Aww, Sackboy. Your woollen charms were enough to sway millions of budding level designers into the enchanting world of LittleBigPlanet, a pinnacle platformer that set the benchmark for user generated content in the YouTube generation for consoles. It may have taken a while to truly take off, but LittleBigPlanet remains one of the most ingenuous and unique titles of this generation, allowing players with unbridled imaginations and too much time on their hands to “Play, Create and Share” custom designed levels with the online community.
It was certainly an ambitious concept, and one that finally gave Sony a mascot character for the PS3 in the form of Sackboy, an infectiously cute mass of cloth and stitching tailor made for ample merchandising opportunities.
Developer Media Molecule was always adamant that LittleBigPlanet’s incredible depth meant that a direct sequel would be highly unlikely, but this was soon quashed by the surprise announcement of LittleBigPlanet 2 last year. Does it suffer from sophomore syndrome or can LittleBigPlanet 2 once again turn legions of gamers into masterful creators?
A common criticism of the original was that the single player Story felt tacked on with no real semblance of a plot or purpose. Thankfully, LittleBigPlanet 2 improves on this aspect by contextualising the campaign with a narrative complete with animated cut scenes and intelligible voice acting, once again casting you as the loveable Sackboy (now referred to simply as the genderless ‘Sackperson’). The loose plot centers around the Negativitron, a supersonic vacuum cleaner intent on causing untold terror to the habitants of Sackboy’s home planet Craftworld.
As a noble Sackperson, you soon become part of an elite academy on a mission to defeat the Negativitron. Side scrolling platforming remains the order of the day as you guide Sackboy through all manner of weird and wacky worlds in a variety of superbly executed levels designed by the talented team at Media Molecule.
Each world sports a vibrant visual style that retains the same charming, handcrafted aesthetic of its predecessor, along with a suitably dreamy soundtrack that perfectly characterises the contrasting environments. I must say, however, that hearing the Finnish heavy metal band Nightwish in LittleBigPlanet 2 was an unexpected, yet pleasant surprise for this self-confessed fan.
There is no end to the sheer variety and innovation throughout the wonderfully crafted campaign. One level set in a cake factory, for example, mounts a rapid cake firing gun to Sackboy’s head to dispose of confectionery enemies – only in LittleBigPlanet could such a concept be feasible.
Beyond its charm, LittleBigPlanet 2 remains a solid and ultimately fun platoforming experience, particularly when played with up to three other Sackpeople either offline or online (yes, you can still play happy sack slapping with each other for no apparent reason) – the only problem is that the slightly cumbersome physics of the original remain intact, meaning that jumping can sometimes be more problematic than it needs to be.
The addition of a grappling hook is also a welcome addition to Sackboy’s inventory, allowing you to cling onto objects in order to solve puzzles – it can be a little tricky to work with the physics at times, but this gadget adds a whole new dimension of enjoyment to navigating levels.
LittleBigPlanet 2 expands the original’s platforming roots by introducing a number of levels involving arcade style shooting and vehicle navigation: one standout scenario has you piloting a nanomachine through a character’s blood stream to defeat an infection, while another tasks you with riding a caterpillar along some trees. While these novel diversions don’t always mesh with LittleBigPlanet 2’s core platforming merits, they do help to introduce some diversity to the proceedings.
Comprising of 30 levels including bonus mini challenges that clock in at around five hours, it’s a shame that the story is so disappointingly brief, as there are some genuinely fun, clever and invoking levels on display. As with the original game however, it mainly serves as an appetising template for the ever-expansive Create mode, which provide the very same tools that the developers used to construct the Story.
While these tools previously felt finicky and unnecessarily complicated, LittlebigPlanet 2’s are notably more streamlined thanks to the addition of some time-saving tools. Chief among which is the Controlinator, allowing you to assign button inputs to any item you desire – it’s a technique that is especially useful when creating racing games for example, compared to wiring the components manually like before.
Sackbots add another new element, as it is now possible to program enemy AI and set their patrolling patterns. I can’t help but feel that this aspect feels rudimentary at this stage however – enemies waddle along robotically without a shred of personality and are limited to following linear paths that seldom follow Sackboy.
Other notable assets include the Grabinator and Creatinator, which allow you to pick up or fire large objects from a head-mounted gun respectively. Then there’s the advent of Microchips, a useful device that can connect switches together whilst saving space on an object.
I’ve barely scratched the surface to be honest: in addition, it is now possible to import PS Eye photos, direct cut scenes, record voice acting, design custom menus and HUDs and compose music, to name a few. If that all sounds overwhelming, fear not: the insightful Stephen Fry is once again on hand to deliver a set of warmly narrated tutorials covering each aspect profusely. The scope for creativity is staggering, and there’s now an emphasis on creating whole games rather than throwaway levels as you can now string custom levels together.
So far I haven’t been able to muster anything particularly extravagant, mainly due to laziness and lack of imagination, but it’s fair to say that if you invest copious amounts of time then you will certainly reap the rewards, and even newcomers shouldn’t feel too disheartened due to the simplified system. It is, after all, the active community that has kept LittleBigPlanet alive, a fact that holds very true for the sequel.
If the infamous giant calculator contraption from the first game bewildered you, then the mindfield that is the online community of LittleBigPlanet 2 will absolutely astound you. Think of the most ludicrously ambitious idea and it will in all probability be worryingly possible to vitalise in LittleBigPlanet 2.
The eccentric community has already managed to compile over three million levels (plus the 5m-strong back catalogue from the first game which is compatible too), but it’s the creations that mimic existing games that seem to be the biggest crowd pleasers, with standout achievements including eerily accurate renditions of the original NES Legend of Zelda, the PS1 classic Mico Machines and the therapeutic PSN title Flow doing the rounds on the leaderboards.
New search criteria filters such as Media Molecule’s very own handpicks also make it easier to find high quality levels with ease – you can spend literally hours just marvelling over LittleBigPlanet 2’s comprehensive library of gems.
And therein lies the beauty of the series: whether you want to be a bedroom-bound designer slaving away for hours on end, delve into the millions of online user-created levels or simply concentrate on retrieving every last unlockable in the Story mode, LittleBigPlanet 2 caters for everyone. Considering how far the community has come already, it will be very interesting to see what will be lurking in LittleBigPlanet 2‘s toy box in a year’s time.
There's still no other game like it visually: LittlebigPlanet 2's vivid visuals are detailed and oh so charming.
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The platforming is still as solid and fun as ever, and the ambitious forays into other genres showcase LittleBigPlanet 2's sublime depth. Creating is advanced yet streamlined for less confident players.
Any game with Stephen Fry as a narrator is an instant win. The soundtrack is also loaded with infectious tunes that compliment the game's wacky design.
With collectibles to find in the Story, a deep level designer and a vast array of user generated content, there is no questioning LittlebigPlanet 2's lastability.
Littlebigplanet 2 is a triumph in user generated content that expands the original in ways previously thought to be impossible.