On the face of it, creating a platform game that relies heavily on user-contributed content sounds like a remarkably thrifty idea.
Not only can you proffer a legitimate excuse for a lightweight singleplayer component, you're also provided with the rather gratifying experience of witnessing your content manipulated according to your rules and shared online by thousands, all whilst retaining executive control and ownership. It's the digital equivalent of creating glass, then being given a patent for the light bulb.
There's only one small problem with the concept, and it would be foolish to assume LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule isn't well aware of it. If there's an underlying flaw with the original game involving anything as fundamental as to affect the way levels are played, then it can't be changed in the sequel without scrapping thousands of user-designed levels and asking everyone to start from scratch. This, obviously, may result in what could euphemistically be described as "severe unpopularity".
The "floaty" nature of the control system in the original LittleBigPlanet was always a contentious issue, and given that changing it would risk precisely the scenario outlined above, Media Molecule has opted to leave it intact. That's not to say it isn't popular; thousands of user-contributed maps - many of which have clearly taken a considerable time to create - bear testimony to the enduring appeal some have for the status quo. It's for these people that LittleBigPlanet 2 exists at all, as these maps will continue to work in the sequel, and are even updated graphically with the improvements provided in the new title.
Stephen Fry returns to narrate the tutorials and menu interface, lending a voice more soothing than a spa bath in orbit. The singleplayer game is composed of six themed worlds and plays much as you would expect - by guiding a fully customisable Sackboy around a number of levels, you'll unlock new tools and content. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll also gain an understanding of the physics behind the title, something that will come in handy should you wish to progress to creating your own levels or games at any stage in the future.
Adding variety to the singleplayer game are Sackbots, friendly creatures that you’ll need to escort around across a level. The more you manage to corral to safety, the greater the reward. It’s harder than it might sound, however, as these charming little charges are all too often sucked in vacuums and swallowed by pitfalls.
Unfortunately enemy AI is a marked weakness in the game. Watching enemies patrol without any environmental or player awareness stands in sharp contrast Media Molecules more praiseworthy design efforts. Most merely require you to patiently ascertain the enemy’s patrol pattern and point of weakness before taking advantage of it at the opportune time.
Whilst the original LittleBigPlanet came equipped with a capable – if not terribly ambitious – level editor, the sequel is packed with new items, tools and design choices. Perhaps most impressive is the ability to create virtually any kind of game, from an RPG to racing or strategy, and anything in between. You can even film your own cut-scenes by placing cameras within the level and compose a musical score.
Despite the comprehensive user-friendly tutorials included, it will quickly become clear that in order to make use of the more elaborate tools to create complicated levels, you'll need to invest a considerable period of time. A particularly noteworthy addition is microchips. These allow you to input logic systems which can be shrunk down and attached to bosses, vehicles and puzzles, allowing for more complex behaviour, all the while sparing significant volumes of system memory (or “thermometer” as the game euphemistically calls it).
If for now the games created by the LittleBigPlanet community are likely to be poor imitations of games you’ll need to pay for on the PlayStation Network, the goal, clearly, is for LittleBigPlanet 2 to corner the community modding market on consoles - just as PC gamers have created Defense of the Ancients from Warcraft III and Counter-Strike from Half-Life, two amateur mods that have had a tangible impact on the trajectory of professional game development.
For gamers, however, it simply ensures that LittleBigPlanet 2 will never stray too far from their PlayStation’s Blu-ray tray. At its heart, LittleBigPlanet 2 is a suite of development tools wrapped up in a user-friendly, child-like aesthetic of yarn and cardboard. The game’s marketing materials boast that there have been over 3 million pieces of user-generated content produced for the series to date, and even if only one percent of that is worth a look, that’s still more than enough to keep anyone occupied for a long time to come.