LittleBigPlanet is one of the PlayStation brand’s darlings. Created by Media Molecule early in the PlayStation 3’s life, it brought about a particular ethos: Play. Create. Share – well before Minecraft even existed. Since then, users have created over 8 million levels using the game’s built-in tools. That’s quite a legacy for new series developer Sumo Digital to live up to with its first stab at the series.
The warm and friendly, dulcet voice belonging to the esteemed Stephen Fry reminds us that LittleBigPlanet is all about imagination, wit and whimsy – and all of that is very much at play here. Where Sumo could easily have just cobbled together a series of levels and left much the rest of it in community hands and still had a worthwhile sequel, they’ve made a few fundamental changes to LittleBigPlanet’s haberdashery core. Our knitted chum Sackboy is back, but this time he’s got friends. And not just that; there’s an overarching narrative – an actual story – stitching it all together.
Newton the greatest creative genius on Bunkum – a new word in the Imagisphere – has hatched a plan to release three ancient Titans to help him suck up all of the creativity. It is, naturally, up to Sackboy and his new chums to lock the Titans back up and keep Bunkum’s residents swimming in creativity. Okay, it’s not a particularly good story, but it certainly helps keep players engaged. As much as I love LittleBigPlanet, its usual loose narrative means I’ve never really had much impetus to play all of its wonderful, hand-crafted levels. It helps that the evil little lightbulb-headed Newton is voiced with apparent malevolent glee by Fry’s former comedy partner, Hugh Laurie.
While the story may fall a little on the clichéd side, the imagination at play in the general level design is astounding, and fiendishly clever – though Sumo’s dab hand isn’t immediately apparent. Sackboy himself has had a bit of an overhaul; one of the biggest complaints about the series since its inception – Sackboy’s floaty controls – have been fixed, allowing the crocheted champion to land pixel-perfect jump, while still feeling like Sackboy. He’s got a big bag of tricks this time around though, with power-ups that help elevate the game beyond simple, pure platforming with some devilish physics mastery. The pumpinator, for example, allows Sackboy to expel and suck in air, useful for pulling along platforms, or getting gears moving. Blinkball works a little like a portal gun; firing a steel marble into a portal magically transports the knitted knight to that location, helping move around obstacles like lasers while boost boots let him double jump and, as their name implies, boost through the air.
The biggest, most refreshing change comes in the new characters. They’re introduced, much like Sackboy’s new power-ups, a little sporadically – each with their own specific levels or triggers within levels to make you want to replay everything with each addition. Oddsock, the first to be introduced, is a quick little bugger, adding a much-needed sense of speed to the proceedings. He’s able to double jump off walls – and his levels feel more like a decent Sonic game than any Sonic game has for years.
The second new character is easily my favourite; Toggle. Not just a clever name, players are able to toggle between being a big toggle, or a little toggle. When he’s big, he’s got great weight and can be used to push down levers or break through glass. Tiny Toggle can sneak in to small spaces, and can walk on water where the bigger one would sink. The clever bit here is that switching between them keeps their momentum. Switch from Big Toggle to Little Toggle while weighing down a taut lever and the now-little Toggle will be launched up in to the air. The last new addition to LittleBigPlanet’s textile army is Swoop, whose gift of flight allows him to do execute deft, gravity defying manoeuvres. His talon, meanwhile, allows him to carry things – even other Sackpersons – which is great for exploring things in the game’s superlative co-operative play. Yes, as it’s always been, LittleBigPlanet is best played with friends, which you can do online or off. The clever level design practically begs for multiple play-throughs, with co-operative partners and without, especially if you’re the obsessive sort who must have all the stickers.
That replayability aside, it is, however, a little short. I finished the campaign in just a few hours, and then spent a few more replaying it in co-op with my eager kids; there are really just 4 worlds to complete, with a handful of levels in each. It’s padded through a wholly new mode that blends some of the creative mode’s tools with the regular platforming, where you’ll have to use the thing between your ears to solve the puzzles, manipulating the world around you by adding, moving, deleting and resizing objects to help you get to the end of a level. And of course, that “Play. Create. Share” ethos is still very much alive. With a bigger, more robust set of tools, the levels and games creators will be making in this are almost limitless. I’ve played a bad Street Fighter clone, a fully-functional version of Plants vs. Zombies and a Dead Space knock off all from the pool of levels that users have already created. That’s on top of the millions of levels created in the previous games, which are all compatible with new game.
Sumo Digital have done a great job with the LittleBigPlanet reins. It’s rather unlikely that this game will convince players who’ve moved past the series to give it another look, but fans will be pleased by the shiny new additions. Clever as it is, it’s not especially difficult save for a few difficulty spikes near the end, but it’s not really meant to be challenging; it’s meant to be charming and fun – and it succeeds on both fronts.
Last Updated: November 18, 2014