Back in March of 2007, it was Phil Harrison of Sony that said the evolution of gaming would be coming in the form of “Game 3.0”. Well that’s great and all, but what does that translate into? What little game would take the power of generating user-based content, photo sharing such as websites like Flickr, tagging commenting like YouTube, and adding new friends via a social networking engine like Facebook? Well that little game turns out to be LittleBigPlanet, and it’s an excellent start to the Game 3.0 mantra.
The core of LittleBigPlanet’s game play is puzzle platforming. You make your way through a range of levels that vary in length and learning curve. Your first look at LittleBigPlanet you’ll be intrigued by its presentation. It’s like your childhood toy box had come to life. Or maybe you were watching a puppet show. Or maybe just doing arts and crafts on a rainy day. It is that uniqueness of LittleBigPlanet’s art style that makes the game stand out and takes notice. The texturing of the graphics looks realistic as well. Probably the emphasis was put on this to give a sense of the weight and usage for the materials. For example, if you’re jumping on a sponge it will squish like a sponge. Clear surfaces like glass or ice are resembled as well. LittleBigPlanet’s palette of textures is enormous, almost on par as if you were using a 3D software program.
LittleBigPlanet is played through Sackboy (or if you like Sackgirl). Sackboy is a ragdoll puppet you control through the levels. I must say the animation details that developer Media Molecule managed to give Sackboy is amazing. Just the facial expressions alone you control on the D-pad are cute. The animation on the other characters throughout the game is goofy looking, and they are meant to be that way. They are puppets so their range of emotional depiction is somewhat limited. However that’s the charm to LittleBigPlanet. What’s old is new again with this game.
The music of LittleBigPlanet is a unique mix. It’s a welcome change to putting in mainstream Top 100 licensed tracks. The music is an eclectic mix of international musicians, sometimes with instrumental but eventually with lyrics as the levels progress. It’s also worth noting the songs also matched to their accompanying level. So for the Temples level that looked South Indian, the music was a fusion of East Indian with psychedelic funk. For the most part the music is catchy and keeps you engaged with the level. Sound effects are nothing too special though. Sub-characters throughout the game have a range from childish baby gibberish to adult characters from a Charlie Brown holiday special. It’s odd that the Sackboys or Sackgirls have been left muted. No squeaks or squawks or celebrity voice-overs for this mascot in the wind. Dialogue and story of this game is progressed through pop-up speech bubbles. However it’s followed with the squeaks and squawks as well.
Now let’s get to the big part of LittleBigPlanet, the game play. The puzzles throughout the levels are simple but build up to greater tasks later on. If you’re looking for a well thought out narrative to LittleBigPlanet, you’re going to have to dig deep. Basically you do weird tasks for these rulers of different worlds on LittleBigPlanet. Tasks that range from saving someone’s “Fireball Breathing Cat” or saving “Uncle Jalapeņo” from an Old West Jailhouse. However in the background of all this single player wackiness, a mysterious character known as “The Collector” is kidnapping some of the citizens of LittleBigPlanet. So it’s up to Sackboy to retrieve them back, and bring balance to the sharing community.
One of the new mechanics you’ll notice with the level designs is that the side scrolling consists of multiple planes. So you’ll be making the transition from left to right, but you’ll be jumping between foreground, mid ground, and background. This adds a greater challenge when you’re collecting bubbles and items. The items that range in collecting are Sackboy costumes, special objects, materials, and stickers. All these collectibles come into play later on in the game play mechanics. Some are used for switch triggers to open up areas you normally couldn’t access the first time around through a level. The fact you are trying to collect most of these collectibles adds to the overall replay value. The gripe I have with regards to the costumes is that they don’t give you enhanced abilities. It would have been nice to wear a pair of rabbit ears and bunny tail to give you enhanced jumping power. Another cool idea would be when you wear a superhero cape to allow you to fly through the level. The jetpacks, however, are really fun to use.
There’s also the addition of races throughout the levels. You start at a race gate and collect a large amount of bubbles before time expires. What’s great about the race feature is that your time is updated to an online leader board. As well you can race two to four other players via co-op or online multiplayer. Touching on the multiplayer, game play in certain areas requires either two to four players just to help activate switches and solve puzzles. The payoff is more collectibles for future usage. Not only is the game play easy to grasp, so are the controls. R1 for grab, X to jump, and Square for your Poppit Menu. That’s it folks, no rocket science required. The facial animations are controlled on the D-pad, with arm movements on the shoulder triggers along with the analog sticks. A technical issue here and there is when you want to jump between the planes of foreground and background. This has to be done on the left analog stick, but there’s the occasional time when you end up jumping where you don’t want to end up. Trophies are also supported with LittleBigPlanet. Some are easy, others are hard. However with the help of others online, they are obtainable. This is what encourages you to play with others to complete certain tasks.
Now finally the big chunk of what drives LittleBigPlanet, user-generated content. Basically everything that you played in terms of the levels, you’re able to create. All those collectible assets like the stickers, materials, and objects are used in the creation of your own levels. Now you’re probably wondering, we’ve seen level editors before for the PC modding community; this isn’t anything per say new. The thing that sticks out about the custom level editor in LittleBigPlanet is how in-depth you’re able to adjust things without needing a programming degree. You create your enemy’s AI reaction. You create the multiple planes. You create the switches, the traps, the rocket packs, the materials, and so on. It’s just that flexible with what you can create. I will say this; it’s quite a bit of work. However with the help of the tutorials you can grasp the basics in the level creation. With a little playing around and experimentation your content can expand to what you imagined. If you’re lucky enough to have a PlayStation Eye, you can import images for usage as custom stickers. Unfortunately there’s no way of doing an image import for pictures that are stored on your PS3’s hard drive or external storage device. Hopefully Media Molecule does implement an update patch to address this.
So after you’ve created your masterpiece level and tested it out, you can now publish it. Now your level can be shared on the servers for everyone to rate and comment on your custom level. People can play locally by downloading the level or via online multiplayer. The loading time of the levels is pretty good, depending really on your broadband connection. With regards to the comments, people can add keyword tags to describe your level, or they can type in their own comments. There’s also the “5 Star Rating System” you might be familiar with from YouTube. Another great feature is the option of “hearting” a publisher. Therefore if there’s a particular person who’s level designs are just that great, you can check back later via the search option to find if they have published more levels.
The other great part about sharing your levels online is the custom objects you designed can be optioned out to other people as collectibles. So for example, say you created some custom stickers or enemies as collectable bubbles. People that play your level are able to use those assets in their own level creations. When LittleBigPlanet entered an early beta program months before its scheduled released, the community for user-generated content gave people a jumpstart on what can be created and shared, so there are already numerous user created levels available to download and play. Do not also forget that Sony is releasing a variety of free and premium costumes for LittleBigPlanet via the PlayStation Store. I’m hoping they release premium levels with objects from other game publishers to be used inside LittleBigPlanet.
There are some legal issues with the process of creating your own levels. Word to the wise; don’t try creating something that might impose copyright infringement, which basically means scrap that idea of making a Super Mario Brothers level. Also keep in mind the taste and subject matter of your content uploaded. Sony and Media Molecule are on the prowl for this type of behavior. If someone reports your level as inappropriate content, your hard work will be removed from the servers. In terms of the online components that make up for LittleBigPlanet, it requires a lot of data streaming via your Internet connection so you can experience lag and hiccups from their servers just for joining games, and updating high scores onto the leader board servers. However for the most part, it’s a stable environment to enjoy online.