When Sony and Mediamolecule first announced that they were making a sequel to 2008’s LittleBigPlanet I was instantly sceptical about the whole project. Since the main draw of LittleBigPlanet is user generated content I couldn’t shake the feeling that that LBP2 would be no more than a glorified level pack. Do we really need a sequel to game that already has over 2 million levels? Actually it turns out that we do!
I am happy to report that my initial scepticism for this game was completely unjust. LittleBigPlanet 2 is a more than a worthy successor to the game that we all know and love, so much so that it almost renders the first game irrelevant. LittleBigPlanet 2 is not only my favourite game of this generation, it is also one of the best games I have ever played! If you thought the levels that Mediamolecule created 2 years ago were impressive you will be blown away by the things that they are able to produce now. Rather than just providing us with fancy new levels, Mm have completely redesigned the game from the ground up, ironing out all the kinks along the way. There are so many things here that simply could not be done in the first game and it’s only going to get better once the community has had time to learn the new ropes. The debut trailer suggested that this LittleBigPlanet 2 is not a Platform game but rather a Platform for games, and to be honest I couldn’t agree more. The LBP community has spent years trying to make anything other than a platformer with the restrictive creation tools but the best they managed to come up with was a giant calculator. Realizing this, Mm has now made it possible for players to create levels in a wide variety of genres. If you grow wary of “running to the right” you can cleanse your pallet with the ever-expanding library of shooter, puzzle, sports, racing and survival horror levels. If you’d still rather be platforming then new features such as level link and the grappling hook take the traditional LBP to a whole new level!
Before I delve deeper in to this review I’d like to take a step back and gave a brief overview of the series for those not in the know. The first LittleBigPlanet was a breakthrough title on the PS3 and quickly became one of the most popular games on the system. Rather than just cranking out a generic mascot based platformer, Mediamolecule turned the genre on its head by placing a huge enthuses on user generated content. The game’s robust level creation tools have allowed the community to create millions of levels which can be easily uploaded online for any and everyone to enjoy. The open nature of the PS3 platform has lead to LBP becoming a runaway success and even two years later the online portion of the game is still booming. Despite being a sidescroller, the action in LBP actually takes place on 3D plane which means players can interchangeably hop to either the foreground or the background. The game does a great job dynamically shifting your character to the appropriate plane so you hardly ever have to worry about objects in front of or behind you getting in your way. Speaking of “character”, that is one thing LittleBigPlanet certainly isn’t lacking in. The game stars Sackboy, a burlap puppet who is cute enough to make puppies cry tears of rainbows. If cuteness isn’t your thing then you can customize your Sack-person to your liking by accessorising him or her with an array of objects that can be found in the Story mode. Players can also purchase a host of outfits that are licensed from other popular games, movies and comics allowing you to give your character the face of Kratos with the body of Chun-Li! The game’s ‘floaty’ controls took a little getting used to and since the platforming is entirely physics-based it was harder than it should just been to perfectly time jumps. But once you got the hang of it LBP was a joy to play and the 100’s of levels which are uploaded each day meant that there was also a reason to pop the game disc in to your console.
The first thing you’ll notice after just a few minutes with LBP2 is that there is actually a story this time around. Sure it’s not exactly on par with the narrative found in games like Mass Effect but at the very least you now have a driving force to finish the story campaign. As always you can play through the story with up to three friends both locally or online and doing so is a blast! If you don’t have an Internet connection then obviously you’ll be locked out of most of LBP2’s content but thankfully the levels that Mediamolecule have crafted for the story mode are absolutely phenomenal. The level designers over at Mm deserve the highest of praise for their ability to conjure up some of the most unique platforming levels I’ve seen in years. Almost every level in the story mode contains something completely unique that would have been impossible to create in the first game. The cutscenes which bookmark each of the games six worlds are a joy to watch thanks to the hilarious characters that you meet along the way and end up accompanying you for the remainder of your journey. There are also several “verses” levels which open up as you progress which encourage competitive play rather than co-operative. Participating in these levels does not advance your progress but they are fun little asides for you and your friends to throw down on. Although the story mode is relatively short, the fact that you are constantly funnelled from one awesome moment to another is ample compensation. Completionist will also enjoy collecting the vast amount of collectables that are scattered through-out each level, most of which will come in handy when it’s time to create your own. Players are also rewarded Pins for completing certain tasks and you can display your three most revered Pins on your online profile for sufficient bragging rights.
