GAME NAME: LittleBigPlanet Vita
DEVELOPER(S): Media Molecule, Tarsier Studios, Double Eleven
PUBLISHER(S): Sony Computer Entertainment
PLATFORM(S): Playstation Vita
GENRE(S): 2.5D platformer
RELEASE DATE(S): 25/09/2012 (US), 19/09/2012 (EU), 20/09/2012 (JP)
Sackboy’s debut on Sony’s latest handheld has happened about 2 weeks ago. After spending enough time with the game, the review is finally here. Trust me when I say – it was worth the wait.
A small paragraph for the uninitiated; LittleBigPlanet is a very precious Sony-owned IP, with the first game debuting in 2008 on the Playstation 3. Later, we got a PSP outing, a sequel, this Vita version, and we have a karting version down the road (November). What made this franchise spawn 4 games in just 4 years, with 2 of them being in one year (2012)? It’s the creativity, the freedom, the imagination, the charm and the easy to learn, but not easy to master, controls and features. The Vita game gives you everything the previous games had, plus much more stuff. That means, new stickers, decorations, costumes, a brand new story, the fun co-op, and the very deep level editor, among new gameplay mechanics.
Being a 2.5D platformer, some might think that the game is shallow, and that it’s very easy to create stuff for it that work with one another with bullseye precision. However, the game is far from that. Featuring 3 “layers” of the 2D plane, your Sackboy (or Sackgirl) can move between three lanes of the same 2D plane, and navigate around the colorful, lively worlds they’re put into. But it doesn’t stay at that; there’s many spins to that simple-sounding formula. Sackboy can be equipped with bubble shooting helmets, grappling hooks, power gloves, jetpacks and more, all of which are waiting to be used inside a crazily much interactive world that is incredibly well-made, and invites you to pour around 12 hours in its charming Story Mode, which spans across 5 worlds and 40 levels. On your way to the evil Puppeteer, you will be able to collect bubbles of two types; score bubbles, and prize bubbles. The first type is pretty self-explanatory, while the second offers all kinds of goodies that were mentioned in the second paragraph. At the end of each level, and if you’re connected to the Playstation Network, you will see how you stack up against other players and their scores on that level. Almost each level of the Story Mode has a side-level, which is basically a mini-game. Those come in multiple forms: whack-a-Sackboy, Sackboxing, Sacktetris and more, and while they might look simple at first glance, it’s the Vita’s many functions that shake them up a ton, and make them immensely fun. Tilting the Vita, touching the screen or the rear pad, using the camera, everything comes into play, and the teams at Media Molecule, Tarsier Studios and Double Eleven have maybe grasped the way of implementing the most responsive and accurate Vita-specific controls to date. What’s even better is that these functions are also widely used in the Story, and we all know that “gimmicks” often make or break a game; in this case, they step up the experience a whole lot. On a side-note, you also have “Pins”, which are unlockable, um, pins that can be pinned under your avatar, to show people what you have achieved.
