A Game for Everyone?
Do you like map packs? How about free ones? Released every day? If you do you might just love Little Big Planet, Sony's first foray into the world of Game 3.0 and a truly revolutionary step in game design. In one fell swoop Media Molecule has revolutionised the platforming genre, and its traditional competitors will have a hard time keeping up.
For those who've somehow missed the insane amount of buzz revolving around LBP, this is a side scrolling platformer with a strong emphasis on user created content. Not only is a set of around thirty levels included in the game's 'Story' mode, but players can also create their own levels and share them online through an intuitive user interface that's very hard to find fault with. In this way users have access to hundreds of user-generated levels to play through, and if Sony play their cards right, this should be true many months from now.
If you were to completely ignore the online portion of the game you'd still find a huge amount of enjoyment on the little big planet. Media Molecule's levels are without a doubt the highlight of a game, every one of them creative in an entirely unique way. Each level introduces a new gameplay mechanic more inventive than the last, and as a result no two levels ever feel the same. Levels are divided into sets of around three, called 'worlds' - created by one of the fictional game's creators) -and these basically amount to different themes. Each of them manages to make the game visually interesting constantly. As soon as you start to get bored of a certain theme a new one rolls along, and you fall in love all over again.
The game isn't without its issues though. When you die in a level you're returned to the last checkpoint you past. This in itself is a well developed system, when throughout the entire game checkpoints are frequent enough to avoid frustration. What wasn't a good idea was the inclusion of lives. The game only allows you to spawn at a checkpoint a certain number of times, until it decideds you've had enough fun and forces you to restart the level. Such a system is archaic and stupid, and has no place in such a forward thinking game.
The art design in the game is a sight to behold, yet it's very hard to place. The best possible word for it would be "homemade." The levels are all designed to look like they've been created out of a variety of materials such as sponge, wood, or felt and this gives the game an interesting aesthetic. For once you're not simply running through one metallic corridor after another but over felt upholstery designed to look like rolling hills, grabbing on to sponge to have yourself pulled up to the next area. Overall the game possesses bucketfuls of charm, which will appeal to audiences universally. Little Big Planet is most definitely a game to show off to a non-gamer, Sackboy's undeniable charm should win anyone over instantly.
The control scheme reflects the accessible nature of the art direction. You can run, jump, and grab hold of items, and if you ignore all the aesthetic gestures you can make sackboy perform these actions will be all you need to play the game. A light tap of the jump button will send sackboy on a little hop into the air, whereas a firm press will send him much higher. It's very intuitive and easy to get hold of on the easy levels, but when the level design gets more hectic you may find yourself cursing the control's imprecision. It's very hard at times to gauge the distance you'll jump, and add to this the fact that you always float forward a step when you land, and you'll find yourself throwing controllers at the game's hardest moments.
All of this without even going online.
Signing in to the Playstation Network unleashes a tornado of creativity onto your PS3. People have created the most amazing things online, there's the standard platforming levels to play for a more traditional experience, but then there's also calculators, old arcade game clones, pinball machines, basketball, and even lightsaber battles. With the intuitive system built by MM it's very easy to find the best levels online, so you'll rarely come across untested levels unless you go out searching for them.
When you go looking off the beaten track however, the quality of levels is all over the place. The game ensures that the technically in all these levels is proficient, but level design can still lack intuition. Often I've come across levels where after passing a certain point the path behind you will be destroyed, but when you die you're left with no chance of reaching the level's end. Problems such as these are unavoidable when you give anybody the opportunity to create levels for the community, but hopefully over time people will learn level design etiquette, and quality will improve.
So you play a few levels, and then you decide you want to create your own. Thankfully this is as easy a process as it can be, with the biggest limits on your designs being your own creativity. Every design tool comes with its own tutorial complete with narration by Steven Fry, so it's rare that you'll find something and have no idea what it's for. A reference guide would be helpful though, as at times I found myself trawling through lengthy tutorials looking for the most mundane of information.
Overall though Little Big Planet is everything it was promised to be by Sony. It may have a few small rough patches in its design but these are minor blemishes on what is a truly incredible game. Best of all though it will only get better over time, as people become more and more adept at using the level editor to produce some insane creations. Hopefully a year from now the creativity still won't have ceased, and we'll still be discussing the latest levels published.