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Monday, March 7, 2011

Little Big Planet 2 (9.6/10)

See people? This is how you do a sequel. Little Big Planet 2 epitomizes the term in every sense of the word. It took everything that worked in the first title, fixed the stuff that need fixing, and added a whole bunch of mechanics and clever ideas to make it new and refreshing. Everything from racing mini-games to 2-D side scrolling shooters have joined the classic platforming of the original, giving your Sackperson much more variety in his/her/its antics. Plus, with the ability to import your Sackperson from the first game, you won't miss a beat!

The story is slightly more involved this time around as the Negativitron, a giant evil vacuum cleaner, is wreaking havoc by sucking all of the imagination and creativity out of Craftworld. Joining with Larry Da Vinci and Avalon Centrifuge, you help to create an 'Alliance' to fight back! It's a much more cohesive narrative, and consequently makes the 'Story' mode much more enjoyable (although, the final confrontation with the nefarious hoover is a pain in the butt...). It's a good laugh and each unique land you visit in Craftworld is wonderfully detailed and cleverly designed. Once again there are goodies hidden all over the place ensuring that you'll need to play it through multiple times with some friends to get them all.

The fun (yet occasionally frustrating) platforming that is the core of LBP's gameplay returns in spades. The realistic physics engine once again means you need to be paying attention as you run, jump, and swing around each level. The 'not quite 3-D' depth to the 2-D side scrolling is back, giving a layered effect to level design. If you played the first game then this is all old hat to you, but this time Media Molecule have mixed things up with some new toys thrown in to keep it fresh. The most notable of these are the 'Grappling Hook' and the 'Grabinator.'

The 'Grappling Hook' works pretty much as you would expect... you can shoot a line at an object and grapple onto it. But what's clever is that you can control the length of the line, allowing you to change the arc of your swing and therefore the angle of your flight. It takes a bit of practice, you must once again be aware of the realistic physics at work here.

The 'Grabinator' allows you to pick up objects (and other Sackpeople) you normally wouldn't be strong enough to lift and toss them around the place. This comes into play in all sorts of interesting ways like activating switches high up on walls and becomes integral in the pseudo-boss fights at the end of each world. 

There is also a new emphasis put on 'drivable' vehicles. These are things like piloting a bee in a 2-D side scrolling shooter reminiscent of an overly cute version of R-Type or racing a caterpillar the size of a school bus (relatively speaking) up the side of a tree in a top down racing simulator that reminded me somewhat oddly of Spy Hunter. Oh, and I mustn't forget the souped-up rabbits and hamsters on meth that you can control in more traditional platforming levels.

Then there are the Sackbots. I love these little guys/girls/things. Basically they are pre-programmed NPC's that follow a set of commands. Sometimes this is simply following your Sackperson around a level, but other times they have more active roles. I don't want to spoil any of the clever uses Media Molecule has come up with for them, so I won't say anymore other than I can't wait to see what the community makes of them as they create their own levels.

The end result of all these additions allows a whole new perspective on level design. There are so many options that, in the story mode at least, some of it feels under-utilized. It's almost like the classic platforming took a back seat to all the new bells and whistles. Still, all these new choices mean that the LBP community has a whole slew of fun new alternatives to experiment with when they create their own levels.

While I only dabbled in the level creator of LBP 2 (too much to do, too little time...), I have to say that at first glance it seems more user friendly. Media Molecule have obviously gone to great lengths to make it even more accessible... but that said, I still get the impression that it will take a rather large time commitment to really get good with these. While I lack the artistic flair (and patience) to create anything remotely interesting, I'm happily looking forward to what the community at large comes up with this time around. While it hasn't been out for very long, some of the stuff that has been created already is mind-boggling. The future is bright, especially once people have more time to play with the new controls. Plus, there is a much more accessible filter, so you can sort through the crap (and let's be real, there is a fair amount of crap out there...) and get to the good stuff!

I'll mention quickly that the graphics in LBP 2 haven't changed much since the original... if anything the levels the designers at Media Molecule have created are even more colorful and epileptic-fit inducing. To be honest, it can almost be too distracting if you see what I mean...

In what some have labeled a controversial move, LBP 2 actually gives voices to some of the characters. Rather than the nonsensical (yet adorable) gibberish spouted by the NPC's in the first game, main story characters have dialogue in what can loosely be called 'cutscenes.' For the most part they work, and I enjoyed the addition... but that said Stephen Fry still steals the show once again. Oh, and the soundtrack is much better this time around.

In the end, Little Big Planet 2 may be the rarest of things... a successful sequel that not only improves upon the original but also expands on it without sacrificing its soul. While it's probably a bit redundant to say if you liked the first, you'll love the second (duh!) I think what this entire series has to offer to both the casual and more hardcore gamers out there simply can't be understated. Giving the public the tools to allow us to give birth to our own brainchilds remains a stroke of genius. So again, thank you to Media Molecule for their efforts, and a big thank you to all those out there in the ether who are taking the time to make levels for the rest of us to enjoy!


Score = 9.6 / 10

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