I have a confession to make: I never played the original LittleBigPlanet on the PlayStation 3. Well, that's not completely true. I put about twenty minutes into the pre-release demo they had at E3 a couple years ago, but I would hardly consider that a thorough play through. While I've always been excited to go through Sony's adorable platformer, I just haven't had the chance. Now, thanks to the Sony PSP, I have finally had my chance to become a citizen of the LittleBigPlanet. And even though this shrunken version lacks some of what made the console game so memorable, I'm happy to report that it manages to offer a spectacular 2D platforming experience unlike anything currently on the handheld.
In case you're like me and missed it on the PlayStation 3, LittleBigPlanet is Sony's answer to the old school Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog games. At least, that's what I thought going in. What I quickly discovered is that there's a lot more going on than meets the eye. In its simplest form, LittleBigPlanet is a 2D puzzle game masquerading as a platformer. You don't have to contend with many bad guys or boss battles, there aren't any power-ups and most of the other trappings from the 8- and 16-bit platformer games are completely absent. In their place are exquisitely detailed puzzles that help teach you the basics of making your own 2D levels. The game is full of exciting ideas that I've never seen before in this type of game, a real compliment given the genre's thirty year history.
The idea is simple, you run around the world completing levels and collecting stickers you can use to make your homemade levels more interesting. Each region has its own unique set of levels, most having to do with the countries and cultures you are in at the time. You start out in Australia, but soon enough you are shipped to Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, North America and, you guessed it, South America (just in time to celebrate Carnivale). Each of these regions features several levels to complete, along with a series of constantly changing bonus levels for you to figure out.
To do this you create your own customizable Sackboy character, an adorable little mascot character made out of a, you guessed it, burlap sack. He's limited in his movements, you're only allowed to run, jump and grab on to things (using the left shoulder button). His movements are a little floaty, but he's certainly easy to control at all times. The nice thing is that Sackboy doesn't run out of lives, instead he's returned to a checkpoint and you lose some points. What sets this character apart from the Marios and Sonics is the fact that he's not limited to the one plane. The game is built around the idea that you can jump in and out of the screen, allowing you to get around obstacles and interact with the level in a number of interesting ways. Most of the puzzles are designed with this gameplay mechanic in mind, so expect to jump in and out of the planes a bunch throughout each level.
What surprised me is how different each of these levels is. This is not one of those games where you're simply trying to avoid obstacles and make it to the end of the level. There's definitely a lot more at play here. In most levels you'll end up meeting somebody who will task you with a specific mission, usually some multi-part puzzle that will have you running, jumping, climbing, dangling and other traditional platformer actions. And even when you've done that, you will discover that there's more for you to do. Complete all of the missions in a level and you'll find your way to the big computer at the end.
Unfortunately, simply saying that these levels is different doesn't do much to illustrate how creative and unusual each level is. In one level you'll have to solve a bunch of physics-based puzzles in order to unlock an animal-themed password, while in another you'll have to throw sheep in the correct cages before you can move on. There are levels where you race a boat and levels where you go sledding on a toboggan. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, by the end of the game you will have battled a giant King Kong-style ape who has kidnapped a beautiful (albeit lifeless) woman. There's an incredible amount of variety, much more than any other 2D platformer I've seen in the last twenty years.
Page 1 of 2