canuckeh's LittleBigPlanet (PlayStation 3) review

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A nation is only as strong as its people.

LittleBig Planet: The forerunner of the “Game 2.0” movement, a 2D sidescroller that allows the common man the power to create their own levels.

Story : The supposed storyline existence behind the world of LittleBig Planet is that all stray bits of imagination from human minds floats up and condenses in space as part of this giant planet. I know this to be a lie, judging by the lack of breasts in LittleBig Planet.

Calling the “Story” mode of LittleBig Planet a “Story” mode is the second lie this game has told me. The “story” has you hopping from one loosely-tied together sequence of events to another, doing unlikely jobs for non-living NPC characters. Their “dialogue” is minimalist and so blatantly to-the-point in regards to doing the developer’s will at the expense of any kind of continuity. A character that you just freed from prison will tell you to hop on this car that came out of nowhere and then advise you to go to and play with explosives.

Not that anyone is playing LittleBig Planet hoping for the next great cinematic epic, but I’d like to think that the people at Media Molecule could at least come up with a better ending than the self-serving “isn’t our game great?” crap that you get for going through the “story mode”.

You play as Sackboy, the third lie in LittleBig Planet. The Castlevania games notwithstanding, LittleBig Planet has to be the first sidescroller with a transsexual protagonist. You the player are free to dress up Sack-thing any way you like, male or female, and there’s an online store that allows you to purchase new threads to dress up your character from an assortment of fashions for men, women or Raiden from Metal Gear. There seems to be a good degree of freedom within the Sackboygirl editor to create an interesting puppet-hero, or at least that’s the impression I’m given based on how people have created levels online with snapshots lined up of their Sack-Dragonball Z character designs.

Satchel-Ass’s abilities as an actual platform hero include run, jump, grab onto things, push, pull, pointlessly flail his arms around and go through emotional mood swings with the d-pad. He or she can also bring up a menu that grants the option of taking photos, throwing stickers around carelessly, inviting friends or trying his/her damnedest to blow up and commit suicide. As an aside, you can play any level co-operatively, online, with up to four people, and goof around to your heart’s content. Just be sure to stick with friends; in my attempts to join strangers online, I was often thrust into a game that had just finished and was deprived of any swashbuckling adventures.

There’s this sort of pop-up-book/grade school art style that pervades the entire game. On one hand, it’s unique, visually appealing, and even the levels other players make will look at least visually competent in comparison to most attempts at a Flash game you’ll see online. On the other, except for Sack-object, there really isn’t a single living organism in LittleBig Planet. All of the NPCs are practically talking signs in the background and all of the enemies are basic objects or trains with green buttons on them that you jump on to thwart them. I couldn’t help but have a feeling of emptiness as I journeyed across the levels. I never realized just how much personality a goomba added to a game world.

But on the other hand, there is the occasionally solid platforming sequence. The developer-made levels sometimes feature strong obstacle course-like areas that you’ll want to pat yourself on the back for accomplishing, and you’ll occasionally see an interesting set-piece sequence, like a particular sequence of tunnels occupied by…flaming worms. However, they’re not all winners, and you’ll feel like there’s perhaps one vehicle sequence too many where you hop into a ride and let the game do the rest, or areas that are all too blatant with their attempt to show off a new possible tool to use, like explosions or lighting.

But the game lays a LittleBig turd when it comes to the game physics. Platformers tend to have their own set of largely unrealistic physics, but they were largely related only to the character the player was controlling. It’s rather unintuitive that Simon Belmont will phase through a staircase (and probably die) in a Castlevania game unless the player presses up near the ledge, but that could be begrudgingly accepted and worked around. Here, the entire boobless world of LittleBig Planet is dictated by an unsavory set of physics. While that at least makes events feel less scripted than they were in older games, it also lends to some setbacks. Teetering platforms can become too far apart and thus impassible. Too much momentum can cause Sackey to fly off a platform spontaneously. Slipping off platforms is a common occurrence. How much height you get from jumping off a moving platform can sometimes be random. There’s also this system of layers where you can jump back and forward between the background and foreground of key areas. The controls for doing so manually is clumsy, and the game’s attempts at automatically making adjustments can lead to unwanted shifts into a corner or slipping to your…you guessed it, accidental death.  To sum up; you will die accidentally quite a bit.  You have a set number of lives that resets upon reaching a checkpoint, but you’ll swear that it isn’t enough with the sheer number of nonsense deaths awaiting you.

Along the way of playing through this campaign, you’ll collect a dizzying number of items to use in the level editor. From my…struggle to create a level, I can tell you that this level editor is very powerful. You have a strong degree of freedom to edit any object to your heart’s content and create your own dream level. I at least get the idea that this level editor is powerful based on the game’s long tutorials, or rather long-winded tutorials, as the British narrator who explains all of the game’s concepts is very good at speaking for long stretches of time without actually saying anything of value. 

If LittleBig Planet did one thing correctly, it’s successfully give me a whole new level of appreciation for side-scroller video games… a level of appreciation that most actual LittleBig Planet players haven’t quite adopted yet. It takes a great amount of time to conceive, plan out, design and test a level that functions, let alone one that’s entertaining to play through. There exists a wealth of user-created levels available for download in the LBP universe. It’s just that most of them…well, they suck. To all of the LBP fans out there viewing this, you guys are letting me down right now.

Oh, there are certainly some visually interesting levels. There’s a large amount of supposed tributes to movies and games, but the gameplay of the vast majority of content is subpar, basic, a second thought in the designer’s mind besides “yeah! I’m going to have Virtual Buzz Lightyear!” I’ll attest to having played through at least one or two genuinely fun platformer levels, but I had to look far and wide to find them amidst the sea of “ride race” and “check out my Star Fox theme” levels. The folks at Media Molecule need to conceive a better way of organizing user-generated content, perhaps into categories such as “actual levels with fun gameplay” and “useless gimmick levels that I think is cool”, rather than the set of generic “moons” that showcase everything thrown at them.

Right now, LittleBig Planet is like Youtube; it gives the player the freedom to create whatever they’d like, no matter how bad it is. As a platforming sidescroller, LBP is decent but flimsy in comparison to actual 2D sidescrollers that focus on single themes rather than try to be the all-encompassing omni-platformer ruled by one governing set of physics. As a user-driven game, the potential for LittleBig Planet is vast, but unorganized, and any potentially great concept will be drowned out in a sea of user-generated crap. And if you’re a LittleBig Planet user-content-generator and this semi-scathing review enrages you, great! Use your anger to produce better levels and contribute positively to your game world, as opposed to polluting the LBP environment with another lame driving stage. Because a game that’s driven by its user content is only as strong as its community, and right now this 3 and a half stars is for both Media Molecule and you.

Pros : I got Rick-Rolled in a user-made level once.

Cons : I really, really, really hate that narrator.

3 ½ stars

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