Media Molecule‚Äôs LittleBigPlanet blew people away - and for good reason; its combination of slick presentation, solid gameplay, and ultra-cute characterization made for a compelling package. Since then, the series has gone from strength to strength, adding and improving on everything about the title through patches and sequels with great regularity since the original game‚Äôs release in 2008.
This LittleBigPlanet, however, is developed not by Media Molecule, but instead by Double Eleven, Tarsier Studios, and Sony XDev Europe. A change in developer generally has a major impact on a franchise, so it was something I was very mindful of when going into the game for the first time. Fortunately, to skip ahead to my summation for a moment, their impact - while noticeable - isn‚Äôt bad in any way. The core of the game is still pure LBP; franchise fanboys need not fret that the newcomers have messed with the key components of the series.
If you‚Äôre new to LBP, it‚Äôs best described as a platform game that doubles as a game construction kit; while it‚Äôs about jumping (and other platform mechanics) at a basic level, the ridiculously rich editing suite that comes with the title is capable of making almost any type of game you can imagine.
The singleplayer component - the bit in the box, at least - is a story-driven affair, with the genderless sack people (you can make ‚Äėem sackboys or sackgirls simply by equipping different types of clothes; the ramifications of this gender-on-demand ability are best left unexplored by this review) setting out to right some wrongs and rescue... it doesn‚Äôt really matter. The story‚Äôs not very cohesive, or very interesting.
What is cohesive (and interesting) is the general gameplay. As per usual for the franchise, it centres around exploring levels, avoiding treacherous dangers, jumping, and collecting bubbles - the larger of which grant you unlockable items for use in the creation side of things.
If you‚Äôre a completionist, and friendless, it‚Äôs worth pointing out that there are parts of many of the levels that can‚Äôt be completed (or even entered, typically) without a co-op buddy or two. You can play these games online, even with strangers, but if you‚Äôre Internet-less you‚Äôre restricted to the 95% of the game that is accessible to you.
As is typical with the series, the platform mechanics are somewhat divisive in their implementation. Jumping is floaty and the game‚Äôs ‚Äúthree different levels of depth‚ÄĚ side-scrolling mechanic is still a bit awkward in practice. You‚Äôll find yourself dying from time to time due to the slightly weird way in which jumping works here and the collision detection system, particularly when trying to pickup bubbles in a different ‚Äúdepth‚ÄĚ to your own, can be frustrating. None of this is new, however; all versions of the game suffer from it. It‚Äôs also not a major problem, so don‚Äôt let it put you off too much.
The new touch-based input, which you might use to slide something out of the way, push or pull platforms in and out, or even play a background piano, makes for a great addition to the general gameplay. It‚Äôs occasionally a bit cumbersome, like when you‚Äôre having to do jumps, button-based actions, and touch-based actions all in short order (which happens a fair amount late in the game), and you‚Äôll occasionally fall to your death (or, worse yet, drop your Vita) due to the fact that you‚Äôll need to change your grip under pressure in order to complete some of the trickier sections. Again, it‚Äôs not a big deal, just be mindful of where you are when you attempt these levels, lest your Vita slide under the bus seat in front of you...
The content creation system is amazing; it‚Äôs got all the good stuff of the console versions, with the added benefit that you can just touch anything to make it do what you want it to. The depth of the tool is, quite simply, incredible; almost anything is possible, as evidenced by the huge amount of user-generated content (UGC) already available for download. The learning curve, despite the impressive depth of the included tutorials, is still quite high, but if you're at all interested in making your own games, there's simply no better place to start.
The variety and quality of the fan-made material is so high that there‚Äôs really no reason to ever stop playing the game; while the singleplayer that ships in the box is fairly short, every time you finish some UGC, there will be another hundred or so new levels added to the impossibly large number already created.
The presentation of the title is nothing short of jaw-dropping. The Vita‚Äôs screen delivers vivid, lush graphics, easily on par with those you might see on the PS3. Characters still look cute, even if it‚Äôs a little less obvious as to which particular emotion they‚Äôre feeling at any given time (thanks to the smaller screen), and everything just drips character. It sounds great, and the thrill of having Stephen Fry (the game‚Äôs announcer) at your beck and call, and in your pocket, is almost worth the price of entry alone (his work here, as per usual, is magical).
LBP for Vita is truly incredible, and arguably the definitive version of the experience. The core mechanics are fun and the tools provided for making your own content are better than most dedicated game creation systems. There‚Äôs a simply ridiculous amount of extra content already created for the game, with more being created every minute, of every day, of every week... you get the idea. If the developers continue to add to the game in the same way Media Molecule have for the PS3 versions, there‚Äôs no question that LBP will be the best value game you‚Äôll ever buy for your Vita. A must-buy.