Review: LittleBigPlanet 2
LittleBigPlanet 2 is simply amazing, there’s no doubt about that. It offers a fresh, creative and visually exciting entertaining experience unlike anything that you’ll see in most game’s today. Despite this, it still has some fairly large sack-shoes to fill if it is to outdo the creative masterpiece that is LittleBigPlanet which managed to capture the imaginations of millions around the world and help them realise it through its astounding level creator.
- Worth The Time?Hell yes
- Things LovedSharp eye-popping visuals, endearing single-player, superb user-created games/levels, Accessibility and depth of Create Mode, Stephen Fry as narrator, creative freedom, and backwards compatibility with LBP 1 user-created levels.
- Things HatedSlightly sticky controls, annoyingly invasive multiplayer, easy to get lost within the depth of Create Mode, game is limited by backwards compatibility.
- RecommendationDespite its shortcomings, LittleBigPlanet 2 offers an experience too fresh and exciting to be ignored. Considering that you’re effectively getting a homebrew kit for developing games, it’s not a bad deal. Ultimately, LittleBigPlanet 2 is worth every penny and then some and even if you don’t replay the single-player campaign, you will almost certainly be kept busy for months with the Create Mode. If you have a PS3, this is a must have for 2011.
- Name: LittleBigPlanet 2
- Genre: Platformer
- Players: 1-4
- Multiplayer: Online, co-op
- Platforms: PS3
- Developer: Media Molecule
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Price: R599
- Reviewed On: PS3
LittleBigPlanet 2 does well to stick to that winning formula of the first game with some really sweet modernised 2D platforming featuring the uber-cuddly and oh-so-delightful Sackboy. Of course you can move between 3 planes within the 2D environment namely background, middle-ground and foreground but this serves mostly to give the levels some visual depth (and possibly justify the 3D support) and allow players to navigate either in front of or behind obstacles/objects. However, the game takes things way beyond anything that people could even remotely have conceived in the wake of LBP 1. As opposed to simply being restricted to platforming gameplay, LBP 2 throws the floodgates wide open for everything from FPS’s to top-down shooters/racers, RTS’s and practically anything that your imagination can produce.
It’s funny how we often catch ourselves saying, “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke,” about many of the sequels that get churned out these days. Mostly because developers are always trying to outdo and improve on something that was just perfect to begin with. With LBP2, Media Molecule didn’t seem to make an effort at all to change things or even fix the frankly minimal bugs and issues that existed with LittleBigPlanet.
Honestly, the controls are pretty simple and work well enough but they simply break down when it comes to moving between planes which is often as jerky as an invisible Parkinson’s patient moving the Sackboy.
The game features a story campaign with 30 levels split into several stages each with its own unique visual style, which I’ll get to later, and packed with unique and innovative 2D platforming the likes of which we haven’t experienced since the heydays of Super Mario. The sweet and short of it is that Craftworld is under threat from the evil Nagativitron (a proxy for Bobby Kotick and the vicious corporate machine that he represents in my personal opinion) and it is up to the indomitable Sackboy to save the world by running, jumping, flying and shooting his way through the levels. The single-player is delightfully whimsical and light-hearted with some great characters along the way. It is amazingly fun and engaging and manages to produce that ‘must-play’ factor. It comprises mostly of the sort of 2D platforming levels that the series is known for but throw in a couple of welcome curveballs with things such as mechanical bunnies/ puppies, robo-bees which get caught up in some intense side-scrolling flying action, a Space Invaders tribute and even a reproduction of Pong for you and a friend to get stuck in.
If you’re into trophy-chasing and that sort of thing then you can also go after the point and collectible orbs which litter the levels. Getting as many orbs as possible doesn’t only move you up the global leaderboard (which is displayed at the end of each level) but also earns you various items to be used in Create Mode and pieces of clothing with which to beautify your Sackperson. You will also be rewarded with Pins for accomplishing certain feats or acts similar to Trophies except it’s linked to the LBP community and will appear on your profile so as to let people know just how good you are. There’s a wash of side-missions for you to do once you’ve completed the main story which are mostly challenges for you and your friends to face-off in. They include the aforementioned Pong recreation and a top-down race featuring lab rats as well as some other challenges which are both greatly enjoyable and testing.
