Reviewed: February 2, 2011
Released: January 18, 2011
If you had approached me one year ago and asked if the world needed a sequel to Sony’s hit Little Big Planet – I would have answered with a resounding “No!” But my answer would come not as a result of any animosity towards the flagship title in Sony’s PLAY, CREATE, SHARE line (which also includes the fantastic ModNation Racers), but simply because the original LittleBigPlanet seemed so perfect in nearly every way I did not think it was in need of improvement. |
LittleBigPlanet was everything a 2.5-D platformer should be; visually spectacular, culturally sophisticated, and technically amazing – plus, it offered nearly infinite replay value from an active community of amateur developers and fans constructing a fantastic amount of additional content with the included level editor. Really, I was not so sure that LittleBigPlanet could be improved upon – so why even contemplate a sequel? Why mess with perfection?
Well, the folks at the preeminent UK developer Media Molecule have proven me wrong, and are showing us just what they can do with perfection with their release of LittleBigPlanet 2 – a title that not only lives up to its predecessor, but actually improves nearly every facet of what made the first title so amazing.
At its core, the actual gameplay of LittleBigPlanet 2 is very similar to the first title – it is still largely a 2.5-D scrolling platformer featuring the coveted burlap Sackboy who must traverse an odd patchwork world comprised of bits and pieces of everyday refuse, in an effort to save his LittleBigPlanet from the throes of an intergalactic vacuum cleaner called “The Negativitron.” The story is hokey for sure, but the overall whimsy and humor fits right in with the absurdly witty British science fiction like Dr. Who and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – which is especially befitting given the LittleBigPlanet 2 narration is performed by Stephen Fry, narrator for 2005’s Hitchhiker’s Guide film.
LittleBigPlanet 2 offers up forty single-player levels with stylized themes like “Techno Renaissance,” “Steampunk and Cake,” “Fluffy High-Tech,” “Designer Organic,” and the much lauded “Hand-Made Arcade.” Yes, these are the actual names of the level themes – a far cry from the traditional Water, Fire, and Ice levels we get with most platformers. These strange sounding hybrids lead to some of the most creative levels yet seen in a platformer, and really help emphasize the whimsical light-hearted nature of LittleBigPlanet.
Rather than sticking with the bare-bones presentation of the first LittleBigPlanet, Media Molecule has added a cohesive storyline that is delivered through a series of cinematic cutscenes, complete with character voiceovers and music. Sometimes this can come across as a bit cheesy (see: any PlayStation era Pac-Man platformer), but in the case of LittleBigPlanet 2 it is actually quite enjoyable, and a definite improvement over the purely text-based storytelling of the first title.
Visually, the game looks even more fantastic than the original – which is no easy feat. The bits and pieces appear even more tangible and tactile than ever before, and more than ever it truly feels like you could reach into the screen and grab a sponge or a fuzzy block, or feel the sharpness of a crisp paper fold. The audio has seen a major improvement as well in terms of overall range – featuring loads of new level-specific theme music ranging from the whimsical pop of the first title, to crunchy guitar rock during heated boss battles. For the type of right-brain thinkers that LittleBigPlanet 2 aims to impress, the presentation quality is a certifiable sensory overload.
LittleBigPlanet 2 introduces a couple of new gameplay elements, most noticeably the new grappling hook that is used extensively throughout the course of the game to help gamers cross large chasms, reach high ledges, and to negotiate rotating objects. Using the hook takes a bit of getting used to, but once mastered it is the key to navigating the amazingly detailed levels, and can often save Sackboys and Sackgirls from accidental falls.
Also new to the formula is a “Grabinator” which is kind of like a pair of robotic strong arms allowing Sackboy to pick up and throw heavy objects, and the “Creationator” which is a hat that Sackboy can use to instantly create any LittleBigPlanet 2 object to use in any level. While these two tools are not used as routinely as the grappling hook, they definitely are necessary items in the LittleBigPlanet 2 universe.
But as any LittleBigPlanet veteran knows, the storyline play comprises only one facet of the overall experience, as no other franchise greater emphasizes Sony’s PLAY, CREATE, SHARE philosophy than LittleBigPlanet. And where the original title featured the most comprehensive level editor of any console title ever, LittleBigPlanet 2 ups the ante with the requisite addition of new objects, themes, and fabrics, but also with fantastic programmable logic control via the “Contolinator”, and the ability to manipulate camera angles to form entirely new gameplay perspectives. Just a basic perusal of the hundreds of user-generated levels proves that the community is already very solid and is rapidly employing the new additions to make top-down racing titles, side-scrolling Mario and Sonic knockoffs, and jaw-dropping retro gaming machines.
On the multiplayer front, LittleBigPlanet 2 features co-op play for up to four players wither locally or online. While all levels can be completed with a single gamer, many levels require two-player cooperation in order to achieve 100% item collection – and if I had one annoyance with LittleBigPlanet 2 it would be with how seamlessly intertwined the online and single-player modes are; I found myself constantly interrupted in my single player gaming by online co-op requests from gamers looking to get their 100%. It was a blast playing with my kids, and watching them play together – especially with the no-fault deaths in every level but the bosses.
Speaking of bosses – LittleBigPlanet 2 features some of the craziest bosses yet seen in console gaming. Given the fact that the LittleBigPlanet world is comprised of little more than litter and refuse – the boss designs have no limits and the result are some of the craziest contraptions I have seen. They are tough, but thankfully their weak spots are obvious, and hitting them is a bit more controlled than in the earlier PSP release.
That brings us to the issue of the controls, which happen to be the one feature that does not appear to have been improved upon. I know a lot of critics have taken issue with the floaty jumping of the original title, and the three-layer 2D gameplay – both of which go relatively unchanged with LittleBigPlanet 2. I really expected Media Molecule to address the critics’ concerns with the first title, but they seem to have stuck to their guns with the original design. I am accustomed goofy physics, and I have never found the controls to be a problem – but gamers who took issue with the first title will certainly not be pleased with the sequel.
As if that were not enough, LittleBigPlanet 2 comes packaged with Sackboy’s Prehistoric Moves – previously a PSN exclusive ten-level tech-demo showcasing Sony’s PlayStation Move peripheral. The retail value of the PSN download is $5.99, so it is definitely a nice add-in for Move owners.
I could go on and on about how technically amazing LittleBigPlanet 2 is and much fun the whole family is having playing it – and playing with it – but it really is not necessary. Simply put, there is no better value in gaming than the LittleBigPlanet franchise. And while its goofy character design and floaty physics might not sit well with all gamers – LittleBigPlanet 2 offers some of the most challenging gameplay, the most amazing presentation, and the most comprehensive editing tools, in a package that defies typical gaming.
There is already a steady stream of additional first party content and costumes being released, and thousands of user-created levels ready for gamers’ consumption. Add that to the 2.5 million levels from the original LittleBigPlanet, that import seamlessly into LittleBigPlanet 2, and it all adds up to an infinite amount of gameplay that further emphasizes Sony’s plan to make LittleBigPlanet a sustainable franchise.