There's a whopping sixty-seven tutorials in LittleBigPlanet Vita covering all manner of topics, from how to control your Sackperson's facial expressions to the creation of challenging puzzles in the game's incredibly complex Level Editor. That may seem a bit much out of context, but it's not surprising that a game about the act of creation should so comprehensively walk players through all the tools at their disposal.
Tarsier Studios and Double Eleven, taking over from series creators Media Molecule for this instalment, have devoted as much time to the development of a game as they have to the development of a marketplace of ideas, one only limited by the imagination of those taking part. The LittleBigPlanet Level Editor obviously makes good business sense - creating a free market for user-generated content keeps the game's servers alive and maintains a captive audience for far longer than might be possible by relying on the intermittent roll-out of studio-made DLC - but it's also one of the many ways that this more-than-worthy successor to the LittleBigPlanet name speaks to the series' overarching ideas - and ideals - about invention, innovation and imagination, and the way they interact with each other.
Images of ingenuity bleed into every element of LittleBigPlanet Vita; the game's arts-and-crafts aesthetic is only the most obvious manifestation. The production design embraces pin cushions and needles, hammers and nails, scrapbooks and wool craft in a fun and sweet way, reflecting on old kindergarten craft classes and Christmas knitwear in the same adoring way that Gran Turismo reflects on its cars or Portal reflects on physics.
Take the player's endlessly-customisable Sackperson avatar - underneath all the quirky outfits, it's a simple stuffed wool doll with visible seams and buttons for eyes, as if it had been hand-sewn by your grandmother as a gift for your fourth birthday. Or take the varied themes of the Story mode's five worlds - the Land of Odd's heavy debt to The Borrowers; the toolshed contraptions of Coaster Alley; the love letter to DIY filmmaking and home video that is Jackpot City. The organised clutter of these homemade ecosystems is intoxicating, the attention to detail remarkable.
The game's look isn't merely a means to an end, a way to contextualise the surroundings and set expectations of the gameplay, it's an art in itself, something that demands attention, invites us to put on those rose-tinted glasses and look on our rough-hewn craftworks in a new, admiring light. It also helps that the graphics are exceptional. The rich textures and crisp, eye-popping colours give life to these stitched and glued environments and set LittleBigPlanet apart from other Vita releases.
Then there's the Story Mode, which frequently and unapologetically employs 'kid logic' in its short, but sweet, narrative about a Sackperson saving the world from the mysterious Puppeteer, a man with a thirst for the joy that can only come from removing the souls of Sackpeople. The story feels like something told by a group of children playing with action figures and dolls, Lego and Playdo - the out-there characters with their equally out-there designs and abundance of personality; the levels cobbled together from bits and bobs around the home; the narrative that develops in a cleverly off-the-cuff way, as if those telling the story keep jumping in and out of it and trying to one-up each other. The sometimes adorable, sometimes patronising Stephen Fry narrates, his delivery as if for a children's audiobook.
While this unconventional way of telling a story does result in some painfully forced whimsy (the climax suffers in particular), the Story Mode's improvised feel is enchanting and addicting, as though it were a videogame version of M83's song 'Raconte-Moi Une Histoire'. It's also a blast to play, with a solid difficulty curve and canny puzzles that, for the most part, adapt well to the new technology the Vita offers (the less said about the rear touchpad the better). However, at around four to five hours playtime, it is over far too soon - but wasn't playtime always?
The Story Mode owes a lot to the game's piece de resistance: the Level Editor. Derived from the very same engine that LittleBigPlanet was built with, the Level Editor isn't necessarily intuitive, something that the aforementioned sixty-seven tutorials clearly indicate. However, the amount of material available to creators is dizzying to say the least, and it's here that the game's ideal of unfettered, unlimited creation is really put to the test. It acquits itself all too well, providing a veritable playground of tools and decorations for puzzle-building and level-dressing, and when taking into account the new puzzles mechanics that can come out of the Vita's touch-pads, camera and Sixaxis motion sensing, the scope for construction is vast, vast in a way that's initially intimidating.
LittleBigPlanet Vita also comes with the typical online multiplayer. It's fairly standard, and nothing LittleBigPlanet veterans won't have experienced before. There's also a bundle of unlockable arcade games that pillage artistic styles from games as diverse as Geometry Wars, Limbo and Gish without doing anything particularly notable themselves. That's an impressive amount of content for a Vita game, and given that LittleBigPlanet pulls off so much of it with style, with skill and, most importantly, with heart, assessing this game is a no-brainer.
It's the closest the Vita has to an 'essential release', a game that encourages its audience to build and create as if there was nothing to stop them while providing the perfect example of what that kind of mentality can produce.