America - Front
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By Karl Koebke 12th Jan 2009 | 7,478 views
LittleBigPlanet is a two dimensional sidescrolling platformer created by Media Molecule. The focus of the title is less on the platforming levels included than the community of creators using the level editor to make an endless supply of interesting levels. This focus on community and creation elevates a two dimensional platformer to an incredible experiment in creativity and fun. The occupants of this crazy experiment are called sackpeople. Picture a living voodoo doll made of burlap that is constantly happy and having a fantastic time, and you have the sackpeople. While they have no set personality or noteworthy backstory provided by the game, the sackpeople work well as an adorable and heavily customizable avatar for your LittleBigPlanet experience.
The platforming controls of LittleBigPlanet are incredibly simple in theory. The X button is used to jump, while the R1 button allows you to grab the nearest object. These controls keep the entry level difficulty of the game low, almost like the game is encouraging you to let your non-gamer friends and relatives in on the fun. Controls do become slightly more complex once rocket packs or Paintinators are thrown into the mix. When using a rocket pack the left stick moves you up, down, left, and right while the X button is a boost that can increase the thrust of your rocket pack. R1 is still used to grab and to take off the rocket pack you press the circle button. If you find a Paintinator - which looks like a small paint gun - the controls are basically the same as when platforming regularly, except the right analog stick is now used to aim the gun while the R1 button fires it and Circle is used to drop the gun.
The above are the necessary controls for playing, but there are some more complex moves for those who feel the need. You can change the expression of your sackperson using the direction pad, with each direction coinciding with a different emotion. By holding R2 you can control your sackperson’s left arm (the one on your right) with the right analog stick, and holding L2 allows you to control the other arm using the left analog stick. These two combined allow for a surprising amount of expressiveness from the little sackperson and lead to many a hilarious moment as you swing your arms to smack your friends into pits of death. The square button brings up a menu with which you can customize your sackperson’s appearance (I made an awesome undead samurai) using clothing and other props collected during your travels. You can place stickers on anything and anyone, or force your sackperson to hold their breath and explode in what is easily the most adorable act of seppuku ever depicted in a videogame, then start over at the last checkpoint.
LittleBigPlanet is not a pure 2D platformer and has often been described as a 2.5D platformer. There are three 2D planes that your character can move through: far, middle, and near. While moving left or right your character will automatically move to a plane to get around objects if possible, and you can change the plane your character is in by pressing up or down on the analog stick. These planes are easily the most difficult and buggy part of LittleBigPlanet and can lead to some annoying moments when you thought your sackperson was going to jump onto one plane and they instead plummet to their doom. These experiences are uncommon, but they do happen and are an unfortunate side effect of the three plane system.
Levels included on the disc are made by Media Molecule themselves and will take you around five to six hours to complete on your first play through. The main goal of any level is very simple; you start in one area and the level ends when you touch the score platform. Commonly these levels will consist of platforming challenges to get around obstacles, but this is not set in stone, as there are also mini-game levels during which you try to survive as long as you can and the level ends when you die. While traversing these levels you will come across round portals which light up upon your passing and serve as checkpoints for the level. Whenever you die you can be brought back to life at the last portal you passed, and each time you are resurrected in such a way one counter on the portal is taken off. If you die after all of the counters on the lit up portal are used up then it is game over and you have to start the level from scratch. There is a loose storyline within and linking each of the included levels, which is simplistic and silly, but does its job well and does not detract from the experience. Multiplayer features in the game are done extremely well and every single thing you do in the game can be done with one to four people depending on how many you feel like playing with. These can be PSN friends, people sitting with you on the couch, or just a random assortment of people you have only met while playing a given level. The fun increases exponentially with every person added, even if these people are not in the room with you directly. There is full headset functionality for those that feel the need and based on my own experience it works fairly well. Your sackperson even lip synchs whatever you say when you use a headset; though not exactly lip synching of Pop Star quality it is a cute addition that has already been used to make some hilarious music videos on You Tube.
Obstacles are not the only thing to look out for since these levels are also brimming with collectibles for you to find. Collectibles come in two varieties; first are small bubbles which you run through to get points. Collecting points raises your rank on the final scoreboard for the level, and also gives you a ranking amongst those you played the level with if you decided to let others in on the fun, but has no use otherwise. The most important collectible, and the thing you want to be keeping a close eye out for during your platforming escapades, are prize bubbles. These are similar to the point bubbles in appearance except they are larger and have a picture of the prize they contain within them. Prizes are either parts to customize your sackperson with or parts you can use in the level editor for making your very own LittleBigPlanet level. These collectibles add a certain amount of replay value to the levels included on the disc, as it is impossible to get all of the prize bubbles included on a level in the first time through, and you will undoubtedly want every piece possible to perfect the vision of your level or sackperson.
After playing a few of the included levels you are given the ability to create your own level, as well as the ability to play any of the many levels created and published by the LittleBigPlanet community. These two functions are what give the title its incredible replay value as you can spend hours upon hours perfecting a level to your exact specifications, or simply traverse the online levels to kill a few hours in joyous gaming bliss.
