In 2008, Sony and Media Molecule unleashed LittleBigPlanet on the world and introducing its audience to Sackboy, a haberdashery hero who would go on to become one of Sony’s mascots. To my mind, there have been two distinct types of LittleBigPlanet Players; those with unbridled imagination who’ve used the tools Media Molecule delivered to cast their own creations into the imagisphere, and those who’ve played the games for the bespoke platforming. It’s that second group that I feel has been a little underserved – and I’m one of them.
Without much talent for level creation, all I’ve only ever done is mucked about with Media Molecule’s creation tools, preferring instead to play the included levels and dashing my crocheted champion from point A to point B. Beyond the aesthetic and the wonderful soundtrack bolstered by the cheerleading Go Team, I’ve never really been especially fond of LittleBigPlanet’s platforming. The levels may have all been nicely designed and are stuffed with delightful finishing touches, but the platforming itself has always been a bit too imprecise; a little too floaty to be anything more than a diversion.
Now under the custodianship of Sumo Digital, Sackboy returns in a game that puts a pinpoint focus on the platforming, ditching the suite of creation tools that made Media Molecule famous. While some may lament the loss of those tools, they’ll be better served by Media Molecule’s more fleshed out creation suite in the ambitious and brilliant Dreams (which eschews much of the “game” bits to focus almost entirely on letting other people make their own media). Sumo Digital has untethered Sackboy from LittleBigPlanet and given him his own platforming adventure to star in – and they’ve done it with grace, attention to detail, and an obvious abundance of love.
In his first proper 3D platforming outing, Sackboy has a thing or two to teach several other platforming mascots. While the game in no way reinvents anything, it uses several ideas from platformers past and puts them all together into a tightly-designed and superlative package.
While this would have been a perfect opportunity to give Sackboy and his chums a little more established character, there’s little in the way of narrative to drive things forward. At the beginning of the game you’re given a bit of hope that there’s a story here worth telling. The gaping void left by Stephen Fry’s calm, dulcet tones are immediately and capably filled by Dawn French who, as mentor, guides Sackboy on his quest to vanquish Craftworld of the evil Vex, who plans to destroy everything with his Topsy Turver machine.
Richard E. Grant puts in a delightful performance as the cackling, malicious Vex, hamming it up and chewing up the scenery as a cliched cartoon maniacal madman. Each of the game’s worlds introduces its own custodian character and they’re all uniquely entertaining and lively. You’ve got a mama monkey who’s concerned for her kin, a pirate crab with a penchant for shiny objects, and a robotic stewardess who’s perhaps got a psychotic screw loose. While they’re all overflowing with charm and charisma, it’s a shame the story isn’t much more than “bad guy is bad, Sackboy must save the world.”
Thankfully, it’s incredible where it matters. The 3D platforming is tight and precise, and the level design is some of the best I’ve seen in a 3D platformer in ages. There is so much creativity and imagination on show, not just in the levels, but in their periphery as well. The levels ramp up in difficulty quite nicely too. While they start out as simple affairs, by the end of it you’ll be jumping around, dodging lasers while traversing spinning cut-out platforms, all while being chased by a mob of minions.
While it never truly becomes the sort of game that’ll leave your fingers contorted into pretzels, it has elicited a few swears from me. Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a game that’s easy to pick up and play, but like so many platformers, the real challenge comes in collecting everything. On that note, you need to collect dreamer orbs that are hidden on each level, with each new world requiring a specific tally to unlock. While I didn’t feel much need to go back and grind levels, if you’re not fastidious about collecting them you may need to replay a level or ten just to progress.
Some levels are straight platformer stages, others are on rails, forcing you to move along with it, and others are timed. Whenever I started feeling any sense of familiarity, the game injected something new and interesting to liven up the show. There are a few per-level power-ups that show up to make things a little more intriguing, but they’re never shoe-horned in either. Instead, these levels are specifically built around their utility. You’re never with them for too long either, and when they’re re-used, they’re done so in surprisingly different ways. This is a game that constantly, and consistently, delights and surprises.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure is also visually sumptuous. Moving into this new generation, I didn’t expect Sackboy of all things to be one of the most aesthetically arresting games to play on a new PlayStation. Everything in it looks not just like it’s been hand crafted out of paper, cardboard, tin, leather, wool, wood, silk and foil – they’re so detailed they actually look the parts. You can see little errant wisps of fibre off of Sackboy’s knitted burlap wool, dimples in the leather and creased imperfections in foil – it’s all so real I was tempted to reach into my TV just to stroke the carpet, With the right narcotics, I might have even tried.
I’d be remiss to discuss the game’s incredible, eclectic soundtrack that skilfully uses both original and licenced music. You’ll be trying your best to complete a level, only to realise that you’ve been doing so to a pop-orchestral version of Material girl by Madonna, or you’ll jump across a platform only to wonder if that really was a marimba version of Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” you just heard.
Other levels are entirely integrated into pieces of music, with standout stages accompanied by Uptown Funk, Britney Spears’ Toxic, and David Bowie’s Let’s Dance. They border on genius. Honestly, I haven’t been quite so charmed by just about every facet of a platforming game that didn’t have Mario in it since Rayman Legends – which is high praise indeed.
A few PlayStation 5 specifics make the game a bit better on that platform beyond the next-gen visuals. Activity cards make it a doddle to jump into levels to complete their challenges, while PS Plus subscribers can also use the built-in hints system to find the locations of the dastardlier hidden orbs. The Dualsense is also used perfectly here, giving a bit of added weight to the pulsing beats in music (when they’re there), and Sackboy’s movements, similar to the controller’s profound use in the Dualsense showcase game Astrobot’s Playroom.
Last Updated: November 24, 2020