In retrospect, it seems kind of strange to admit that I didn’t quite understand the attraction of LittleBigPlanet at first. I remember playing the demo shortly after I bought my PS3 Slim and coming away a bit underwhelmed. LBP definitely had a unique, quirky style, but at the time I think I just wrote it off as nothing more than Sony’s attempt at staking their own system-exclusive claim on the platformer landscape.
However, I am always on the lookout for a good deal, and a few months ago I was able to get my hands on a copy of the LittleBigPlanet Game of The Year edition for a whopping $2.50 thanks to a handy promo credit. With the full game in my hands, I was finally able to overcome my initial skepticism and give it a fair shake.
The story levels were certainly entertaining enough, but I was most impressed by the robust, sophisticated community levels on offer. Fully experiencing the community aspect of the game is what really made it click for me, and my anticipation for the sequel began growing exponentially soon thereafter. In a very short amount of time, LittleBigPlanet 2 turned into a day one purchase for me. I’ve played it almost non-stop since getting my hands on it, and I feel I can safely say that LittleBigPlanet 2 has secured its position in my mind as one of the best games of 2011.
A lot of the buzz leading up to the release of LittleBigPlanet 2 focused on the improvements made to the sequel’s level creator tool and emphasized the community aspects. However, I think that does a bit of a disservice to the compelling story levels that come packaged with the game. The first game’s story levels were a lot of fun to play, but they don’t really have much tying them together; what storytelling was present largely served only to wave the player onwards to the next bit of platforming.
In the sequel, Media Molecule actually does some world-building, and makes the LittleBigPlanet universe, also known as CraftWorld, feel like more than just a wispy collection of dream-matter. The inimitable Stephen Fry returns as narrator, naturally, but along with him come a cast of actors who bring to life an off-kilter society of level creators known as “The Alliance”. These characters enlist the player in a campaign against a monster known as “The Negativitron” in a series of charmingly goofy cut scenes that play at the start and finish of each creator’s world.
As for the gameplay, it’s generally a more polished version of the first game. The controls are still a bit floaty, but that’s something you get used to after a fairly short time playing. However, there are a number of cool new gameplay additions that build upon and improve the original mechanics. At this point I can’t quite remember what LittleBigPlanet was like without grappling hooks and bounce pads. The story levels also include a few sections peppered throughout that break away from platforming, which does help keep things feeling fresh. However, in my opinion, LittleBigPlanet 2 shines the brightest as a platformer, and the rest is just icing on the cake.
One of the first things you’ll notice when playing LittleBigPlanet 2 is how much it encourages you to play with others, either cooperatively or in the new versus levels. Eddy and I played a few levels together, and in my experience it worked the best when we were playing a race, survival challenge, or versus level. When we played more traditional levels, it was easy to get lost in all the bright colors and hectic movement. In one level, for example, we played through without realizing that we were supposed to herd a group of sackbots to safety. Many sackbots died that day. In their memory, I recommend playing through the story levels on your own first before inviting others to join in.
As for the much-touted level creator, I have to be frank and say that I’m not really the audience for it. I haven’t quite worked up the patience necessary to sit through all 50 tutorials and begin to understand the intricacies of level design. So far most of my time in the creator tool has been spent making wild, impractical doodles that fall over right before I get bored and go back to the main game. I’ve played the kinds of bare-minimum levels that some people publish, and I’m not in any hurry to add my own paltry contributions to that collection of questionable rubbish.
Although I don’t feel the need to run out and start creating levels, I absolutely love the community levels that are rising to the top of the ranks as people really dig into the new creator tools. Some of my most-loved and most-played LittleBigPlanet 2 levels were created by the community. I’ve played community levels that are as good or better than the professionally created story levels in the original and the sequel. I do have to say, however, that the most-touted feature – the ability to recreate any kind of gameplay with LittleBigPlanet 2’s tools – is a bit of a letdown.
Most of the non-traditional levels I’ve played don’t quite hit the mark. Yes, people have created top-down driving levels, but the controls are inevitably terrible (“stop”, “reverse”, or “TOO FAST”). I played through a first-person shooter level last night, but it looked and played like something written in BASIC on a twenty-year-old computer. There are occasional flashes of brilliance, like an extremely faithful recreation of Zelda 1-1, or an entertainingly hectic update of Asteroids, but it seems particularly telling that the best examples are all based on classic games.
However, LittleBigPlanet 2 still has more than enough to recommend it. I finished the story levels in just a few days – probably about eight hours of playtime max, including replays – but almost every night since then I’ve jumped in and played a few random community levels. LittleBigPlanet 2 is perfect for quick drop-in sessions because most of the levels can be completed in 5-10 minutes. I’m also eagerly looking forward to the future development of community levels as creators test and refine the boundaries of the level creator. CraftWorld is definitely an exciting place to visit.
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