What do a red fez, leafy angel wings and a Fu Manchu moustache all have in common? They, along with a Sackboy‚Äôs quirky sensibilities, kept me giggling for hours.
Ever since 2008‚Äôs smash hit release, pundits have been waiting for a new little brother to join the LittleBigPlanet Family. That sequel is finally here, and it‚Äôs good. It‚Äôs very, very good.
LittleBigPlanet 2 is a hard game to characterise. That‚Äôs not because it‚Äôs confusing, but because it packs a dazzling array of gameplay onto one disk. So it‚Äôs difficult to know where to start. For some it‚Äôs a puzzle platformer, for others it‚Äôs a platform puzzler, and for those with a creative bent it‚Äôs a platform for making games. Developed by the inventive studio Media Molecule, it smashes together wit, irreverence, creation and some damned fun platforming.
It‚Äôs evident pretty early on that some serious thought sits underneath LittleBigPlanet 2‚Äôs hood. Don‚Äôt let its childish and eccentric demeanour fool you; it‚Äôs obvious that Media Molecule hasn‚Äôt rested on their laurels. Their sequel builds on the successes of their first instalment and has made changes that go far beyond the cosmetic ‚Äď and with great results.
The game‚Äôs story continues right after Sackboy‚Äôs prior adventures. Everything appears to be rosy in LittleBigPlanet, until the arrival of the aptly named Negativatron ‚Äď which proceeds to go about sucking all the fun out of Sackboy's world. While vacuuming Craftworld the Negativitron also attempts to corrupt various creator‚Äôs creations. Sackboy, along with a ragtag group of creators named the ‚ÄúAlliance‚ÄĚ sets out to defeat the Negativatron and return Craftworld to its happy medium.
As narratives go it‚Äôs not the most impressive out there ‚Äď but what gives it the edge is its charm. LittleBigPlanet 2‚Äôs story manages to perfectly balance the tightrope between childish irreverence and adult sophistication, and for that Media Molecule‚Äôs writing team deserves a big pat on the back. It‚Äôs full of depth and the tried and true ‚Äėproblem, quest, resolution‚Äô device keeps you engaged and the story moving. But in saying that, a minor quibble could be made about the narrative‚Äôs pacing. While LittleBigPlanet 2‚Äôs gameplay alone is enough of a reason to keep your hand on the controller, a faster start would have provided more of a sense of urgency to Sackboy and the Alliance‚Äôs quest.
But that story is told with some first class characters. It‚Äôs rare to see a puzzle platformer that pays proper attention to good characterisation ‚Äď LittleBigPlanet 2 has it in spades. A wide array of characters make an appearance, each with their own accentuated quirks and mannerisms: the eccentric Larry da Vinci sagely advises Sackboy, the cherubic Victoria Von Bathysphere earnestly encourages and the Negativitron (my word isn‚Äôt that an awesome name?) looms ever present in the background. The effect of this is quite simple ‚Äď it leads itself to great storytelling. And for a title that is squarely aimed at the childish mind, it was an important thing for Media Molecule to get right.
The story and the characters are developed through a series of hilarious and engaging cut scenes. The voice acting during these is a thing of beauty (Stephen Fry returning as the narrator couldn‚Äôt have been more perfectly cast) and the writing is top notch ‚Äď but it is a shame that the characters are not voiced during the game levels themselves, with Media Molecule instead making the odd design choice to have them revert to incomprehensible babble. The result was probably intended to make gameplay feel more childlike ‚Äď but it‚Äôs at the expense of characterisation, which is an opportunity missed.
The gameplay mechanic is again deceptively simple, and the ‚Äú2.5D‚ÄĚ ethos of the original title makes a return. Each level presents a variety of platforming challenges ‚Äď from the traditional jumps and obstacles to the zany and obscure. As a mechanic it‚Äôs not all that revolutionary ‚Äď but LittleBigPlanet 2 presents it with an extraordinary amount of variety and polish. Simple obstacles such as gaps or jumps are made all the more fun with the addition of grappling hooks, slideable rails, grabinators and even cake guns. But all those novelty items hide the fact that at its core, this is a very challenging platform puzzler. Some levels will take several attempts to get right, and for those who are insistent on collecting every single sticker, bubble or piece of Sackboy clothing ‚Äď be prepared to put away a lot of time. Unfortunately some of the original‚Äôs control issues have not been completely remedied, with precise jumping and the navigation of the deeper parts of Sackboy‚Äôs world an unfortunate frustration. But on the whole LittleBigPlanet 2‚Äôs gameplay is vastly improved from the (already quite good) original. And all of it is enjoyed with some pitch perfect audio bubbling away in the background, giving a great sense of both depth and mood.
