If the name ‘LittleBigPlanet’ is new to you, then you’ve missed out on what is one of the most revolutionary games of this generation. YouTube videos will tell you that it’s a cutesy platformer, but those who’ve played it know that it was a lot more. The game had 50 levels, and the same tools that were used to make them were made available to the player, allowing every LittleBigPlanet player to make their own levels and share them with the world. There are over 3 million LittleBigPlanet levels playable today, and they’re all free. If you did miss that bus, you’re in luck, because developers Media Molecule have improved and expanded the LittleBigPlanet formula in a number of ways, delivering a game that is more cinematic, more fun, and gives players more creative freedom than ever before.
While the creation tools are made much simpler this time around, many players may not have the imagination, patience or inclination to build their own levels. We did give the creation tools a shot and we could tell that the potential to create some very cool levels that go beyond LBP’s platforming roots does exist. You can even create complete games with animated cutscenes, voice acting, custom music and multiple levels linked to one another. But like many other players, we just aren’t creative enough to think up a concept that was interesting enough to make us want to play it. So we’ll leave it to the experts in the LBP community to wow us with their creations, and you can rest assured that within weeks of release, there will some mindblowing user-created levels for you try out for free. Plus, the 3 million community levels from the first game are also playable in LBP2.
A little help here
So for us creatively-challenged, there’s the LBP2 story mode, which takes you through seven worlds, each with 5-7 story levels and a few more optional levels within them. Each world follows a particular theme, and each is vastly different in style and appeal than the other. While one has you jumping and skipping along a world made of chocolate, cake and other confections, another will have you dodging traps, fire, and other hazards in a more somber industrial environment. The whole game, that includes the story mode and community levels, can be played co-operatively by up to four players either on the same console or online. Like the first game, almost every level has bonus sections that can only be played with multiple players. And this really is a game you want to play with friends, because the fun factor grows exponentially as you add more players. Playing together is a mix of co-operation and competition. While you’ll be trying to pick up more collectibles (in the form of bubbles and stickers) than your buddies, you also have a limited number of lives between checkpoints and those are shared by all players. So getting overzealous and not playing together won’t get you too far.
Sackboy’s new adventure is also more cinematic, with voiced story cutscenes and more camera angles used to lend a sense of cohesion to the story mode. The narrative itself is fairly basic though, and the attempt at humour is hit or miss; mostly miss. It’s the gameplay, however, where you’ll be getting all your entertainment. Controls and physics are almost unchanged since the first game, so if the floaty physics didn’t quite gel with you, you may be disappointed. We, however, loved the gameplay in the first game and there are many reasons to love it even more this time around. The first of these is the power-ups and weapons. You won’t have these with you all the time, but from time to time, you’ll be given a pick-up that grants you a special ability, from lifting and throwing objects to a gun that shoots pastries to kill enemies or act as a platform to get to high places, or a water gun than can put out fires and take out flaming foes. These pick-ups add a lot more variety to the gameplay and the levels that use these tools are also designed specifically with their use in mind, which also brings freshness to the level design.
It's cute - but it's also so much more
You also now have robots, which act as vehicles to get you through a level. Each of the robots has different characteristics and abilities and they control drastically differently than Sackboy himself. The first of them is the rabbit, which can only move by jumping, which is quite strange for a platform game. The dog has the ability to move obstacles out of its way with its sonic bark. Like the pick-ups and weapons, these robots bring a lot of variety to the game by forcing you to play in ways you wouldn’t if you only played as Sackboy. Adding yet another layer to the gameplay are the Sackbots, which are confused and directionless robots whom you must guide from one place to another. Along the way, the Sackbots can help you traverse tricky areas and even attack enemies, but it’s up to you to help them find the path to freedom.
There are also some shiny new level design tools to let the creators’ imagination run wild. Two such tools that are very well demonstrated in the story mode are the bouncing pads and zero gravity. Bouncing pads shoot Sackboy at high speed in the opposite direction and the strategic placement of these pads makes for some really addictive gameplay. In concert with the grappling hook pick-up, you can create a level that won’t require Sackboy to jump or run even once and you can also have levels that progress vertically rather than horizontally. The gravity option lets you alter the game’s physics, thereby making movement more or less floaty. In one particular level, you’ll be suspended in the air, jumping off floating objects to propel yourself forward.
Whatcha talking about Willis
Like its predecessor, LBP2 is an explosion of colour. The levels are bright and cheery and while the game has nailed its unique art style, it is just as impressive a technical achievement. From lush jungle environments to the aforementioned dessert level and factory environments, LBP2 is constantly throwing new scenery your way, keeping repetition to a bare minimum. The quirky art style is further accentuated by the game’s characters, who are designed either like plushies like Sackboy himself or paper creations and cutouts. The visuals are brilliantly supported by an eclectic and catchy soundtrack, and of course, the unmistakable Stephen Fry returns as the game’s narrator, who now has a deeper role to play in LBP2’s extensive gameplay and creation tutorials.
LittleBigPlanet 2 is a never-ending game. The story mode, which will take you about seven hours to complete, is only the beginning. After that, it’s over the LBP community to work their magic. Thanks to the improved create mode and the numerous level design tools and power-ups, you can be sure that you’ll never run out of content. But even without the community involvement, LittleBigPlanet 2 is an impressive offering just based on the levels on disc. Media Molecule have outdone themselves by upping the game in almost every way. No two levels feel alike, which is a massive achievement for a platformer. We questioned the need for a sequel to a game that had already handed all of its creation tools over to the community but having played through LBP2, we can’t wait to see what the master level creators come up with. This is a title every PS3 owner must pick up. It’s fun for all ages and surely an early contender for 2011’s game of the year.