Sony's field of bad dreams.
Little Big Planet is not the kind of game that a major publisher or console-maker whose name doesn’t begin with an N usually pushes to the holiday forefront. On the Microsoft side of the aisle, there are massive, multi-million copy-selling games like Gear of War 2 and Fable 2; both completely exclusive and both at least reasonably good. Sony, on the other hand, used up its biggest named exclusive much earlier this year and has only Resistance 2 and Motorstorm 2 to pick up the slack along with LittleBigPlanet. The market for the sequels is pretty much built in, so Sony has thrown a lot of time and money behind LittleBigPlanet, and for the life of me I cannot figure out why, because I have no idea who this game is actually for. Neither does Sony, as they appear to be trying to sell it to anyone and everyone. Show it to enough people and someone will buy it, right?
First and foremost, LittleBigPlanet is a platformer. Ordinarily this would be worth quite a few bonus points for me; 2D platformers are few and far between these days. The last really good one I played was New Super Mario Brothers, and that was two years ago when I still had a DS. That game knew exactly was it was and reveled in the old-school-ness of it. LittleBigPlanet, on the other hand, was not content with just 2D and had to try to pry in just enough of the third dimension to make playing the game an absolute chore. As trite as it may sound, the game controls terribly. There is no option to use the d-pad instead of the analog stick, so movement feels mushy even before the exaggerated physics come into play. It is impossible to do anything with precision; jumping is awkward, landing worse, and just running over loosely wobbling obstacles a matter of luck instead of timing and skill. No one is actually good at this game, they simply have enough patience to try over and over until little scrotum boy bounces just the right way.
It unfortunately does not end there. Moving between planes is inconsistent; sometimes jumping forward a level is not possible, other times it leads to instant death by bottomless pit. Telling which plane you are on at any given time is also a matter of guesswork, leading to death by falling behind a platform into the aforementioned bottomless pit. For a game this insufferably pleased with itself, it just isn’t any fun. After two levels I wanted to wring the John Clease sound-alike narrator’s neck. Even the look of the game quickly becomes annoying, busy being almost photorealistic and uninteresting at the same time. The level design swings wildly between boring and easy to actually creative but impossible. I would love to take Mario for a spin through some of the later levels - maybe he would actually land on a platform once in a while instead of waving his arms, trying to be cute on the way to another inadvertent and unavoidable death.
There is of course much more to LittleBigPlanet than just falling into pits and making obscene gestures with custom avatars. The ability to create just about any level imaginable with the included editor is a big selling point. It is unfortunate that playing through the included levels to unlock items is required; it feels like being punished for something someone else did wrong. The editor itself is difficult, but not impossible to use. Mouse support is probably a bit much to ask for, but it would have been nice. The ability to play through other users’ levels for free is also welcome, though as brilliant as some of them are, they are still saddled with the same control problems from the main game. Think of playing with Lego while wearing mittens, then coat everything with ice. I am amazed at what some people have had the time and skill to come up with, I just wish I could play them in a different game.
Making a level editor the selling point of a game seems like a cop-out to me. It almost feels like admitting that you have a great set of tools but have no idea what to do with them, then selling them for full price with the hope that someone else will. Sony has been lucky; the community has come through and made some great levels for their broken game. It is a shame that no one will see any benefit from it. LittleBigPlanet is begging for an in-game economy, something like the coppers system in Trackmania. Players there are rewarded for their creativity with in-game currency. It’s not as good as really getting paid, but it is better than the trophy awarded for having five people download your level. It also doesn’t hurt that the game attached to the tool set is good in its own right - something LittleBigPlanet cannot hope to claim.