Successful beyond most people's wildest dreams, Media Molecule's 2008 PlayStation 3 title LittleBigPlanet caught many - including industry commentators and gamers alike - by surprise. Its charming mix of adorable characters, approachable gameplay, and intuitive content-creation tools formed a robust and extensive user community immediately upon its release. It has since been followed up with a PSP version and a full-blown sequel on the PS3, each of which has helped expand on the features and improved on the experience. This new Vita version, however, looks set to finally realise the real potential of the concept...
Before we talk about what's different, let's touch off all the stuff that's the same. For a start, that incredibly compelling theme tune is back, jangling away happily in the background while you take your little Sackboy (Sack Person?) out exploring the game's various modes. The general gameplay of the physics-based platform game at the core of the title, of course, remains the same - it even retains the three different "planes" of gameplay from the PS3, rather than the two that the PSP was limited to (i.e. you can move into or out of the screen - see the trailers below to see the mechanic in action).
The new stuff permeates every aspect of the game, with new developer Double Eleven keen to ensure the title heavily leverages the new interface capabilities of the PlayStation Vita platform. Right from the level-select interface itself, you can touch, slide, swipe, shake, and otherwise find your way around without having to resort to the physical buttons. The normal controls are there too, of course, but should you want to fire a slingshot or shove something out of the way, just do it the way you intuitively feel you should be able to - chances are it will work just fine.
There are loads of other nifty, interactive elements too - one example we saw showed the piano built into the background of a level was playable simply by tapping away on the screen, while numerous obstacles and interactive elements could be tapped forward or backward, just by using the appropriate front or back touch-sensitive panel. If you're worried about whether you'll be able to tell what you're doing when using the back touch panel, the team at Double Eleven have opted to draw an on-screen icon that shows where (relatively speaking) your hidden fingers are touching at any particular time.
While these new interface mechanics feel like a natural "of course!" component of the gameplay, it's not until the level creation that you really grasp just how perfectly intuitive, interactive controls work in the content creation space. Whether it's swiping to draw a smooth curve for your level, painting new objects with your finger, defining the sweep of an animation, or in some other way creating or positioning something, it's incredibly easy to understand how to do it. You can also leverage the built-in camera to capture real-world objects for inclusion in your levels - with almost no limits as to what you can achieve. If you can think of it, you can probably do it - wherever you happen to be when the urge strikes you. Check it out:
The game is literally packed full of features, with loads of unique content, the ability to use your PS3-purchased DLC (at no extra cost) and much more. You can even share levels (including acquiring new ones) over the 3G connection, should you plump for the deluxe version of the console.
We came away from our hands-on and demonstration session with the game gushing about it. This really is shaping up to be the ultimate version of the create / play / share experience. It's very LBP and, for fans of that franchise, this game alone could prove justification for buying the Vita itself. If you have any interest in this series, you need to keep a close eye on this one.
Look for our full review once the title becomes available in early 2012 (no firm release dates have been set).