It has been nearly 8 months since Sony released their shiny new handheld system, the PlayStation Vita, here in the States. The biggest criticism of the system to this date is the lack of a real “system seller” piece of software. Despite a couple of big name releases such as Resistance: Burning Skies and Uncharted: Golden Abyss,
very little has been released since to draw in gamers to the new platform. Thanks to the efforts of Tarsier Studios, Double Eleven, and XDev, Media Molecule’s baby has finally seen its full potential and delivered the one title that should give people a reason to pick up a Vita: LittleBigPlanet (PS Vita).
If you have played any of the previous entries in the series, either on the PSP or PS3, then you should know exactly what to expect here on the Vita. However, if you are brand new to the series, prepare for something unlike anything else you have played or experienced. LBP is more of a platform than it is a game; it is a gateway for gamers to express their creativity and join a community of likeminded and ingenious peers. Whereas most games spill out everything they have to offer the first time that you open the box, LBP’s box proves to be a bottomless pit of content that will never end. At least as long as Sony and its various development teams fueling the series keep the lights on in the server room(s).
On the “game” side of things, there is a 40+ level campaign for you to explore. It is an enjoyable little adventure that isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. Our beloved hero Sackboy has been called to the plane of Carnivalia to track down and defeat the infamous Puppeteer. You will guide him through a series of themed worlds, each with their own unique set of levels, tracking down the Puppeteer and fighting your way through his soulless Hollows.
While the story is fun it is also the definition of forgettable; it more than serves its real purpose though which is to show you what can be done within the game’s creation engine. Every level (and mini-game) that you will experience in the campaign is an example of what you, the player, can create using the creation tools offered in the game. Thankfully, all of these levels can be played cooperatively with up to 3 other gamers online; the multiplayer options are seamlessly integrated into the experience. There aren’t any special menus that you have to go through or hoops that you need to jump through; the game simply tells you if other gamers are playing your the level in question and you are given the option to join them if you choose. If you want to unlock everything hidden throughout the game, you will have to do this as many levels contain areas that require at least 2 players to access.
The gameplay experience varies greatly throughout each of these stages, especially as you unlock the mini-game levels and side quests. These optional levels appear occasionally throughout the gameworld and are unlocked by collecting hidden keys in the various campaign stages. These levels really show off the different genres of games that can be created using LBP, including racers, puzzle games, and even top down shooters. Some of these levels are designed exclusively for multiple players and don’t allow you to really complete them without the help of friends (or enemies), so you will definitely want to find some friends online to play along with you.
Let’s be honest, we aren’t here for the story and what the game offers you from the start; we are here to make our own levels and games. In that sense, this is the best version of LBP that gamers have seen to date. Just like we saw with LBP2
, the game has evolved beyond allowing players to craft simple, platforming levels. In reality, this is a simplified video game creation software package; there really isn’t anything that you can’t do with the tools offered here. Returning players will feel at home in the game’s creation process while those new to the series may feel slightly overwhelmed. There is so much that you can do and so many options available to you that it is easy to get intimidating.
Thankfully, the developers recognize this and have included, just like the other LBP titles, an extensive list of tutorials that will show you the ins and outs of everything that you have at your disposal. It is relatively easy to throw together a simple, platform level, but if you want to design something special, plan on investing an extensive amount of time. Given time and effort, you can turn that simple level that you made in 5 minutes into a full game. Granted, your tools and assets are pretty bare at first, but as you complete the campaign and work through the in-game creation tutorials, you will amass quite a collection of objects and tools to work with.
Thanks to the different features offered by the Vita, there are a ton of new options for creation in the LBP world. The game makes great use of the front and rear touch panels, the ability to recognize motion via the Vita’s gyroscope, and the system’s camera and mic. These are both used in news tools and to refine existing ones. For example, the built in microphone allows you to record your own voice-overs and sound effects for movies and games; the camera on the other hand allows you to import your own stickers into the game by taking pictures of items or things in the real world. This helps add an unparalleled level of customization to your creations.
In addition to being able to add touch-related objects into the game, such as buttons and platforms that can be manually activated by the player, the inclusion of touch controls in the creation process all together makes things so much easier. Using simple drag and drop as well as pinching motions allow you to maneuver and re-size in game objects with ease; the whole creation process feels more hands on than ever, and I mean that both figuratively and literally.
Perhaps the biggest addition to the game is the new memorizer tool. This handy little creation allows you to implement custom save points into your creations; I don’t mean level marker checkpoints, but state oriented checkpoints that take into consideration what the player has done in a alevel and what they have collected. Perhaps the best example of this would be in referencing how it would be used in crafting an RPG or an adventure game; you can now have players carry over their progress (or inventory) between levels if you are making a branching adventure. There is no more need to start from scratch on each of your levels if you are trying to design a fluent, extended experience.
The creation area of the game is also where LBP makes the best use of its online functionality. You can design and build your creations offline, but connecting to the PlayStation Network is when you begin to see the brilliance of the experience. Players can share and play their levels with the entire world with the simple touch of a button. There are always new levels to browse and explore and you can even download them and save them for later (offline) play now, which is a nice addition. Once you complete the offline experience of the game, even if you don’t intend on crafting your own creations, this community will provide you with endless new content at no additional charge. You will find mini-games and full fledged adventures popping up all the time, giving you something new to play practically every single day.
I haven’t really touched on a lot of negative things about the game because, honestly, there isn’t a lot to harp on. As with all of the games in the series, load times continue to be a problem for a lot of people as the levels do take quite a bit of time to pull up, both online and off. That is something, however, that the series may never escape due to the nature of its level designs; think about it, all of the pieces of each level you play are just that: individual pieces. These aren’t predesigned sets, these are levels and games constructed using all of these various assets; because of that the game is basically “building” each level as you load it up.
While your costumes can be shared across the various entries in the LBP series (including LBP Karting), your levels cannot. This is a major oversight for the game and something that will inhibit the Vita community until it builds up its own archive of user-creations. Considering the recent patching done to LBP2 to implement the use of the Vita as a controller for creation, I am not sure why the content between the two versions could have been shared; there isn’t any different in the interface of the two titles now which seemed like the only hurdle. Sadly, the Vita version of the game also removes the ability to craft levels with others online. The creation process is simply a solo experience this time around, which will make constructing larger projects a bit more time consuming. However, you can now save up to 30 unique creations on your personal “moon”, which sort of makes up for that limitation.
LittleBigPlanet truly is the definition of a “gift that keeps on giving”. Once you finish the story, which will take you a few hours, you could spend an eternity crafting your own creations and experiencing the endless flow of levels stemming from the user community. It would have really benefitted the game to support levels from the other games, especially considering how similar it is to LBP2, but alas you will have to rely solely on creations from other Vita users. Hopefully, the masses will realize this quickly and help the online community of the game grow, which will only enhance the experience even further.