The level editor is fairly robust and will fill the needs of most of the users who care to utilize it. There are a plethora of switches and devices to use, ranging from sensors that can trigger an event when a sackperson is within a certain range, to rockets that propel your creations to untold heights and rubber bands to snap things into place. Each of these devices is customizable with a number of features for each type such as length and strength of rubber bands, power of your rocket and range of your switch. The levels included with the disc are a testament to the adaptability and power of these devices, as every single level created by Media Molecule was made using the level editor itself and nothing they used is out of the player’s grasp. Much more impressive are the levels the community has made from the tools provided, with rollercoaster rides, Gradius imitations, and Duck Hunt all created. I found a certain amount of enjoyment simply playing through these amazing creations and trying to ascertain the ways that each was made, as well as the tricks and devices used that allowed them to work. There are certainly some ingenious creators out there who show exactly what this level editor can do.
You also have the ability to create objects of many different materials and any imaginable shape. You choose a shape to start with which can then be rotated and made larger or smaller with the right analog stick. Holding the X button and dragging allows the shape to be used as a paint brush to create whatever you like. There are also tools to slightly alter the shape once it has been created by dragging corners to new positions or creating new corners altogether. The material you choose is also an important factor as each has its own weight and other characteristics. These materials range from floating balloons that sackpeople can grab, to foam that is easily moved and dense metal which can crush a sackperson. You can also change the material to something dangerous (such as fire or electricity) to create the obstacles players will have to avoid. While creating your level the physics engine is usually running and anything you create quickly falls to the ground. You can freeze everything in time by pressing the up button on the d-pad. The left and right buttons on the d-pad are used to undo or redo any step you want. The combination of the two can sometimes cause headaches if you press the up button accidentally and don’t think about it until you suddenly realize that the building you want to blow up during the level has already exploded and you have done far too much to go back now.
Once your level is ready you can publish it up for everyone to have a go at. The online community aspects of this game are fantastic and I have found watching the progress of a level you created can be quite addicting. When looking through levels there is a simple search function, with levels being displayed on a globe and pages you can flip through using R1 and L1. Once you have a game selected you can play it, heart it to show your affection as well as mark it for later, and leave comments to the creator. This menu also allows you to look through other levels made by that creator, as well as the levels that creator has hearted. This is usually the best way to find a selection of the best levels available. My only wish was that the search function was a little better, as you are only able to search based on certain tags given to levels such as “fun”, “funky”, or “ingenious”, and I would have liked to be able to search by the level’s name.
The visuals in LittleBigPlanet are not the best of the generation technically by any means, but they do have a simplistic and colorful charm that is hard to ignore. Every level looks like it was made from household objects and simple materials, giving the game a “home-made” kind of look that is quite endearing. The visuals are also highly varied through the level editor, with some online levels having entirely new artistic styles all of their own which are impressive to behold. There are a few technical bugs when playing online, and load times of online levels can be long, but neither of these issues does much to detract from the enjoyment of the game.
The music might be one of the title’s greatest accomplishments. The tracks are mostly licensed but each one fits perfectly with the mood of the game and is incredibly memorable. There are many moments in the included levels that are defined by their music just as much as their gameplay. The voice acting in the game is minimal, with most text being accompanied by sound effects much like the gibberish spoken in The Sims titles. The only real voice acting in the title is done by Stephen Fry to narrate the introduction to the game and tutorials in the level editor. These are all very well done, and his voice works perfectly with the innocence and simple fun of LittleBigPlanet itself, but I wish they had used him for the included levels as well to help the story along. I understand why he was not used - since the levels had to be made using only tools available within the level editor and Stephen Fry is not readily available to everyone - but it unfortunate that his inclusion in the game is so limited.
The gameplay in LittleBigPlanet is simple to get into and incredibly fun whether alone or in groups. The ever-present physics leads to some interesting puzzles, as well as platforming challenges that most will find difficult. The included levels have an amazing variety in their visual style as well as their goals and gameplay mechanics, which makes each a unique and fun experience. The thing that drags the gameplay down is the difficulty and bugs inherent in shifting between the three 2D planes. It is the only part of LittleBigPlanet’s gameplay that is truly hard to master and will lead to some extremely annoying moments as you unexpectedly fall to your doom. These issues are not enough to make LittleBigPlanet a bad experience by any means, but they are definitely a noticeable negative that will detract from an otherwise fantastic game.
Value for a game such as LittleBigPlanet is nearly endless. There are levels being created within the community every day and frequent downloadable content helps to keep the level creators inundated with new tools and objects. LittleBigPlanet is the kind of game you can pick up randomly and play for hours upon hours just searching through the newest online creations, or spend even more time trying to make a masterpiece of your own. It is a nearly endless supply of fun and new experiences. The only negative side is that there is markedly less value if you don’t have access to the internet, and the search functions can limit your ability to find new and exciting levels.
The current generation of games is often berated for being overcrowded with grey-brown colored shooters and sequels to established franchises. LittleBigPlanet serves as a refreshing shot of color and creativity that helps to abate the fears of those that want less grey-brown and more pastels and neon in their gaming experience. It is a very fun experience with perhaps the best multiplayer ever seen in a platformer, a visual style all its own, countless hours of gaming to be had and music that couldn’t have been chosen better. Unfortunately it also has issues of changing plane, short playtime in the included levels and a poorly thought out search function. LittleBigPlanet is not perfect, but it’s a fantastic first attempt at making an active and often ingenious community of level creators on a console game; a community which is sure to evolve even further with additional time and downloadable content.
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