Now that the game has been out for a while and I have eased myself off of Fallout 3, I feel it is time for me to kick in my two cents about Little Big Planet. I must admit that prior to the game’s release I was caught up in the euphoria surrounding LBP. I basically bought my Playstation 3 to play it and waited anxiously for each new video that was released in the weeks before the game came out. Once those evil lyrics about Islam had been properly disposed of and the game finally came out, I rushed home and barricaded myself in my room to play the game for almost an entire weekend straight.
Things you need to keep in mind when considering Little Big Planet:
1. The game is a side-scrolling hop ‘n’ bop. If you do not like the aforementioned genre, stop reading now, you will probably not like Little Big Planet.
2. Being a side-scroller, Little Big Planet is the latest in a very long and distinguished lineage of games, and to be truly honest, other games *cough*Super Mario 3*cough* do a better job mechanically of representing the genre. I will explain this more thoroughly in a second.
If you can come to grips with those two caveats, please continue reading.
The hype Little Big Planet got was pretty well deserved. The game is amazingly good looking and runs incredibly smoothly… unless you are playing online and then it gets choppy, depending on your connection and that of the people you are playing with; more on that in a second as well. Like most side-scrollers, the plot of Little Big Planet is on par with your average porno. Something about an evil collector kidnapping other level bosses and wreaking havoc in the land, whatever, you aren’t playing this game for the story.
What you are playing this game for is the shit ton of sheer ingenuity that went into the level design. Level design for Little Big Planet is amazing, which is awesome for people who just want to play the game and be done. For those of us who enjoy designing our own levels, looking at the effort and thought that Media Molecule put into each level is akin to being in a men’s bathroom, doing your thing and then accidentally glancing at the guy next to you and his Ron Jeremy-sized member. You just feel like your stuff doesn’t measure up.
The colors are amazing, the music is matched extremely well, and the cool bits of problem solving that you have to employ are placed with immaculate judgment and balance. There were very few times I thought the game was too easy and there were several levels that made me want to tear my Sackboy limb from limb. You can’t die per se but you can be forced to start the level over if you don’t progress to save gates in a timely fashion. The game is forgiving but it can be a cold, cold mistress when it wants to be. The levels based on Japan were especially trying and caused me to put the game down for a couple of days at a time.
Finally, the last truly awesome thing about the game is your Sackboy. I am not sure why, but being able to customize your character is pretty fun and cute. And the amount of scrotum jokes you can come up with for a little guy named Sackboy is amazing.
Now for the shortcomings of Little Big Planet.
Like I mentioned above, while the game is visually amazing and has great level design, it is mechanically flawed in a couple of ways. The controls for the game are very squishy. In earlier side-scrollers like Ninja Gaiden and Super Mario Brothers, once you had jumping down, you knew exactly where you were going to land. You could see a bad guy approaching and know that if you timed your jump correctly, you could stomp on him, use the bounce to hit a block, and then use the momentum to carry you over a small crevice to grab the mushroom before it fell into oblivion. In Little Big Planet, this does not happen. The controls are just too damned fuzzy, which sucks, because there are some areas, like the Japan levels, that require spot on accuracy that is amazingly difficult to achieve. It is frustrating to me that Media Molecule have put so much time into this game but somehow overlooked such a fundamental element.
The problems with the controls could be partially due to the extremely good physics engine the game employs. Little Big Planet utilizes real world physics for most of the materials and events in the game. This is an excellent feature because cardboard behaves like real cardboard and foam behaves like real foam. The real world physics and behaviors of materials makes for some extremely cool moments in level creation. Unfortunately, Sackboys are not real and this throws a kink into a well oiled machine. Sackboys can often become stuck behind objects and, though there is a built in escape mechanism for such an event, it is an annoyance.
The reason Sackboys can become lodged in odd places is because of the screen depth the game uses to give the perception of moving in a three dimensional space. In Super Mario Brothers, you moved right and left, up and down. When Mario vanished behind an object, it usually signaled a warp point. In Little Big Planet, there are three plains of depth that you can move in, close, far, and farther away from the player. This means you can hide stuff behind objects but it also means there has to be a mechanic that gets you to and from each of these depths and as I mentioned earlier, the mechanics in this game can be frustrating. All of the mechanics work, I just wish they worked better.
My last gripe has to do with online play. It sucks. The Playstation Network doesn’t seem to care about individual player’s connection strength and therefore tends to pair you with some kid in Europe who is on a cheesy DSL line. When you are paired with a slow player, the game clips and grinds so badly it is nigh unplayable. If you are playing with friends that have good connections, the game runs well, but if you rely on random players coming in to fill up vacant slots, be careful.
Speaking of multiplayer, it can be very frustrating due to the amount of cooperation that some levels require. When gaming, I historically don’t play well with others. There have been numerous times I have found myself yelling at my friends because they missed a key jump and made both of us start over. If you are not a fan of teamwork, Little Big Planet may not be for you. Also, if you play online, you’d better have a headset or the game is pretty much impossible because of the amount of communication that is needed to get through some of the obstacles.
Overall, Little Big Planet is a good and pretty solid game. The controls could be better but they work and, with some practice, you kind of start to learn how to compensate for their lack of precision. It is just irksome that you should have to do that at all. Once you get used to the controls, the game is very fun to play through and if you must collect every single object, you will probably play through each level at least three or four times.
It is here that I must mention the level design tools that are built into the game. Level design in Little Big Planet is phenomenal and accessible. The trick is mastering how to use all of the materials with each other and how to make all of the stuff you create jive with the environment. You can do some truly awesome stuff with a bit of time and a hefty portion of creativity. I have seen Gundams built in the game by some otaku in Japan, I have seen tanks, I have seen huge redesigns of anime characters; there are so many user created levels out there it is insane. If there is one thing that I am truly in love with about Little Big Planet, it is level design. It is so easy but so complex at the same time. I bought the game mostly for the level editor and I was not let down.
So there you have it, my fashionably late review of Little Big Planet. If you have a Playstation 3 I would snag it. If you don’t, I am not sure whether I would recommend you buy a system just for this game. While Little Big Planet doesn’t re-invent the wheel in any way, it does make the wheel a bit spiffier. I know Media Molecule is already busy developing LBP 2 and I am not sure what I think about this. I think if they were willing, they could do some patching and downloadable content that could vastly improve portions of the game. As it stands now though, I do not regret getting the game and after the level design tools, I consider the rest of it gravy.