Media Molecule has made sure that contained within these levels are all the trinkets and customisable content you could ever want or need. LittleBigPlanet 2 is stuffed with a vast array of things for you to outfit your Sackboy with ‚Äď and Media Molecule has committed to releasing even more. This review doesn‚Äôt have enough words to fully go into the details of everything that is available to you, but it‚Äôs a lot ‚Äď and it can all be used in new and interesting ways. During my play through I spent a considerable amount of time simply kitting my Sackboy out with new outfits, trying on different shades or plastering things all around my world. If movement is more your style, by holding down the controller‚Äôs triggers you can independently control your Sackboy‚Äôs limbs, and a shake of the controller bobbles him around. Great for animated renditions of Saturday Night fever (but be warned, your Sackboy might look cool, but you‚Äôll look like an electrified epileptic when you do it). This amazing amount of customisable choice and control in effect creates a game within a game, where hours of entertainment can come from simply playing. Not playing by completing linear objectives ‚Äď but playing just by experimenting and trying new things. For a title like LittleBigPlanet, where peculiarity is king, that mechanic is a really pleasing thing to have present.
And peculiarity is the obvious theme when it comes to LittleBigPlanet 2‚Äôs look. Its art direction is fantastic. Stretching all the way from the Abstract to the Cubist with everything in between, LittleBigPlanet 2 boasts some extremely impressive visuals. The reworking of the graphics engine and the particle effects has paid dividends and given the title a richer look. Special mention needs to be given to the level look and the character design. The levels are artfully put together and there is no part of the screen that hasn‚Äôt been filled in some way. The characters are imaginative and fun to look at. Take Larry Da Vinci, he runs around in a (well animated) newspaper poncho and accessorises with massive 3D glasses. Not only is that damn cool but it‚Äôs a great example of the creative extent of the world that Media Molecule has decorated for you.
But if you‚Äôd much prefer to decorate your own world, LittleBigPlanet 2 lets you. The level creation was the hallmark of the original LittleBigPlanet, and this lasting aspect of the title has also been redesigned to make level creation (and sharing) easier. Now a whole moon is at your disposal, with a large number of areas to fill. Again, a full investigation of all the creative options available to you would run off words off the page ‚Äď but in short, there is a lot you can do. Thankfully the scope of levels has been opened, which is a welcome addition. If you like you can even create role playing levels, racing events or mini-movies with your Sackboys or Sackgirls. Getting used to the creation system does take a little bit of time, but for the lazy there are over forty eight tutorials to get you on the right track. In addition Media Molecule‚Äôs reworking of the creation controls earns it a big tick ‚Äď and the now aptly named ‚ÄúControllinator‚ÄĚ makes the process of level construction a hell of a lot easier, which in turn expands the range of creative ideas you can put into shape, greatly increasing the value of the title. An extra tick is earned for backwards compatibility and a more streamlined integration between the PlayStation Network and your creations, which makes sharing and acquiring user created content in LittleBigPlanet 2 far easier than its predecessor.
LittleBigPlanet 2 is an impressive title. It‚Äôs jammed packed full of charm, humour, wit and fun. It looks great, it sounds great and it feels great. If puzzle platformers are your thing you owe it to yourself to check this title out. If they aren‚Äôt you owe it to yourself to at least give it a try ‚Äď because LittleBigPlanet 2 might just be the polished and engaging title that changes your mind.
But most importantly, if your creative heartstrings are tugging and heavenly ballet of the Wonderplane is calling, go grab LittleBigPlanet 2. Your inner child will be endlessly thankful for it.