Review / LittleBigPlanet 2 (PS3)

The big question behind the first LittleBigPlanet was if the community would support it or not. 3.5 million + levels later and I think we got our answer. That leaves a much simpler question for LittleBigPlanet 2; what’s new? At first I was worried my reply was going to be “not much”, but give it a bit of time to settle in and you’ll discover a sequel worthy of its namesake.

LBP2 works on the same three pillars that were established in the first game: Play, Create, Share. That is to say you can create a whole range of your own levels, share them online, and then go play everyone else’s as well developer Media Molecule’s own story campaign. Sackboy is still kicking too, and you’ll even have the exact same costume for him if you carry over your save from the original game.

Story mode is a good place to showcase the improvements the team has made over the original. Straight away you’ll be dragged into one of the new cutscenes that feature voice acting and a variety of camera angles. Not terribly exciting, no, but keep in mind anything you see in story can be done in create, meaning you have your own editing tools at your fingertips.

Now it’s game time; most of LBP2 plays out as a side-scrolling platformer. Not much has changed in terms of controls; Sackboy still jumps like a sponge on springs and pressing R1 to grab is pretty much the only other button used. The real changes come in the new kit you can arm the little guy with. Media Molecule have given you some great new tools to work with such as the Creatinator, a hard-hat that fires out any object you want it to. That means in the campaign you’ll be unleashing cakes to block icing waterfalls, or watering down fiery enemies.

Or how about the Grabinator? It’s a simple device that lets you lift objects instead of simply dragging them around. The real fun comes when you realise you can pick up friends and throw them miles across the screen, landing them in spike pits. Nothing sets your annoying little sister straight like throwing her into scalding flames (still talking about the game, of course). These new devices might seem small, but they go a long way to adding a healthy dollop of variety to the campaign, keeping it fresh throughout.

Then there’s the addition of the driver’s seat, a tool that lets you easily assign controls to any sort of vehicle you want to create. Bored of simply hopping up and down over obstacles? Jump onto a robo-bunny and bound away, or arm yourself with a laser-shooting camel to even the odds. It’s all got that Media Molecule charm; crazy designs and wacky concepts that are unmistakeably LBP. You’ll go from swinging on a Grappling Hook to commandeering a caterpillar in minutes, never knowing what you’ll find next.

Add in Sackbots (Lemmings-type characters that actually have AI instead of the last game’s “characters” made of materials and stickers), an actual story, and some great boss fights and you’ve got a fantastic, if brief campaign. You could see every level through in one sitting, but it’s obvious that LBP2 offers so much more past the story (which really only scratches the surface of the game) that it’s not really a problem.

It’s set at a welcoming difficulty too. LBP2 is kid-friendly, and they should be able to see it through to the end if you’re wanting to pick it up for a little one. Just be warned that they’ll come crying on the final boss. I was nearly throwing my controller into the TV over it.

Improvements are certainly obvious, but some of the issues of the old game remain too. The floaty jumping doesn’t give you a precise platforming experience, always keeping the game from feeling as finely tuned as a classic Mario or Sonic title, and you’ll still get stuck trying to navigate through the three different planes to stand on. These are arguably sacrifices that had to made so that LBP’s gigantic creation mode can work, but it hurts the title from a gameplay perspective.

It does make you wonder why you play LBP. The best games offer tight controls, fail-safe levels and big cinematic story lines. LBP offers none of that, instead shoving the idea of user-generated content down your throat. It’s fun to play, sure, but it would be more fun if you ditched the user-generated stuff and gave us a fully fleshed out story with precise controls. But that’s not what LBP is about, not at all; I personally wouldn’t have it any other way, half the fun comes from seeing what other people have cooked up. We need a game like this in the industry, just don’t expect your Call of Duty addicted friends to pick it up and love it.

Another problem surfaces online. All of LBP2 can be played with up to three friends both on and offline, which is great fun. Right now though, the game’s struggling a little when it comes to PSN. Over about an hour of trying to find each other, myself and fellow TVGBer Chad George got to spend about 10 minutes playing together. Our instant messaging conversation went back and forth for a good while with “You joined yet?” and “It’s still bloody loading!” Hopefully these are just launch hiccups, because LBP2 is one of the few games to realise the full potential of PSN, yet it’s letting the service down with serious connection issues.

Where you can really get the most out of LittleBigPlanet 2 is with Create Mode, where all your ideas and designs can come to life. Creation in the original game was amazing, but a complete nightmare for anyone without a degree in construction. For most players it was a “look but don’t touch” affair, letting us play tonnes of great levels that the clever people have made, but not being able to get a gun to fire a laser beam when we tried ourselves.

For me, this is where the sequel needs to improve the most, because I want to be creating awesome levels to share with my friends. First reaction? Uh-oh. I stare at a legion of tutorials and tools and gulp. Maybe my arcade shooter better be scaled back to a platformer with bits of sponge on a string to swing on.

Or maybe not. It takes time, but you can master the creation in LBP2 with greater ease than the first time around. Replacing a rocket attached to a switch with a driver’s seat to make your super-fast car actually gives you the control you need. No more tapping R1 then watching a cardboard cutout zoom off into the distance, smashing into another section of your level and bringing it toppling down. Attach a driver’s seat, assign the controls and you’re good to go. Simple.

No more fiddling with pistons and springs to perfectly measure the distance that cannon will fire you; simply tune a jump pad and it’ll do all the work for you. And yet there’s so much more you can do too, mixing up the gravity to tighten or loosen the jumping, or attaching missiles to the Creatinator to customise your own private deathmatches. LBP2 hasn’t only grown, it’s become more accessible.

You’ll see that in the community too. Just type the title into Youtube to see what I mean. Remember when you dropped your jaw at something someone had made in the first game? 2 trumps that; you’ll drop your jaw at damn near everything people have made this time around. Shooters, puzzlers, RPGs, racers; it’s crazy to see what people are coming up with.

Visuals are sharp, colourful and fun, just like they should be. Sackboy, while unchanged, remains a adorably animated little fellow that you’ll love taking through some cool new environments. The graphics themselves haven’t improved all that much, but it’s the bright presentation and varied settings that carries it. Music remains as catchy as ever, and a sequencer tool even lets you make your own, so you really have no excuse to moan about the selection already on offer.

I could go on for another thousand words about LittleBigPlanet 2. There’s so much content here that you could darn well be playing it until the next entry arrives. That said, it’s more of an evolution than a revolution; control problems still remain, and there’s not much to appeal to anyone who wasn’t a fan of the first one. Gameplay still takes a dip to allow for the sheer depth of level creation, so it’s you who has to decide what’s more important. For me, LBP2 makes improvements in all the right places. One of 2011’s first is also one of its best.

+ New additions to gameplay keep it fresh
+ Easier creation that’s more accessible and allows for more games
+ Pretty much the most content you’ll find stuffed onto a PS3 disc, and it keeps growing

– Control issues remain, with unresponsive jumping and plane-hopping
– Online issues are really holding multiplayer back
– While there are lots of changes, they simply expand the experience rather than change it