Despite all this shine and sparkle, the single-player can be completed in a mere day or less if you put your foot down and don’t dwindle to admire the scenery. What the single-player is is one long advertisement for the colossal Create Mode. This is the be-all and end-all of LittleBigPlanet 2. This is the main course and dessert; it is what gets people star-struck about the LittleBigPlanet series. What a treat it is.
When LBP came out, it blew people’s minds with the creativity that it offered and the boundless imagination that it cultivates. The sequel will blow people’s minds into the stratosphere and beyond with a Create Mode that dwarfs what the original had to offer. Everything is still done with modifiers and switches but the whole process has become more interactive and informative by using connector cones to show you where everything fits in and how it will work. The whole system has been simplified and made far easier to the point where you really are limited only by your imagination. Provided you’ve watched the relevant tutorials which are all neatly available in one big menu and teach you how to do practically anything you could want to do when making a game. As mentioned earlier, the Create Mode has really been pumped full of steroids with players being able to create a game of any genre they choose from an FPS to RTS to top-down racer/shooter to retro game clone and of course you can always go back to the classic side-scrolling 2D platformer.
As a result of all these options that you have just when choosing the type of game to make, there’s a galaxy of objects, items and elements with which to craft your game. There’s also the option to produce your own cutscenes so that you can really tell a story with your final product. What’s great is that you can string a set of levels together to create a your very own game and because each element (levels and cutscenes) are independent you can go from a sidescroller to a top-down shooter and cut to a cinematic before jumping into your own recreation of Space Invaders for the grand finalé.
There’s also a nifty new tool called the Music Sequencer which allows you to use the levels soundtrack to cue events and actions in it, much like placing them on a timeline as you would in most video editing software. It’s a nice tool if you need it and makes triggering events far easier.
The real treat is in setting up the various elements that players will encounter in your level firstly because you can now fully customise the sackbots which will block the way forward in your level. From changing the way they look to giving them personality traits which can be used to get past them such as a fear of water and even setting the path which they will follow. Interactive vehicles are so much more enjoyable to use because rather than having to control them via Sackboy, players can simply slap what’s called a Direct Control Seat on them and assign specific controls to that vehicle. So if you are used to accelerating with R2 and reversing with L2, go for it.
You also have access to all the creatures that you use to move around in the single-player as well as the gadgets which include the grappling hook, Gravinator (which allows players to move objects around) and possibly the most important gadget of all – the Creatonator which lets you shoot whatever you like out of the head-mounted cannon, including cupcakes and flaming cows that explode on impact. The only detraction to Create Mode is that it is simply so colossal and on a scale unlike anything you’re used to that it can get very overwhelming unless you have a clear idea of what you are trying to do and what the final product should be. Basically the game is teaching you to develop games in stages, like a true developer.
Gameplay wise, LBP 2 is a mile ahead of its older brother but still wears the same running shoes. Mostly, it is full of new elements that make the 2D platforming something that is always entertaining you and keeping the fun up but it does suffer from some of the little niggles that the old game bore. The physics engine makes things whimsically floaty, which is perhaps how MM want it to be but this can screw with your timing especially if you need to jump between moving objects and takes a bit of a while to get the hang of.
The controls are often so sensitive that you need the delicacy of a neurosurgeon operating on Mandela to pull off certain manoeuvres. As an example, when using the water cannon you have to shoot droplets of water at plants so that they’ll grow and create a path for you to progress on but with many of these elements in the levels where you encounter them you need to have exactly the right angle and jump to just the right height and shoot at just the right moment to hit the target or you’ll be stuck. Even jumping between platforms is tricky at times and requires you to display a level of analogue finesse that won’t be seen in games until GTA allows players to operate on people.
The game is amazing in that it does not let all of the world’s hard work from the first game’s Create Mode go to work by offering all of the 3million+ levels. This is however one of the downsides with LBP 2. You get the sense that they could easily have ironed out those tiny little flaws that stuck from LBP had they not tried to make the game with backwards-compatibility in mind. That really is my biggest criticism of Media Molecule with the way they approached LBP 2, they tried to please the community far too much with the way they kept everything very much the same and made all the levels from LBP 1 available. It shows that they didn’t want to alienate the existing fan base in any way whatsoever.
