If it genuinely is true that little things please little minds, then you may well have to consider us a bunch of pea-brains; LittlebigPlanet has arrived on the PSP and we’ve got big old smiles plastered across our faces! With this portable, pocket-sized version of Media Molecule’s modern classic, Studio Cambridge have managed to replicate the original with glorious authenticity.
The original LittleBigPlanet was actually met with a strangely mixed reception; though a critical darling and multiple award winner, it achieved solid if unspectacular sales and was decried by some as being the emperor’s new clothes; a fairly standard platformer garnished with posable sackboys and an emphasis on user generated content. In honesty, a year after release it is easy to forget the effortless charm exuded by the chirpy little sackboy and his wonderfully (arts and) crafted universe, but now LittleBigPlanet PSP has arrived as a timely reminder as to why we so loved the little hessian chap in the first place.
Playing LittleBigPlanet PSP for the first time, it’s difficult not to find yourself bracing for a pale imitation of its older PS3 brother. How could Sony’s ageing hand-held hope to replicate the original’s complex physics engine and pristine visuals? How could it even dream of delivering the same deep, approachable and engaging level creation tool set and user created content delivery system? Well, dream it does, and aside from a few minor omissions, this is to all intents and purposes the same game that worked pundits into a frenzy all those months ago.
LittleBigPlanet PSP has the luxury of hindsight, sitting as it does on the other side of the ‘Play, Create, Share’ experiment on which Media Molecule placed such emphasis, and this shows in the breadth of ideas, slickness of presentation and sheer craftsmanship that is on display in the story mode. In fact, LittleBigPlanet PSP could be seen as a love-letter to the LBP community at large, a thank-you note for all the hours spent tweaking and prodding levels into shape, playing as it does like a ‘Best of’ of all the user created content on the LBP servers. This isn’t to say that Studio Cambridge have merely plundered the ideas of others, mashed them together and stuck them on a UMD/digital download – far from it. But from the rollercoaster rides, cranes, ferris-wheels, James Bond spoofs to the surf-boarding and car jumping mini-games, intentionally or not the game feels like a State of The LittleBigPlanet Address, “This is how far Sackboy has come…and we couldn’t have done it without you, the players”.
That LittleBigPlanet PSP manages to so beautifully capture everything that made the original great without dumbing down and simplifying the technical aspects of the game can at times be genuinely astonishing. While some concessions have been made (for example, there are no multiplayer modes – it’s solo sackboys all the way), Studio Cambridge has trimmed away an absolute bare minimum, and intelligently tweaked other aspects to suit the host hand-held. Take the original’s dual-analogue stick based puppetry which obviously could not be translated directly onto the PSP’s single analogue nub; in its place are a less interactive, but no less charming selection of animations carried out with the d-pad to reflect the mood of the sackboy (which is also assigned to the d-pad). While the value in animating your sackboy is diminished somewhat by the lack of multiplayer modes, its a small touch that adds to the games overall charm.
Once you get beyond exploring the game’s limits to see how it stacks up to the original, LittleBigPlanet PSP needs to be able to stand up on its own merits, and here there are two ways to look at it. On one hand, it’s a fantastic translation of a great title that you can fit in your pocket, with gameplay that naturally suits on the go play. On the other hand, it is just a fantastic translation… and for some that might not prove to be enough of a draw to get their hands moving towards their wallets. To dismiss Studio Cambridge’s efforts would be a shame however as, by any standard, there really is some great platforming fun to be had here. That it manages to be genuinely inventive within the framework of the most stale of genres is also a testament to both Media Molecule’s original vision and Studio Cambridge’s understanding of the tool-set.
Ultimately (as with the original) LittleBigPlanet PSP should not be judged on the merits of its story mode alone – LittleBigPlanet is, afterall, not just a game but a platform, a framework upon which its users are encouraged to spin their own hand-crafted worlds, stories, games and…er…fully functional calculators. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the servers were not online to test their functionality or, more importantly, the quality of user generated content they host. What is clear however, is that Studio Cambidge have supplied a set of tools that is as robust and usable as the original, and budding level designers and LBP veterans are unlikely to find themselves wanting. Creating the level of your dreams still undoubtedly takes some getting used to, but with persistence, patience and a little bit of imagination your creations should be winging their way to the LBP servers in no time.
LittleBigPlanet PSP will do little to convert those not already won over by sackboy’s considerable charms. However, for those that fell in love with the original, Studio Cambridge have met the challenge of bringing Media Molecule’s ‘play, create, share’ creation to mobile gaming with considerable aplomb; this looks the part, comes with an engaging, humorous and challenging single player, and opens a portable door to a wealth of user generated content. Undoubtedly there will be those that question the games raison d’etre – was it really worth Sony investing in the title just to put Sackboy in your pocket? Does another portable version of a Playstation 3 title do anything to bolster the PSPs somewhat malnourished library? For our money, the answer to both these questions is a resounding ‘yes’.
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