There have been a lot of 10/10's this year. And a lot of gaming press have commented a few months after the games release that maybe they didn't deserve those scores.
I like to try and stay ahead of the curve; and with that I predict that LittleBigPlanet is one of those games. It's gotten quite a lot of 10/10's already but in my humble opinion it's just not as great as people originally thought it would be. Don't get me wrong; it is a great game and definitely a contender for game of the year. It's just not as great as the hype (and to be fair, so few games really are).
LittleBigPlanet introduces us to the world (or planet?) of the Sack people. You will play as one of these Sack people, which are extremely customizable and incredibly adorable. Throughout the game you will collect various items you can use to dress your sackboy (or girl) up, or to decorate you levels and create things (more on this later).
On top of this, Sack people can be very emotive, making them happy, sad, scared or angry is all just a button away, plus you can make gestures with their arms, or move their head or pelvises using six-axis tilts. The controls are simple and yet brilliant. It's very rare for a player to be able to express so much through their characters without any speech.
Even when playing online (up to four people can play together either online or on the same machine – LittleBigPlanet is a great excuse to get four controllers) you can communicate very well to the other players without the need for a headset.
So what kind of game is LittleBigPlanet? Well firstly, it splits up into various parts. There's the main story area, which developers Media Molecule made. Then there's the level creator, also made by the same team. Then there's going online to play a whole bunch of new levels, which you and everyone else who owns the game can make.
Let us start with the first part, the main story levels. The fundamental gameplay of LittleBigPlanet is that of a 2-D platformer. I can happily say this is probably the best 2D platformer since Mario. There are technically three dimensions, but the way it's done is really just as three different layers for the 2D environments.
The levels you will play with have a large variety of different environments and the gameplay is incredibly creative. The use of all the different tools in the game has given the developers (and us) the opportunity to build some truly unique levels and things to fill them with. Just when you are blown away by something, another even more impressive thing will turn up a level later.
There is kind of a story in there, but it's really just for the dressing. However, you will meet some interesting and memorable characters. The story does a decent job of propelling you from level to level and gives you some form on context for all the zany stuff you will go through. These main missions will take you anywhere between five to eight hours to get through. Plus, there are a lot of reasons to go back and play through the levels again in order to get them 100% complete and collect everything there is to get.
For most games that would be the end of it, but LittleBigPlanet is unique in this regard because it potentially has no end game. You see, LittleBigPlanet is built around the idea of "Play, Create, Share", and in order to accomplish this Media Molecule have given us a level creator. Actually they gave it to themselves first, because they used the exactly same in-game tools to create all the levels in the story mode.
All you do is take your sack person into an empty level and go nuts. What you create is entirely up to you. A playable level with a start, some puzzles and an exciting end boss? Sure thing. A roller-coaster ride with a rocket car? No problem! How about a working calculator I kid you not - it's there.
There seem to be very few limits to the level creator and it'll be interesting to see what people will come up with six months from now. This potentially adds a lot of replay value to the game. Of course, the level building isn't for everyone. While the tools are very good and fairly easy to learn, it can be extremely time consuming to make anything decent. On top of that the levels are heavily physics based, however when you first place things in a level they just float there without the physics and gravity. The problem is that when you go to test the level, gravity and physics suddenly switch on and you may find things didn't work out quite as you thought. This can lead to great frustration until you do finally figure out how it all works.
Of course, if you are like me and have no interest in creating your own levels you are still more than welcome to go online and play everyone else's. It's very easy for anyone to create their levels and them publish them for the entire world to play, rate, comment on and even edit. When looking for online levels to play you can search for them based on key words such as "fun", "long" "puzzle" "brilliant" "pretty" etc. Which, while neat and all, doesn't really help that much when you have millions of people ratings the levels with different words. My searches usually ended up with me seeing quite a few of the same levels come up in completely different categories.
Reviewing a game (especially one with a large online component) a while after it has been released has it's advantages. In a preview earlier this year I said LittleBigPlanet had the potential to be the gaming equivalent of YouTube. It does have that potential, however it has a lot of work to do and there's a slight moderating problem at the moment. The servers aren't very stable, with the occasional log-out or failure to join games with other people. Lag can also be a problem.
So what's this moderating business all about? Well, it turns out a lot of people are building levels based on IP's they aren't allowed to do (go figure). So these levels are being moderated and often completely removed from the servers, without even a hint as to why, or any kind of warning that this is going to happen. It's becoming a slight problem for the LittleBigPlanet community because clear guidelines as to how to avoid this from happening have not yet been given.
My other major gripe with LittleBigPlanet is a matter of difficulty. In the same preview I mentioned earlier I said LittleBigPlanet would have massive appeal to a wide range of people. That this is the game you could play with your kids or partner. While this is still true (and my girlfriend and I had a lot of fun playing it together for a while) it was about a third of the way through the main game that a problem started to show up. LittleBigPlanet is hard. Actually at some points, it can be really hard. Plus it's punishing, which just makes no sense for a game build purely around the idea of fun. But there are a lot of levels you will find yourself having to start from the very beginning because you've died too many times and each spawn point has a limited number of lives.
It got to the point where we just didn't want to play any more because we got stuck on the same level, and that's kind of a problem. By the way, those limited lives are shared among all players. So if there are four of you playing, you all only get a quarter of the lives you normally would. This increases the chances of failure and having to start all over again. At first, you will still have a lot of fun regardless of someone failing on some jumps; but after a while it won't be fun any more, it'll be frustrating and potentially annoying. The fact that the controls are a bit loose doesn't help either. It's very easy to slip of a ledge or mess up the timing on a jump. The controls simply need to be tighter. Also, while Sackboy will usually do a good job of determining which of the three fields of depth he should be in, he will sometimes get it wrong, and this can often waste time or lead to failure in some parts.
Contrary to prior belief, LittleBigPlanet might not actually be for everyone. This is a platformer through and through. At its core, this is a running, jumping and grabbing onto things game - although that sounds simple, there are some extremely creative uses for these mechanics. It is also a very challenging game. This is by no means a bad thing, a bit of challenge can be good for you and it is very satisfying to get through it. But for some it will cross the line into the frustration zone. On the bright side though, its personality will make that a lot easier to deal with.
LittleBigPlanet is one of the most charming games I have ever played. Its gorgeous graphics, fantastic soundtrack and wonderful narration (voiced by Stephen Fry – and he does it brilliantly). Everything in the game is playful, warm and friendly, even when it's trying to create a scary environment. Not only is LittleBigPlanet a great technical achievement and an exciting inclusion for the industry (people are already making some very cool stuff, plus think of the amount of people who will get jobs in the gaming industry because of the LittleBigPlanet levels!) but it's got great legs, because if you aren't interested in being a level designer you can still easily play anything someone else makes. It's actually a real shame LittleBigPlanet is a PS3 exclusive, because the more people who get to play it the better it would be, and the better it would be able to reach its full potential.
Media Molecule should be commended for modernising the 2-D platformer and giving console gamers the best modding tools for a game ever available to them. It's not for everyone and it's definitely got its problems but LittleBigPlanet is still a great game with, hands down, the cutest gaming character created in the last decade. Nintendo has Mario, Microsoft has Master Chief and now Sony has Sackboy. He's in good hands.