Thursday, January 8, 2009

LittleBigPlanet (PS3) - Review

This is the first review of the new year, so why not start big (well... LittleBig)? Let's start with the game I crowned Game of the Year 2008: LittleBigPlanet. SPOILERS: It receives a great score. Let's gad on into the review, shall we?

ATTN: All Happy Gadders!!!

The platforming genre as a whole has declined since its hey day in the SNES/Genesis and PS1/N64 days. Nowadays it's a rare occurence for a platformer to get a lot of publicity much more viewed as the biggest holiday title for a console. That is exactly the case with LittleBigPlanet for the Playstation 3. However, this title's big selling point isn't exactly the running and jumping 2D fans of the genre crave. Oh, that type of exhilaration is inside the atmosphere of LittleBigPlanet, but it's the in-depth level creator that's generating most of the buzz. How does this selling point fare, and does the game stay true on its promises?

Inside LittleBigPlanet's little big package is a story mode filled with over forty Media Molecule made levels. These follow a simply story through an incredibly competent series of progressively more difficult levels. Additionally, there are bonus levels to unlock, too, which feature much shorter stages either racing to a goal to achieve as high a score as possible or trying to survive a small mini-game level as long as your Sackboy can persevere. The levels show a superb amount of brilliance-- especially later on-- that will definitely lend some inspiration to even the most creatively-inept players; more so to those who've dreamed of designing games since drawing level maps inside their notebook during elementary school history class.

These Mm-manufactured levels demand to be replayed as well. One is the loneliest number after all. Certain areas are only reachable with 1-to-3 other friends. You can play locally or hop online with a party of friends, a souffle of strangers, or somewhere in-between. Meanwhile, completionists will simply be addicted to finding and collecting all of the hidden goodies, prize bubbles, throughout the game's many levels. These prize bubbles give everyone in the player's party a special gift such as a costume piece for their Sackpeople or a material to be used in the game's level creator.

Make your world as charming or as revolting
as you like. It's your world after all.

Starting off in the story mode, the platforming action isn't all that complicated. Neither are the controls for that matter. Sackboy can run, grab and/or pull certain objects, and place stickers to activate events such as doors opening or a surprising surprise of prizes of the bubble variety. As the story progresses, the levels and their challenges become harder-- but not impossible-- to survive. It's one hit one kill for Sackboy. If Sackboy perishes and becomes a squashed Sackaccordion, a burnt pile of burlap, or an electrified mess, he'll be transported to the last checkpoint reached. If all lives are used up, he'll have to restart the level. Thankfully, each checkpoint refills his and your supply of lives, and most checkpoints are placed in logical locations-- usually right before and after a tricky section.

Predominantly, LittleBigPlanet is a 2D platformer. However, there are elements of 3D as Sackboy can transfer between three planes within the Z-axis. Usually the game will automatically transfer you if necessary-- say, you're going to leaping into the air from the lower first plane up to a higher second plane. Most of the time this is very welcomed, but the occasional slip-up can occur. Some players may also be put off by the floaty controls of Sackboy himself as they may be used to more tight controlling found in games like Mario and Mega Man. However, it's really nothing that can't be gotten used to at all.

I don't think this is what it meant when it said "high five".

The true selling point of LittleBigPlanet, however, is the ridiculously robust customization the game offers. Not only can you place stickers and decorations within your pod (your hub where you can select levels and view other options), but you can outfit your Sackboy as you see fit. At the beginning of your LBP experience, your closet of costumes will be rather scarce, but by playing through story mode you'll earn a whole wonderful wealth to your wardrobe. There's also already several downloadable costumes ranging from absolutely free to absolutely not. Of course, if you're not in the Style Network mood, you can just randomize the outfit for something of the hilariously tacky nature.

The biggest factor of customization is being able to design a truly comprehensive and detailed level. You start out with a gigantic blank template where any of your creations can fit inside. This is not be limited to just levels either. Perhaps you just made an awesome rocket that you want to save for another time. You can use the Capture Tool to copy your creation to use at any time via your Pop-It menu. You can even send to your friends or place it in a prize bubble for friends far and wide to collect within a given level of yours. Seeing that big blank space of level canvas can be overwhelming though. No worries as the game comes with a exhaustive list of tutorials telling you how to make objects swing, hang, spin, and speed off. You can create your own enemies, give them a movement pattern to follow such as following or ignoring the player, and setting their weak point as vulnerable or invulnerable. Combined with a variety of complex bits and bobs you can create some menacingly monstrous creations. There really is no limit to what you can do. If you can think it, there's probably a way to do it. It just takes creativity, a little patience, and a bit of feedback.

You can really shoot for the moon with
creature creation in this game.

Anything that you see throughout LittleBigPlanet's story mode can be replicated and made in any of your levels. Additionally, the various prize bubbles sprinkled and hidden in the game's already made levels provide you with more materials for building walls, platforms, and objects with, stickers to color in your levels, and various machines, bits, and bobs that were used in the story mode to be used in your own levels-- just in case you lack that engineer's touch. After putting the finishing touches on your marvelous masterpiece, you can publish it for the entire world to see, play, and be jealous of.

If level design isn't your forte, you can always check out the abundance of level creations within the community itself. The community is quite strong and has some extremely awe-inspiring levels. Sure, most are garbage, but you can sort those out easily via the game's search system. You can find the most favorited, the busiest, and/or the newest levels. There are truly some that even outdo Media Molecule's own creations. Some of these levels redefine what you can do with LittleBigPlanet's level creation system.

The levels become increasingly more difficult
during the story mode.
We're in the final world in this shot.

The world of LittleBigPlanet itself is extremely charming and a joy to watch in motion. Various lighting aspects allow levels to shine with the warm glow of sunset or the cold gaze of darkness. The soundtrack is compromised of lesser known licensed tracks as well as music composed specifically for the game. There's a sizable enough list of music for any type of level. Meanwhile, online still has problems, unfortunately. Lag in games with a party of 3 or 4 can get rather severe, the game's servers can act very finicky at times not allowing you to hop online, levels can take multiple attempts before it finally gets published, there's some glitches via creating levels, and there's an extreme amount of trophy levels. Even with those problems, online is still an enjoyable experience the majority of the time.

LittleBigPlanet most definitely isn't for everyone. It takes a good amount of work to create a worthwhile level, and most out there might not want to play this game to "work". However, there's enough content from fellow owners in the form of levels and objects to make a purchase justifiable. The story mode is fleshed out well, and playing with friends can be a hilarious and seldom frustrating experience. For those of us who doodled game ideas and maps inside our notebooks during school, this is the game for us. It's the most fun I've had with a game since Super Mario Galaxy (and we didn't even get to sleep together that night). For everyone else, it's a competent platforming escapade in a genre that needs as much support as possible. If it's fun you're looking for, LittleBigPlanet will sack it to you.

[SuperPhillip Says]

Gameplay: The floaty controls may take a little getting used to, but it doesn't ruin the experience of the game by any stretch of the imagination. The levels are expertly designed and fun to play over and over again.

Replay Value: Just playing through the story mode will take six hours, and that is without finding all of the hidden extras. I don't think I need to explain the time someone can spend creating levels, do I?

Presentation: LittleBigPlanet is polished, pleasing, and technically impressive on nearly all levels. The only hiccups in framerate occur online. As for the sound, the soundtrack is varied to give any discerning ear at least one track they'll enjoy.

Overall: 9.75/10

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