player, then a bit of multiplayer, or you could invest lots of time into creating wonderful content for other players to enjoy. It’s up to you, and that’s the beauty of the LittleBigPlanet franchise.
VERDICT: Ultimately, the biggest question that gamers will ask about LBP Karting is: Why? The previous games in the series have played host to some incredible creativity, and at some point there’s no doubt someone will have created some kind of racing or karting level in LittleBigPlanet 2. But this is a specifically kart-racing game, and the LBP franchise is in danger of over-saturation already. What if we now see LBP Shooting? Those levels were popular ones to create, too.
Luckily though, United Front Games know what they are doing and have made a solid karting game, with all the LittleBigPlanet charm that comes with it. Aside from the creation tools and character that Sackboy and Co. bring, don’t expect revolution, nor huge innovation. Sometimes video games have peculiar names, but this one does exactly what it says on the tin; this is LittleBigPlanet Karting.