LittleBigPlanet 2 PS3 Review

Evolution not revolution

by Ben Ingber
Gaming Review

LittleBigPlanet 2 PS3 Review

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What was LittleBigPlanet? A 2D platformer? An ambitious level creator? Both, of course, although the emphasis was most certainly on the latter. It was a risky route to take and it certainly wasn’t implemented flawlessly, but developer Media Molecule shuffled creative responsibility to the player with such charm, good humour and flair that two years on there are some three million levels created by the still very-much-active community.

There’s far less doubt over how LittleBigPlanet 2 should be defined, however. It’s no longer billed as a platform game at all, rather it is a “platform for games”. Play / Create / Share is still the developer’s mantra, but without a doubt the focus is even more firmly on the creation element.

That said, there is a more fleshed-out campaign, in as much as something resembling a plot is shoe-horned into the pre-configured levels. As with its predecessor, the single-player game primarily serves to showcase the development tools available for players to create their own content -- but that's not to say it’s not fun in its own right. 

Media Molecule was bought by Sony in 2010 in order to secure the franchise and its PlayStation exclusivity. While the original may have been something of a surprise hit, LBP2 carries high expectations from fans who have poured hours into their own development. The challenge for Media Molecule is adding and tweaking enough to justify this as a fully-fledged sequel, within the constraints of ensuring flawless backwards-compatibility with existing user content.

LittleBigPlanet 2


 
The aesthetic has changed very little from the first game: it’s consistently imaginative — no two worlds look the same and some of the level design is little short of breathtaking. It’s a game that never fails to raise a smile.

The sound is wonderful too: cool retro music, and the return of Stephen Fry to narration duty. LBP2 achieves the impossible by cramming in more of the QI presenter than a Friday night on Dave, but this is no bad thing. The franchise's aggressive and overwhelming use of charm permeates every moment of the game, and Fry's warm tones fit in perfectly. 

So far, then, so similar. The differences only really come to light in the feature-rich creation mode, which is far easier to navigate and use than it was previously. A significant challenge must have been how Media Molecule would go about making this key aspect more accessible, and they have done a respectable, if imperfect, job. Tutorials are certainly improved over the first game, but they still fall short of total clarity and it’s likely that Google will prove to be a crucial resource for many would-be developers.

Presentation of the community features has been significantly improved. It's far easier than before to find the best player-created content, and all three million or so levels created in LBP1 are available to play — this is a key feature of LBP2, and leaves the original game all but redundant for anyone that picks the sequel up. The integration of the player-created levels is seamless; there are few games that manage to stitch local and community content together so smoothly.

LittleBigPlanet 2


 
Sackboy's movements are unchanged from the first game, which is to LBP2's detriment. The slight lagginess and floaty jump animation remains, but play for a while and you'll adapt to it. That's not to say there aren't moments along the way that will frustrate, but for the most part it's not hard to see why apologists for the controls in the first game claimed it was "all part of the charm".

The only other major gripe with the gameplay mechanics is the often confusing nature of playing co-operatively. In principle, teaming up with others should be a riot, but all too often the same issues that plagued the previous game return: poor camera movement and easily confused Sackboys (despite customisation) often make the experience more frustrating than fun.

The tools available to Sackboy add a new dimension to the single player game, and the creator mode. There's the grapple, which functions similarly to an extendable and retractable Bionic Commando-style arm; the Grabinator, which allows you to pick up and throw objects; and, most interestingly, the Creatinator hat, which fires out an object of the level developer’s choosing.

LBP2’s creation mode also features Sackbots, which are versatile and customisable AI characters. Combined with the Controlinator, this enables objects and characters other than Sackboy to be player controlled and opens up the potential for developing games in a wealth of different genres. It’s fair to assume that these will be some of the more powerful tools available to budding developers; the possibilities really do seem endless. 

Make no mistake, though: to really get into the creation aspect of the game, you’ll have to make a huge time investment. It’s far less fiddly than that of the previous incarnation, but it’ll still take a substantial amount of time to create anything genuinely impressive. 

LittleBigPlanet 2

 

Whether or not you’ll still be playing this months and years from now depends on how well you get on with the create mode. 

At the time of writing, there are a number of interesting community-created minigames and levels available, but individually there are precious few that are likely to hold your attention for more than a couple of hours. One of the most popular levels, for example, is a Zelda dungeon reproduction. And while it is really impressive that someone has managed to create it using LBP's tools, that doesn't make it a good game. It remains to be seen how many user created games will produce something deeper than an immediate "Wow" factor, and many may feel like the levels were more engaging to create than to play.

LBP2 is, to borrow a phrase, evolution not revolution. But that’s not to say it should have been delivered as an expansion, or DLC. There’s certainly enough here to justify its status as a fully-fledged sequel.

Furthermore, fans of the first game will rightfully point out that a significant overhaul wasn’t necessary. But there’s no doubt that despite the huge success of the original there were aspects that needed tweaking, and that’s what Media Molecule have done. 

And while some may balk at the phrase, ultimately LBP is good for what it is. If you don't get into the creation side, then you'll probably find this game won't hold your attention in the long term, although that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pick up a copy — most gamers would still enjoy it immensely in the short term and the single player campaign is well worth a look.

The LittleBigPlanet franchise is a rarity in the triple A category, an innovative, fresh, fun experience. The sequel can’t be called groundbreaking, but it builds expertly on the foundations of the first game and should be high on the shopping list for fans of chirpy platformers and budding developers.

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Big Planet

  • Improved level creation mode
  • Well-integrated community content
  • Mini-games galore
  • Good backwards compatibility

Little Planet

  • Controls still not as tight as your typical Mario game
  • Co-op can be frustrating

LittleBigPlanet 2 PS3 Review

The LittleBigPlanet franchise is a rarity in the triple A category, an innovative, fresh, fun experience. The sequel can’t be called groundbreaking, but it builds expertly on the foundations of the first game and should be high on the shopping list for fans of chirpy platformers and budding developers.

Scores

Graphics

.
.
8

Audio

.
.
8

Overall

.
.
8

Gameplay

.
.
8

Single Player

.
.
8

Multiplayer

.
.
.
.
6

Longevity

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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