Finished the Story Mode, and want more? That’s where LittleBigPlanet truly shines. The Vita version is the best version of the franchise to date, and that is due to a lot of reasons. This paragraph will only detail one: Creation and online features. Every Sackperson has a Moon, on which they can craft their own adventures and share them with the world. In there, everything you have accumulated from the Story Mode can be used, from stickers to costumes for the “Sackbots”, the AI-controlled Sackpersons you can throw into your level. The editor can be simple, if you’re going for simple, or incredibly complicated but rewarding, if you’re going for those. Thankfully, the folks developing the game have thrown in a ton of tutorials (over 60+), that provide you with videos, text, and voice description of what you need to do to achieve X. If you pay attention to these tutorials, you will achieve more than decent things, because, while the tutorials do their best to be as informative as they can, you will never be a master at anything if you only use tutorials. Key to creating successful, adored levels within the community is chaining stuff together in an attracting manner, and making the people playing the level want to finish it, and left wanting for more. You can tweak everything, from the landscape, the Sackbots’ (or general creatures’ you can craft) AI behavior, Vita controls, scores — literally, everything. Throw in the Memorizer, among tons of new functions, and you have yourself a whole new realm of possibilities; with that handy tool, you will be able to create levels that save the player’s progress, meaning you can now create RPG’s and everything else you can think of. Linking Memorizers between levels together also means you can create multiple, intertwining levels that drag your adventure beyond simply one level. With more than 7 millions of levels out already (on all platforms), you can imagine how level creation is an integral part of the LittleBigPlanet experience, and you’ll be excited to know the Vita version throws a whole lot more into the mix, and its community is active and sprouting. With the inclusion of LBP.me, a website that lets you queue community levels for play, rate, heart and comment on levels, you can also create a list of levels you want to play and have them ready once you boot up your Vita copy of LittleBigPlanet. Of course, that can also be done through your Vita, but that only goes to show that versatility plays a big role within the game.
If you are worried about costumes and packs, keep in mind that the developers are working to bring everything you have purchased into play, across all three latest LittleBigPlanet games (LittleBigPlanet 2, Vita, and Karting). When I was playing online and checking the features, most DLC packs, including the big Metal Gear Solid 4 pack, were available for purchase, or for re-downloading in case you have already purchased them. You should also keep in mind that the game uses Sony’s Network Pass, so if you’re going to use its online features, you should go for a new copy, or keep in mind you need 10$ more for the Pass.
As far as graphics and presentation go, fear not. The game is beautiful, both technically and artistically, and everything else is tied together incredibly well to provide you with an experience you will want to spend hours upon hours into. The interface is well designed, combining buttons and touch controls, and more often than not, giving you the option to choose between buttons or touch for the same function. While it might not seem like it’s a lot, if you spend hours creating stuff, you will see that these functions come in handy.
Regarding the sounds, narrative and music of the game, you also have to have zero fears about them. Stephen Fry narrates and lends his voice to the tutorials, and he is a more than welcome choice for that. His lines, often becoming goofy but still funny, combined with Sackboy’s ever-changing expressions when he says them, are guaranteed to make the most grumpy person chuckle – at least. Sackboy doesn’t have a voice, but people he interacts with inside the Craftworld have, and their voices (and lines) also are in the same vein as the Narrator’s. The sound effects have been taken great care of, some of them reminding you of old school platformers, and some of them reminding you of “that funny, charming movie you watched a while ago”. While not a bad thing, they sound familiar – to their defense though, how different can the my-ass-touched-the-lava sound be? Nevertheless, it’s a point worth noting, solely because users I’ve interacted with have brought it up. The game’s music moves in the same areas: it is wholly original, and fits the game’s mood and tone at any given time, but at times, it sounds formulaic and like what you’d absolutely expect from a charming platformer. Is this good or bad? You decide, I’m just here to state it.
Second to last paragraph, we have the glitches, bugs, and in this case, online play hiccups. When I first got online with the game, it was before its official release date, and I noticed some lag. In cases where you had to be perfectly precise, and had lag kick in, you understand how annoying it became. However, when the official release day passed, I noticed the lag was gone. Was it because the game picked up players with better connections, pure luck, or that the game’s servers were not ready for online play prior to the release day? I’m going with the last one. As of now, the game is lag-free online, apart from tiny parts, which are very unlikely to ruin your experience. Glitches and bugs in general, luckily enough, I haven’t encountered any, in more than 30 hours of play, online or not. We know you cannot create a game without bugs, and the best you can do is minimize the amount of them, and as it seems, the developers have nailed that, too.
Closing with a sum up: if you want the most meaty, biggest, and so far, best outing of the LittleBigPlanet franchise, you need not look further than the Vita game. The Vita owners have another reason to be happy about their purchase, and it looks like Sony is picking up the pace with this, and upcoming, Vita releases.