Don’t you just hate it when a reviewer launches off on a monologue about how a certain title is the reason why a specific platform was created, or why this one solitary game makes a plastic contraption a necessity? I don’t know about you, but who are they kidding, right? Silly reviewers sitting in front of their silly electronic typewriters, stroking their moustaches.
Now. I’m different. I wear a monocle and a waistcoat. You can trust me weary internet traveller. It also helps that my writing has been scientifically proven to soothe and help ease you into a hypnotic state. It’s also littered with subliminal messaging… Oh wait, I probably shouldn’t have added that.
But I can see your eyes narrowing already. “This is a typical James Lenoir intro” you mutter under your breath “I know how you operate. I already own LittleBigPlanet on PlayStation 3 and you’re not going to convince me to buy the Vita version”. But, then you hear those classic words, “Wait.. you only own one?”
Oh my sack!
While preparing to write this review, I realised that I own (practically) all the LittleBigPlanet games. Media Molecule’s original came with my PlayStation 3. I promptly bought the sequel as soon as it was released. I even scored a free copy of Sackboy and their gang on – the now almost antiquated- PlayStation Portable. This little nugget should lend me an air or respectability or even authority – granted none of you are that easily amused.
But, the one thing I’ve learnt from all those hours spent playing LittleBigPlanet; the single-player levels (or even the single-player campaigns) of all the various LittleBigPlanet games matter very little. Don’t get me wrong, the campaigns are fun distractions but at the end of the day, that’s not where you’re going to spend the bulk of your time. It’s almost the reverse of the recent Rayman Origins. For Ubisoft’s magnum opus it was the levels, the level design and even the characters themselves that kept you enthralled. The LittleBigPlanet games (on the other hand) dance to the beat of a different drum.
I don’t want to give the impression that there’s something horribly wrong with the single-player campaigns. On the contrary, they’re fun, well-designed, but they actually serve a very different purpose. They’re more templates for your own creative spark. Or, put a little differently, the reason behind SackBoy navigating through the various levels are less important as to giving you an idea of what you can ultimately create.
This is where the current title, LittleBigPlanet Vita deviates slightly from the script. I didn’t care much about the Collector or his antics in the first LittleBigPlanet game, nor did I even bother to finish the second game. But, the Vita version is different. It features an interesting little story about our hero, SackBoy. The theme is similar to the previous games, but Tarsier Studios created a more coherent and enjoyable story. One in which our hero has to rescue a planet of puppets from a monstrous being called the Puppeteer. I wasn’t expecting much from the story, but there I was eager to get to the end. The best way to describe it almost like when you’re expecting a bowl of diced carrots, but instead find that it’s merely a side-order to a cold beer, copious amounts of biltong and a huge bag of cheese curls.
If you haven’t played LittleBigPlanet yet, you’re probably wondering, “So what James? Why should I care about this game?”. It may seem like a fairly traditional side-scrolling platformer. where you run around collecting point spheres (or find the occasional sphere with a new material type or even a sticker or two). But, the true claim to fame is the freedom to create your own levels, or even to build your own campaigns. It’s one of those rare titles where the tagline on the box, actually means something. “Play, Create, Share” encapsulates the very essence of what makes LittleBigPlanet so utterly amazing. You’re not restricted to making LittleBigPlanet -type levels. Oh no! If you’ve mastered the lengthy tutorial and devoured all that wisdom, you could even create a first-person shooter. Theoretically, you could create Call of Sackboy’s Duty! Personally, I’ve got my eye on creating Final Sackboy’s Fantasy.
Admittedly , the creation process can be overwhelming. It’s the one part of LittleBigPlanet that I have not yet mastered. I’ve created my fair share of simple platformer levels. I’ve even created a simple puzzle and a tiny boat with a working motor. You can literally lose yourself to the level editor. Fortunately, you’re slowly introduced to new tools or abilities, and beyond the single-player levels, there’s always the extremely helpful and very comprehensive level creator tutorial.
The creation side of it all, is actually another aspect where the Vita version is superior to its PS3 counterparts. If you’ve ever tried to create a level with all the various tools on the PS3, you’ll agree that much of it depends on how adept you are with your controller. The use of the PS Move has helped a bit, but there’s a simple elegance to simply tapping the PS Vita’s touch-screen. Want to create a quick ramp? Just trace it out using your finger. It’s a sense of freedom, and at times it feels like you’re merely finger painting.
Touch-screen wizardry are also incorporated into the individual levels. Tappable items come in a variety of different forms, from simple switches, to even crucial aspects of puzzles. The campaign showcases this with tappable blocks. Blue ones can be poked from the front screen, green ones can be scrapped from the rear. Additional unlockable levels and even a series of arcade-y-type mini-games gives you an idea of what you can create, but crucially they’re fun to play. It’s interesting that how touch and even tilt have been incorporated actually makes me hope that SONY embraces something similar to Microsoft’s Smartglass for their next PlayStation. The ease of creating by simply tapping with your finger is beyond fathoming.
It’s all about the Community
The third part of the tagline involves sharing. You could spend all your time perusing user-created content. You don’t have to play all the levels on your own, and you can easily join four other players (at any time). It’s really a case of “the more, the merrier”. It doesn’t matter if the level in question is co-op, versus or merely a mini-art gallery (yes these exist); the sense of community is what I would consider to be the game’s greatest strength. The only real downside is that there’s no user-content sharing between PS3 and Vita users. It’s definitely disappointing and I understand, that the differences in “play-mechanics” (the use of touch etc.) play a major role. But, I won’t lie to you, I was looking forward to experiencing my half-baked levels on my Vita. If only to show off to the missus, “See, I took a picture of you, and now it’s here on this one year old level I created”.
Play, Create, Share, FIGHT!
The Vita version could easily have been the weakest of the four. All the warning signs are there: (a) It’s a game that’s not developed by the original developers, (b) Tarsier Studios are relatively green, (c) it’s on a portable device, and (d) it’s extremely cute (almost nauseatingly so). But, it stares you in the eyes, rips off its leather glove and proceeds to slaps the snot out of your nose. You have to take note of LittleBigPlanet Vita, and it’s not because it’s just given you a hiding, but rather that it’s without a doubt the best version yet. If you own a Vita, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t own LittleBigPlanet Vita.