The multiplayer and community have been given a thorough working over too making it far more involved and relevant. As before, you can play any of the single-player levels with people who are playing that level at the same time but this really just becomes more of a nuisance then a great team-building co-op experience since you will almost always end up playing with idiots or foreigners if you play with random people. You can obviously choose to play only with your friends but that’s a different story altogether since you can also have up to 4 players playing off the same console altogether. The problem is that if end up with a bunch of idiots, they will kill themselves or get in your way or get you killed and pretty much cock-block you from getting anywhere in the level.
Should you end up with a bunch of foreigners, your screen will be attacked by a barrage of loading screens which usually last all of 0.56 seconds but manage to pop up at just the moment when you’re jumping over a chasm or navigating a particularly tricky section which requires timing and concentration. The loading screens are really only a problem because we South Africans have relatively slow connections compared to the richer parts of the world, anybody playing LBP2 with people abroad will be subject to frequent delays in gameplay to keep your game up to date with what’s going on with your level-buddies.
There are however levels which are great for multiplayer and make it quite worthwhile. They are all side missions though and let players race against each other or get into an intensely heated round of LBP2 Pong. I once played against a guy (who was neither an idiot nor appeared to be foreign) and had a game so intense that it went on for at least 20 min. There was one bit where we went half the game without conceding a point either way. Hectic.
That’s not all though because with LBP2, Media Molecule said they wanted the community to be far more interactive and connected and so has given the game a host of social network-type features. Each user has their own profile with the pins they’ve earned, their recent activity, levels they’ve created and levels they’ve hearted. When creating a level or set of levels it is also very simple to make it available because all it takes is to write up a little bio for the level and hit a button to put it up there with all the other user creations. The game also promotes integration so if you see that a friend likes a specific level or has just played a level you can go straight from their profile to the level in question to see what it’s all about.
Visually, LBP 2 is a masterpiece. If Roger Ebert said that video games can never be art, he hasn’t seen LittleBigPlanet 2. The game looks like a living storyboard for a children’s book with its bright colour palette and almost handmade quality to all the environments. Each set of levels in the story mode has its own visual style with richly detailed and decorated environments. The graphics are slick and all the colour schemes at work in each set of levels are a visual feast. A little bit more was expected from the cutscenes which are a bit rough and not nearly as smooth for the kind of visuals the game offers.
The appeal in LittleBigPlanet 2 does not come solely out of a combination of graphics, gameplay and features but rather the way the game feels, the way it makes you feel and the way that every aspect of the game is put together. Perhaps it’s the abstinence from seriousness which so many other games fail to keep up or even attempt that makes it so great.
Sure, you can easily tell that Media Molecule put quite a bit of effort into the game but it’s not the kind of over-achieving money-chasing genre-topping fanaticism that goes with just about every other game out there. Most games are trying to do everything to make as much money as possible and do all they can to outdo the tough opposition jockeying with them for top honours in that specific genre. LBP 2 is free of any of this. It is a game conceived purely to be as good as possible, not to beat anybody and not to make as much money as it possibly can. None of the elements in LBP 2 are there because Media Molecule want their game to be better than others and no element has been made to be better than somebody else’s comparative element. It is all just in the interest of making a game as good as it can possibly be.
LittleBigPlanet 2 offers an experience the likes of which you will not see in any other game. It offers so much no matter what you’re looking for in a game. If you just want to play through a well-crafted single-player, if you want to have some fun with friends, if you want to run wild with your imagination, if you want to experience some of the best innovations in gaming, it’s all there.
Despite a smattering of flaws, LittleBigPlanet 2 does everything a platformer needs to do to stand out amongst more complex titles and yet goes far beyond anything that could be expected of such a game. While the flaws are not completely drowned out by the rest of the game, you will hardly ever notice them. There are no airs about LittleBigPlanet 2, it is simply trying to be the best game it possibly can and I have honestly had so much fun and enjoyment out of this game that I can’t put it down. It is brimming with creativity and the aloof carefree nature that lets you know this game was created for the sole purpose of having fun and letting your imagination run wild. It is truly all things to all people.