The creation tools in LBP2 have been drastically expanded upon and you now have the freedom to create almost anything. Your creations can then be shared online for the rest of the community to play, rate and review. The calibre of levels that has already been uploaded is mind-blowing. I have already played dozens of levels which I thoroughly enjoyed, many of which were better than actual Playstation Mini’s or Xbox 360 XNA games. As well as creating tradition platform levels you can now produce levels that are completely unrecognizable as a LittleBigPlanet creation. It’s now entirely possible to create a level that looks and feels as though it is a completely separate game. The updated tools even allow you to construct your own control scheme and add finishing touches such as title screens and option menus to make your finished product feel authentic. Also new is the Level Link feature which, as the name suggests, allows you to link multiple levels together. The music creation tools have also been expanded greatly and you can even add your own voice samples and images using the Playstation Eye camera. Another new feature which enhances gameplay is the introduction of Sackbots. These NPC’s can be inserted in to your levels to act as background characters, friends, foes or even catalysts in puzzles. Be warned though, putting together a feature packed level that it even half as good as the levels that are already on the disc requires dozens upon dozens of man hours. There sheer amount of customization options at your disposal is initially intimidating but hopefully the in-depth tutorial (narrated by the delightful Steven Fry) will be enough to get you started. Once your levels have been uploaded they will now be easier than ever to find thanks to the awesomeness that is LBP.me. LBP.me is a community site which avid players can visit (via a web browser) to discover both the latest and greatest user-created levels. Once you find a level that you’d like to explore simply hit the “add to queue” button on the corresponding page and the next time you boot up the game you’ll see a list of all the levels that you’ve added.
Graphically LBP2 still isn’t pushing the PS3 to breaking point on a technical level but aesthetically the game is as gorgeous as ever. The characters designs leave a lot to be desired (with the exception of Sackboy and the awesome Clive) but the Sackbots are frickin’ adorable! The in-game music isn’t quite as memorable (or controversial) as it was in LBP Uno but the inclusion of voice acting in the cutscenes is appreciated. Many users have reported connection problems when hopping in to online games with random players but I personally have yet to experience these issues. Despite the fact that the game has a Playstation Move logo on the box, LBP2 technically does not support Sony’s motion controller. When the disc in is your PS3 you have the option to install LBP spin-off “Sackboy’s Prehistoric Moves” to your harddrive and that game requires a Move controller but the whole thing is very misleading. Also misleading is the game’s lack of 3D support even though one of the main characters in the game, who is featured on the front of the box, wears 3D glasses (albeit an Anaglyph pair). None of these potential misunderstanding do anything to hurt the actual quality of the game but some consumers may feel cheated, especially if they bought the game primarily for its Move functionality and have already purchased Sackboy’s Prehistoric Moves separately from the PSN store.
It’s now taken me 1,600 words to say something that can be summarized in half a sentence; “Buy LittleBigPlanet 2 now!” This is one sequel that I never thought I wanted but now I’m pretty sure I can’t live without it. This is easily one of my all-time favourite games and I simply can’t recommend it enough. Is the level creation feature a little too daunting? Yes. Would I have loved a longer story mode? Sure, but at the end of the day these minor issues barely factor in to the overall experience. In my eyes LittleBigPlanet 2 is damn near perfection, now if you’ll excuse me there are millions of levels that I need to explore…