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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Little Big Planet: GOTY Edition (9.3/10)

Little Big Planet takes a simple idea: create a fun yet complex and challenging platformer, and expands it to stratospheric proportions. By giving the public at large the tools to create their own game levels, LBP has opened the door to an untapped resource. I doubt they expected such and overwhelming response. As cute as the main game is, the breadth and depth of the user-created content is mind boggling... over 3.5 million levels have been created by the avid LBP community.

Where to begin... LBP is really just a platformer at heart. You control a 'Sack-person,' a cuddly little thing (guy or girl, you can dress them up however you want) who runs and jumps through increasingly difficult and complex levels. The story is pretty odd, revolving around an evil "Collector" who is stealing the creations of others and keeping them for himself. Seeing as sharing your creations with others is kinda the whole point of LBP, this is obviously a problem. Sackboy embarks on a quest through jungles and temples, canyons and castles. It's cute, if more than a little bizarre, but that's not really the point, now is it? This is one of those situations where 'Concept' trumps 'Story' in my opinion.

The platforming is robust and clever. Not just 2D but not quite 3D, most of the action involves classic side-scrolling platforming that we have been playing since we were kids. But Sackboy can also move from the foreground to the middle to the background, giving it some depth. That depth creates more options for level design and gameplay. Personally I don't think that it controls particularly well on this plane, but it does allow for more possibilities. 

The other major component is the Sackboy's ability to grab stuff. Certain materials are grippable, and Sackboy can maneuver them to make new areas accessible. Perhaps a block of spongy material is strung up over a chasm? Jump, then grip and use your momentum to swing across the gap. You'll notice though, that the momentum is realistic. Let go too soon and you won't have a high enough arc. Let go too late and you'll go straight up, then straight back down to your death. The physics involved in this are truly impressive... seriously.

This realistic physics engine gives objects, including Sackboy, real weight. It's ingenious and very effective, you can feel the instant you've mistimed something... you know it won't end well! It makes the game almost frustratingly difficult in places, even if you are marveling at the physics through gritted teeth. That said, when you get it right, it's exhilarating. My girlfriend and I were constantly high-fiving each other after we'd get through a particularly difficult stretch. There is a real sense of accomplishment, especially towards the latter part of the game.

As you play LBP you collect 'Bubbles' that score you points. However, some bigger 'Bubbles' have objects inside (and are worth more points). These collectibles encompass everything from costumes and accessories for your Sackperson (some of which are down-right hilarious) to stickers you can use to decorate your levels. But some of them are functional; materials for use in your creations. The thing is, and I actually quite like this although I've heard some people complain about it, is that to build really cool levels you need to have played through the game to get all the necessary tools and materials to even have the ability to begin to make your dreams a digital reality.

Collectibles are all over the place in LBP, with some that are devilishly well hidden. God only knows how long it would take to get them all... we certainly didn't. That's mostly because just about every level has some form of multiplayer component. In other words, there are sections where you need multiple Sack-people to access it. This might mean that one person moves a switch that will move a platform to the other side of a chasm where there is loot for the taking. One player hops on the platform, the other operates the switch. That's a very simplified version of the puzzles in the game, but you get the idea.... cooperation is necessary.

But what is soooooo cool about LBP is that it puts the tools to create playable levels in the hands of the gamers themselves. There is a whole slew of tutorials to walk you through the creation process... and then off you go! You are only limited by your own imagination and creativity. But the truth is to really make a good level takes a lot of time, not to mention trial and error. It's a fairly complex interface, that takes more than a little practice to get proficient with it. We messed around with it a bit, but I'll be the first to admit I don't have the imagination, patience, or creativity to create a really good level.

That said, get online and check out some of the stuff others have created. Some of them are truly astonishing (we played a Dead Space tribute level that was actually scary... how cool is that?!). These strangers have put and insane amount of time and energy into these efforts, purely for the joy of creating something to share with everyone. And for that I am grateful, because it essentially makes LBP infinitely re-playable. Again, over 3.5 million levels have been created... that's a LOT of work. And while not all of them are gems, it's worth wading through the rubbish just to see what is possible, if only you put your mind to it!

I'll quickly mention the technical stuff beyond the cool gameplay physics. For what LBP is, the graphics are pretty good. I'm particularly taken with the textures... the cloth that makes the Sackboy looks real. The backgrounds and level design look good as well, as relatively simple or detailed as you want them to be. Of course, the good people at Media Molecule have outdone themselves setting the bar very high, making each level almost overwhelmingly colorful and vibrant!

Most platformers are from an older era, but we know their jingles by heart. Even if you aren't a gamer, you probably know some of them in all their 8-bit glory! LBP is no exception. Some of the soundtrack is quite cute, complimenting the cute graphics and cute characters making some sort of disgusting, yet irresistible, cuteness sandwich. Of course, just like the classic tunes, these get a little old as well. 

There isn't really much in the way of voice work (Sackpeople sadly don't talk much, but if they did, oh the stories they'd tell!) with one major and notable exception... the wonderful Steven Fry is the voice of the narrator, who not only tells the tale of LBP but also explains how all the tools work when you are creating levels. All done in a glorious, refined, hoighty-toighty British accent! He's brilliant...

Little Big Planet is a truly impressive accomplishment. Media Molecule should be commended for not just creating a fun and clever game, but for introducing the tools to allow the gaming community to create for themselves. While I never really did more than dabble in the level creator, I can't tell you the inordinate amount of time we spend simply dressing up our Sack-people. It's fun to just make quirky costumes! But I'd say the response they have received speaks for itself. I'll admit I'm a mere leech to the brilliant efforts of others, but I've enjoyed not only the game on it's own but the creations of the community at large as well. It means there will always be something new to try. So to Media Molecule I say thank you, but I also thank all the people who have put their own time and effort into their creations, because we have enjoyed them at our house!


Score = 9.3 / 10


  1. Little Big Planet is a great game! I just got the second one and am yet to play it.
    Great review!

  2. I never expected to be playing video games at age 48. But my kids love them, and it seemed like a great way to spend some quality time together. This game is my favorite so far. I'm not sure if the kids have more fun playing it, or listening to me and watching me play it! It's hilarious. Great review!