LittleBigPlanet 2 is the sequel to the universally acclaimed platformer LittleBigPlanet from 2008. This sequel, while remaining in large part the same as its predecessor, mixes new content and familiar game play to create something that could best be described as magical. Sony has come out of the gate swinging this year, as this is certainly a game PS3 owners should be picking up. If you don’t own a PS3 yet, this game is a good reason to look into one.
While the first game in the series was a platformer – no ifs, ands or buts about it – this game is very difficult to fit into a specific genre. Sure the content on the disc alone warrants it a platforming tag, but after you dig into some of the intricate and awesome user-created action RPGs, puzzle games, racing games, adventure games and much more, you’ll be reluctant to call it a platformer.
The game’s presentation is simply top notch. First of all, the visuals are beautiful. Numerous nuances of color, depth, shine and texture make the game just pop off the screen. Everything just looks amazing. The transitions from day to night, the glow that light sources cast, the water effects. LBP2 is gorgeous. When you first visit your pod, it looks as if it is made from real cardboard.
All the different materials in the game, be it steel, wood or glass, look exactly as they should. The level design is tight. Each and every stage is unique, intricate and detailed. The different ‘worlds’ that make up the story mode are all different and distinct from one another. The characters, with sack boy being the obvious exception, are all designed interestingly, even though many of them look like they belong on some kid’s program on the Disney channel.
The HUD and menus are clean and effective, making use of the contrast between light and dark colors very effectively. They are a little bright though and friend of mines noted that the text was nearly unreadable on his standard definition set. I can’t personally attest to the difference between reading the text on an HD and SD set, but in HD everything is clean and crystal clear. Even the little text is readable because it’s usually black text on a white background, or some other eye catching combination like that.
I have to say, never in a single game have I ever seen so many different environments. Sometimes during the story mode things teeter on the incessantly childish. I considered calling my seven year old sister into the room to have a gander at some of the stuff. You can’t really call this a bad thing though, I mean it is rated E. After you jump online, the amount of different things you’ll see is unbelievable. From beaches complete with hammocks and palm trees to a living room furnished with a PS3 and an HD TV to the rooftops of Tokyo with flashing neon billboards and tall skyscrapers, this game is an absolute visual feast.
The music in the game continually falls flat in my opinion. It never tries to be really epic or too serious, and while I do respect that, the depth in the soundtrack is practically nonexistent. Some tracks are light and airy in a pleasant way and then others sound almost like elevator music. I was looking for a strong, catchy, theme to emerge from the game. Perhaps too many years of Super Mario have made me feel like this was an essential part of a good platformer, but I’d like to know why I barely remember any of the music in the game.
Honestly, when I jumped online and played through some original LittleBigPlanet levels (more on those later), the songs I heard there possessed more flair and spice than much of the LBP2 soundtrack. Maybe it was because of the nostalgia of not having heard them in years, or maybe it was because some of them took on contemporary spins with singable lyrics, but whatever it was helped them become more memorable than the disc tracks in LBP2. Even now I can’t remember hardly any of the music from the game. Isn’t that terrible?
The saving grace on the music side of things is the music creation. You can create music in the game and I really look forward to hearing what people will whip up with the tools. The sound effects in general are pretty good. Fire, wind and lighting all sound appropriate. The sounds of sack boy walking on all manner of materials are pretty awesome. It sounds like someone beating at a window when he walks on glass, just for example. The sound effects are broad and numerous and almost entirely pleasant. The sound in the game gets a pass, though the music barely helped with that.
The story is um…well…it’s there. The Negativatron is reeking havoc on all of Crafts World and it’s up to sack boy and the alliance to stop it. It’s funny because unlike Link, Trainer or even Matthew from the recent Golden Sun game, sack boy doesn’t wear the silent protagonist model well at all. Perhaps because they’ve constantly got his damned tongue hanging out like a parched dog. I figured that him not talking was probably the best thing for his character, if they were determined to make him into the moving image of a plush doll.
The characters and the story are all cutesy and colorful. Nothing is meant to be taken seriously and I think with this being the kind of game it is, we can all agree that that is perfectly fine. There is even one character that I’m sure will bring Eeyore of Winnie the Pooh fame to your mind. It goes without saying that this game is absolutely perfect for younger players. Don’t expect much in the story department and you won’t be disappointed, though it is definitely better than in the first game.
The game play is where this game really becomes a masterpiece. I like to think of it in two different pieces. You’ve got the content which ships on the disc, or what you’d spend all your time playing if you didn’t have internet (God forbid though) and then you’ve got the online part, which is literally endless. Why not start with the ESRB rated part which ships on the disc? Playing the game is an absolute blast. You and up to four friends brave more than thirty stages which are all diverse and fun.
The bulk of the game play, like most platformers, is to get from point A to point B by traversing a menagerie of obstacles and challenges. Running, jumping, grabbing and swinging are just a few of the ways you’ll get through the levels. There is also a healthy mix of puzzles to solve, races to complete, hidden loot to find and scores to beat. It’s is really rich, while maintaining its simplicity at the same time and that is so incredible it’s almost hard to describe.
