Reviewed and available exclusively on PS3
At its core, LittleBigPlanet 2 is a fairly straight forward platforming game. Forget about Braid’s mind-bending time-contortion, Super Meat Boy’s painfully compelling difficulty, or Limbo’s unique broody atmosphere. LittleBigPlanet 2 is a cutesy, colourful romp that players are likely to enjoy more for its delightful wonder than its treacherous difficulty or sophisticated game design.
So what makes it so special? Why is it considered a AAA blockbuster, while other platformers such as those mentioned above are relegated to the indie digital bargain bin? Well for one it’s a PS3 exclusive which Sony is backing hard, appointing Sack Boy the console’s mascot. But the real reason gamers and critics were won over by the original was the level creator and user generated content on offer. Not only could you play Media Molecule’s delightfully realised levels, but you could create your own and share them online. You also had access to thousands of user created levels, many of which were simply mind-blowing.
So if the first game offers such immense longevity at a now reduced priced, why bother looking at the sequel?
The first thing you will notice is that LittleBigPlanet 2 looks essentially identical to its predecessor. If the visuals were tweaked, we didn’t notice. The first hour of LittleBigPlanet 2 could easily be mistaken for a parallel universe version of LittleBigPlanet. Colours are vibrant, textures rich, and the classic artsy LBP aesthetic is fully accounted for. Just like its predecessor, LBP2 is a visual delight. Stephen Fry is also back in the narration chair, and his dialogue is as warm and enjoyable as it was the first time around. Once again, the game possess an exceptional audio track which complements the gameplay perfectly. A number of times I found myself fully immersed in a level and enjoying the music being played as much as the gameplay itself.
Your first task in LBP2 will be to get started on Media Molecule’s story mode, which basically consists of various worlds, each containing a handful of levels to play through. The levels are tied together by a story which is not meant to be taken too seriously. The first world consists of 7 levels which are designed to teach those new to the series the basics, as well as remind stalwart fans how it all works. One of my main gripes from the first game is immediately noticeable in the sequel: sluggish platforming mechanics. Sack Boy’s movements once again feel a little sloppy, and the controls have yet to be refined. At first this is annoying, but like the predecessor, you quickly become accustomed to the game’s unique feel.
As you pilot Sack Boy through the first world, you will collect items which can be used to customize his look, or build your own LBP 2 levels. These include a wide variety of costume items and objects to insert into your own levels later on. If you play LBP 2 on the same console as you did the first game, you will have the option to pull across all of your accumulated kit, which will please those who got stuck in the first time around.
The story mode was actually surprisingly enjoyable, seeing as it is not the star of the LBP 2 show by a long-shot. Media Molecule have improved on this portion of the game in comparison to LBP by combining solid level design with continually shifting gameplay mechanics. Sack Boy will be given a variety of unique vehicles to pilot and weapons to wield as he navigates the storyline levels, from the Sniper Trifle to a grappling hook, a water cannon and many more. A personal favourite is an early series of levels in which you have to guide little robots to safety, a task which immediately reminded me of the classic platformer Abe’s Odyssey. Whereas the first game tended to become repetitive, LBP2 offers a more dynamic and evolutionary gameplay experience which makes for something altogether less tedious and more compelling; a good sign considering we have not even got to the good stuff yet: making your own levels.
Once you have the hang of the basic gameplay and have collected some stuff to use in the level creator, you can get started on designing your own levels. Now, as powerful a tool this is, it does require a healthy degree of creativity and of course artistic flair. When mastered, it is an incredibly potent toolkit, capable of building entire mini-games. Advanced users have created shooters, RTS’s, racing games and even a functional Peggle clone. The possibilities are virtually endless, but you will have to invest a significant amount of time to get the best out of it. Having said that, the toolset has been streamlined in LBP2, making for an altogether more user friendly piece of tech. Not only has it been made easier to grasp, but the scope of its potential has been broadened, and more than ever it is something which budding game developers would be well advised to check out.
The single most noteworthy addition to the toolset is the micro-chip, which allows you to program basic logic into your levels in an unintimidating manner. Easy to get the hang of, but potentially massive in scope, the micro-chip allows you to build circuit boards which add a level of dynamism to the mix that was lacking in LBP. It is possible to set up some pretty complex behavioural patterns if you know what you’re doing, and like everything in the toolset, how far you take it will depend on how much time and energy you want to invest.
LittleBigPlanet 2 is well worth considering if you fancy yourself as a bit an amateur game designer. However, even if you don’t plan on getting stuck into this portion of the game, the sheer scope of user generated content at your finger tips is extraordinary. As great an accomplishment LBP2 is, it is not for everyone. If you are averse to platforming games, and have no desire to create your own games using the toolset, then it is not likely to convert you. However, if you have a creative itch to scratch, or you just feel like diving into a massive, beautifully realised and diverse game world, then LittleBigPlanet 2 is for you.
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