If you haven't heard of LittleBigPlanet, chances are pretty good you haven't heard of the PlayStation 3, either. LBP was one of the first PS3-exclusive games to garner serious attention from the press, traditional gamers and casual / fringe gamers alike. It's unique combination of incredible charm, piles of features, accessible gameplay, multiplayer, content creation and more (all to a very high polish) was always going to get it some attention. Lapped up by the media and gamers alike, it's no real surprise that the successful formula has been sent in the direction of Sony's other system - the PSP.
For those not in the know, LittleBigPlanet was Media Molecule's big break (SCEE Cambridge do the honors for the PSP version); taken under Sony's wing they laboured (with considerable, obvious love) to create the most visually polished and feature-rich platform game ever seen. Exclusive to the PS3, LBP saught to take platform gaming out of the lunatic fringe (love it as much as you like, you won't win an argument suggesting it's big business in today's market) and into the mass-market spotlight. It's combination of ludicrously high (think: "Are those clouds down there?" levels of height) production values, slick design and features out the wazzoo earned it a lot of attention from jaded members of the press.
The premise of the game itself is pretty straight forward - control a sackboy (he's a little dude or dudette, your choice of clothing will determine that, made of sack cloth - hence, Sackboy) as you navigate a 2.5 dimension (more on that in a moment) platforming playfield. Puzzles and controls are all driven by physics so much of the time you'll be dragging things around or using levers in order to progress.
The levels in the game are notable not just for their charming use of texture and clever layout but because they've all been created using the very same in-game level editing tools that ship on the UMD (or digital download: welcome to the future!). They not only serve as an introduction to the way you play the game, they also allow you to unlock textures / devices for use in the editor and they give you some great ideas as to how you can use the game's incredibly deep physics system to create some incredibly clever content. You can then share these levels online, where people can download, edit, play and rate your content.
The most significant difference between this LBP and its big, PS3 brother is (other than the platform) the complete absence of multiplayer. In the original, you could play through the game's various platforming levels or even create new levels together with up to three other people at the same time. For obvious reasons, there's no single-machine multiplayer but the lack of online multiplayer is somewhat more surprising and its absence is noticeable. On the bright side, the lack of local multiplayer means that there's no problem with the awkward, killer camera that you will definitely have experienced if you played so much as a minute of offline multiplayer on the PS3. Silver linings and all that...
Ed. - The version NZGamer.com received had bug that didn't allow us to play the game online and share the stages that player can create.
Graphically the PSP version is obviously going to be inferior to its CELL-driven PS3 big brother but the core of the aesthetic remains true to its ancestor and the charm remains largely intact. The rather dimunitive, low-resolution sackboys have more difficulty charming an audience with their kooky costumes and facial expressions when they're only a few pixels high but hey, there's no one else to see your facial expression anyway so it's not a big loss. They still move around in a way that makes you go "awww" in a girlfriend-pleasing kind of way and it all happens at a solid, high frame-rate. For a portable game, it looks and moves very nicely indeed.
The control of your little sackboy is strictly via the analogue stick, with the d-pad controlling your emotions (rather pointlessly, perhaps, but the option is there). You can pull up your little in-game control widget, allowing you to attach stickers to the scenery (a significant gameplay component, believe it or not), customize your character / the level (in editor mode) or kill yourself. The latter option is quite useful, particularly on poorly thought out player-made levels. How you rate the controls will relate directly to your thoughts on the analogue nub - aside from it, the controls are well thought out and instantly remembered. The nub itself, however, isn't magically improved by loading LBP - you're going to be using it a lot, too. Fortunately platforming seems to be the thing the nub is least-bad at so it's not as bad as it could have been.
The core of LBP is, fairly obviously, platforming. More specifically, it's controlling a little dude in 2.5D space as you try to navigate levels and get to the exit. Driven by physics, how far you jump (or are thrown, fall, etc) is controlled as much by environmental objects as it is by the buttons you press. There's also a very slight lag between button presses and action, which results in a slight (but noticeable) disconnect between your movements and those of your character on screen. Combined with the physics engine, this can result in some very frustrating situations where you can see what you are supposed to do and you know how you're supposed to do it but you have to attempt it multiple times before pulling it off. If you come into this expecting the pure, precise control of a Mario game, you're in for a (massive) shock.
You will, by now, have read the term "2.5D" several times throughout this review. What it means is that whilst not a 3D "go anywhere" game, there is some movement in the Z-axis (back and forward in the screen). This allows you to go behind bits of the scenery (often finding hidden collectables) and plays a big part in many of the game's puzzles. Changing between the front and the back section of a level segment is supposed to be silky smooth, with some control allowed (hold down and jump to jump down from a high background area to a low foreground area, for example), while LBP itself will intelligently determine where you are trying to get to and move you between the front and back dynamically. In theory. In practice, it's wrong often enough to prevent you from having any faith in it whatsoever and will (guaranteed) lead to your death on numerous occasions throughout the game.
The 2.5D and physics gameplay combination works ok when you eventually get used to it but it's nothing like as polished as the rest of the package. It seems likely that the combination is necessary to enable the content creation system and dynamic gameplay MM were originally gunning for but it does still seem oddly unpolished in comparison to the rest of the package (or other platform games).
The editing tools are simplicity itself to use, leveraging the in-game control mechanics you should already be familiar with to manipulate, rotate and (occasionally) obliterate bits and pieces of scenery to create the machinations that otherwise could only exist in your imagination. It's obvious from the moment you first crack it open that the ability to create and share is the core of LBP, not the actual playing part. Playing is important but enabling imagination is where LBP truly shines.
So, should you buy it? If you love LBP and are looking for more, the PSP version is all new and it fits in your pocket. If you can deal with the fact that you can't play it with your friends, there's no reason to hesitate. If you haven't played LBP, it's probably worth tracking it (or this) down for test play first; some will love it, some will run around screaming that the emperor has no clothes on and never want to see it again. It's polished but polarizing to be sure.