In the wake of the roaring success of Little Big Planet, Media Molecule stated that there was no need for a sequel, only content updates through DLC, due to the extensive toolset offered in the game. Nevertheless, last week saw the release of Little Big Planet 2, which we were assured, was, in fact, worth the effort, and not simply developed at the behest of the money men at Sony HQ.
Having exhaustively fiddled, tweaked and tinkered with MM’s sequel since before Little Big Planet 2 was announced, I can safely say that this is no cash grab (not that such thoughts usually enter the mind when thinking of Media Molecule regardless), rather than under the surface, this is a whole new kettle of tweedy, cuddly fish.
This time around, the core story mode centres around the alliance, a ragtag bunch of creators headed by Larry Da Vinci, and their mission to vanquish the self-explanatory ‘Negativitron’, a malicious inter-dimensional vacuum cleaner that’s proving to be a right pain in the “sackside”. That, of course, means off-loading the work to you, a humble “sack-person”, with just your wits and your weapons-grade level of cuteness to fend off its minions from your fellow creators’ turf and eventually take down the thing itself.
In contrast with the original, LBP2’s story is more cohesive and fittingly straightforward, but equally zanier in its levels and content. For instead of archetypal theme settings, the main featured worlds more often than not pertain to their respective creators and range from a bakery/confectionary laboratory to the elaborately futuristic Avalonia. And, thanks to the advent of actual cutscenes and voice acting, I felt all the more involved.
Now no one expects Craftworld to push the boundaries of video game narrative, and indeed the story makes it the perfect family / kids game (for those of you looking to nudge your kids towards your favourite hobby), but considering the series’ ability to cater fantastically for both young and old through the creation tools, it might have been nice to slip in some writing and dialogue that could appeal to both demographics in the same way programs like the Simpsons manage to, but maybe I’m just being greedy. Nevertheless, despite the playschool-like banality that creeps in from time to time in cutscenes, the story mode manages to be engaging, largely thanks to the brilliant level design and creativity that also keeps to a more forgiving difficulty curve this time around.
But let’s be honest, notwithstanding the enjoyable story, the levels are really there to provide an engaging way to earn the hidden prizes and to showcase the heights of creation and artistry, which then inspire the millions of avid creators to go out and smash the boundaries of what anyone thought was possible on a console, in creation mode. This is where LBP2 shines, and more importantly, outshines its predecessor. Offered up, aside from extensive tweaking and bug fixing are the “controlinator”, “sackbots”, various new gameplay tools including the “grabinator”, the “creatinator” and grappling hook and an impressive library of streamlining tools and new content such as the microchip, which displays MM’s sensitivity to the feedback and progression of the enthusiastic creators of LBP1.
Devices such as the “controlinator” that allows the player to take control of anything or anyone they desire puts the impact of any one of the new additions into perspective. Just looking at the creations of the small group of beta testers, which include creations such as Zelda style RPGs, a fighter pilot simulation and a recreation of Windows XP, astounds the mind when we consider what’s possible now such tools have been released to the world. The building can be as simple or as complex as you wish it, which presents both great accessibility, and staggering potential.
Having read other reviews I came across an attitude that irritated me a tad. The notion that it’s a bad thing that all the creations are confined to the LittleBigPlanet style and that the most impressive community levels are ‘just’ recreations of classics misses the point quite significantly. Firstly, just as the saying goes, it’s the journey, not the destination — so often the same applies in that it’s the creation not (just) the completion; otherwise millions wouldn’t have already spent hundreds of hours creating without explicit intention of having others worship their designs. And originality isn’t bounteous in the general community or in the games industry today — that fact doesn’t negate the tributes that people create nor the flares of innovation that may go unnoticed.
Fortunately, it’s unlikely anything juicy will go without fair attention and commendation because MM has overhauled the community options to more accurately tag levels, rate them and promote levels which they feel deserve special recognition. If that isn’t enough to give you confidence in their receptiveness of the day and age, they’ve added a social networking system in LBP.me which allows users to queue up levels they want to play, linking in with their own profile, from any computer and have them ready to play on their PS3 when they get home.
With such expansive mechanics and features, anyone would forgive Sackboy for not looking his best, but they’re not having any of that. Not content without updating every part of the game while retaining its compatibility with LBP 1 content, MM has managed to give the whole game a visual makeover, focusing not only on poly count and smoother edges, but on selection and variance of textures. This means more fluffiness, more gooeyness and plenty of animated textures to keep the looks fresh, allowing for a marked increase in clarity.
Just as it’s a delight to look at, the audio experience in Little Big Planet 2 also outdoes itself. Some genius has sifted out a collection of brilliantly catchy upbeat tunes from professional artists to go alongside the already competently scored game, providing the creator with volumes of music to choose from, if they have no interest in composing and sequencing their own music! But perhaps the most pleasurable sound you’ll hear is that of Mr Stephen Fry’s refined and comforting voice, who’s there to show you around the ropes and guide you through the tutorials. Any game with a Fry credit instantaneously skips ahead in my book, and I defy anyone to feel otherwise!
Grabbing, swinging, flying and jumping with Sackboy has been great experience for which I was happy to return to, and although some may still have slight headaches with the control and feel of Sackboy compared to other platformers (tools in create mode now allow you to tweak this as well), it nonetheless holds up as a great (re)introduction to Craftworld.
The beef of the game lies in its advanced yet wholly accessible creation tools, now fit for the game, not just level, creation. With an active and sound community and a brushed-up user experience, the only requirement for Little Big Planet 2 is a slither of imagination or will for exploration into others’ wonders. If you have a morsel of desire to get stuck in you will not be disappointed. The LittleBigPlanet world remains one of the most compelling reasons to own a PS3.
4.5 out of 5