As you play the game you’ll collect, and might I add want to collect, hundreds of stickers, costumes and level creation tools. You find all this stuff in prize bubbles which are generously scattered throughout each level. Many of them are hidden or will require you to perform some extraordinary feat to obtain.
This brings me to the puzzles. They are fun and never seem to get complicated enough to cause frustration (though the online mode doesn’t stay true to this concept). Sometimes they require just the pull of a switch or so and the strategic movement of blocks, but other times they get intricate and require multiple players to complete. This is particularly a problem for people who don’t play online and also don’t have friends and or multiple controllers. Because you net prize bubbles from the puzzles, you won’t be able to get that %100 completion without someone else helping you out. If you do play online and don’t have friends of multiple controllers, you can just team up with random folks to help you complete these puzzles.
You’ll also collect a number of local and online multiplayer modes throughout the adventure, which are pretty fun. They are minigames, or essentially small games, but more on those later. A ton of replay value lies in perfecting each level. This is essentially completing each level without losing a life. While that might be really easy to do in earlier parts of the game, you may spend hours on end trying to complete a certain wicked contraption without ever losing a life. This is not easy to do, so even if the game doesn’t have multiple difficulty levels, perfecting the levels add a generous spoon full of difficulty. Plus, you can always try for a higher score.
Then there is the level creation, which is back and better than ever. A comprehensive and drawn out tutorial takes you from the level editing basics, to the finer points of crafting and then all the way to making you masterpiece come to life. As you complete the tutorial, the truly endless possibilities seem as vast as the ocean. While creating a level is technically part of the offline content, I can’t imagine not uploading it for thousands of players to play and critique would be very rewarding.
I dabbled in the level creator for a little while and the expansive tutorial makes me feel like I could really dig into the level creating aspect of the game, but it definitely is still for the meticulous and saintly patient gamer. There are so many tools and tricks that, even though most of them are explained, it can still be a very overwhelming feeling when you actually enter that blank planet. However, after seeing some of the possibilities there, like the creatinator’s abilities to help you craft entire games, you’ll most likely try to put together a thing or two.
Now before I talk about the online in the game, I think I should mention how I’m not entirely comfortable with the game offering such a wild expanse of content online that the offline content looks more than inferior. I mean I’m not complaining, but point blank, if you aren’t playing this game online, your missing out on more than half of the content. The online in LBP2 is flawless, peerless and more than any gamer could ever ask for. There are, quite literally, millions of levels that have been imported from the first LBP game. You can spend hundreds of hours playing through these (mostly) creative and beautiful stages and still not even scratch the surface. In my opinion, the fact that this content varies so wildly, that there is so much of it and that you can never truly see all the incredible things that people will create makes it the clear superior of the game’s content.
Even though I’ve done all this talking about these imported levels, all of them are from the first game and aren’t just a part of LBP2; they’re in LBP1 as well. Many of the new user-created levels aren’t levels at all but are in fact miniature games! The new tools in the level creator mode have allowed people to craft and capture fully functioning video games. Take the masterful recreations of such classics as Pac-Man, Bejeweled and Super Mario for example. These games are all fully functional and your jaw will hit the floor when you see how faithful the recreations actually are.
First-person shooter games, RPG games, action games, you name it and it is in LBP2. This element of the game manages to accomplish something very few other games have. It gives the title endless replay value. You will experience something new just about every time you turn it on. Harnessing the creative energy of PlayStation gamers the world over has done an amazing thing for this game and it will probably still be lauded for this in another five or ten years.
Because this online mode is an absolute sea of possibilities and ideas, you’ll need a pretty effective user interface to make it usable right? Well, Media Molecule has you covered there. It allows you to heart the content you like, check out the content that your friends like and help you find levels similar to the ones you like via tags, just to name a few features of the navigation. If a user consistently puts out amazing things, you can heart them as a creator and get updates whenever they upload something else. The like and dislike options show a quick general consensus. A wide variety of filter options allow you to pull up creations in a certain genre or with multiple specific aspects like “two-player”, “challenging” or “artistic”. You can quickly discover the busiest or most recently played levels really easily and there is even a special section for suggestions from the developers themselves.
After playing a level that you really like (or really don’t) you can give back useful feedback. Tagging the level helps other players find it if it’s similar to something they like and you can even give full text reviews. You can file grief reports for levels that are inappropriate or fake (many levels claim to give out some item or other and really don’t). The power of so many players uploading content is double edged sword, because your destined to get a good number of phony, copycat, inappropriate or just plain boring levels. The good quickly outweighs the bad in this respect though, because if we all contribute to the community by reporting foul levels and using tags that actually apply, we can make LBP2 a wonderful place.
In conclusion, LittleBigPlanet 2 is a game so remarkable, so commendable, so masterfully executed that every gamer needs to play it. The numerous features, glittery presentation, adorable designs, endless replayability and perhaps the deepest level creation in any console game ever is enough to melt the resolve of even the most devout Xbox fanboy.
Transcending age, gender and just about every other demographic, LBP2 is one of the best games I have ever played and truly a credit to gaming as a medium. I cannot express in words my gratitude to Media Molecule for being talented enough to craft this. I wish that somehow, every person in the world could play this game. If you could get only one game this year, you would be perfectly happy with LittleBigPlanet 2.