Kicking off 2011 with an explosion of ingenuity, charm and immaculate cuteness, LittleBigPlanet 2 is without doubt going to be one of the games of the year. The task that Media Molecule’ faced in upping the quality laid down by the original (that many – D+PAD included – felt was one of the most rounded and fleshed out games of recent years) was surely a daunting one; but up the quality it most certainly has.
Rather than simply deliver more of the same, Media Molecule has done its utmost to ensure that LittleBigPlanet 2 can stand on its own terms, and in the process essentially make the first game almost redundant. Take control of one jumping rabbit (the “Robobun”) via the new “Controllinator”, attempt a free-run through a level followed by insanely cute Sackbots (sure to vie for Sackboy’s ‘crown of cuteness’), experience the thrills and spills and the dynamism of the new additions to the game’s repertoire (bounce pads, the grappling hook, “Grabinator”), and going back to the first seems almost archaic, superfluous to the bountiful joy that is found in the land of Craftworld. Denouncers may argue that this is nothing more than a shallow add-on that has been crammed onto a Blu Ray disk, but they would be wrong -this is a whole new world.
LittleBigPlanet 2’s campaign follows in the tradition of the first game: there are a set number of levels placed on the surface of ‘planets’, each with their own differentiating and fanciful styles. The narrative around the events of each level and featured characters (from the very posh patisserie chef Victoria Von Bathysphere, to inventor and mentor to Sackboy, Larry Da Vinci) is aided by much more involved and dynamic cut scenes, crafted with the help of a new create tool that allow scenes to be hand crafted then stitched together. Though on some levels fairly rudimentary in their execution, add some exuberant voice work and humorous scripting and you have yourselves a story that matches LittleBigPlanet’s very haphazard and make-shift aesthetic style perfectly, all the while aligning the ‘Story’ mode much closer to more traditional platformers. Saving the world from the evil Negativitron is hardly cinematic gold, but then neither is an Italian plumber rescuing an ever-kidnapped pink Princess.
The game’s strongest facet is its ability to deliver pure and simple fun, exemplified by its insistence on cramming ever more genres into its repertoire; this is a master stroke on Media Molecule’s part, giving us very brief but excellent examples of what the seemingly simple creative tool-set makes possible. The story is only the start of your journey across the LittleBigPlanet, but delving into it you find a treasure chest of treats, stuffed with moments to savour – be it saving the oh-so-adorable Sackbots from a horrible death at the hands of an industrial factory’s unstoppable mechanical parts (accompanied by a sob story at the hands of melancholic notepad Clive Handforth); using the new “Creatinator” hat to expel cakes and other sumptuous treats in Von Bathysphere’s cream-topped world or bouncing to the top of the ‘Tower of Whoop’ (not to mention being astonished as the platforming takes a backstage role as the game switches into an 8-bit side-scrolling shooter). Throughout all this, you are left with little doubt that videogames rarely get more enjoyable in than this!
While still in its relative infancy, LittleBigPlanet 2’s user created content is also already offering an astounding degree of breadth, ably showcasing what the tools – and the community – are capable of. So far, we’ve seen a fully-working, multi-level tower defence game, racing games, shoot-em-up’s, even more dexterous platformers, loving nods to classic titles of yesteryear (from Street Fighter, to Mario via Contra) and some truly inventive short films. It’s almost a given that it is the online, user-generated content that will provide LittleBigPlanet 2’s longevity and seeing where the game takes us is destined to be scintillating journey. That being said, we do think that the single player game suffers slightly as a result of Media Molecule’s insistence on including a little bit of everything; there is nothing here quite as challenging or complex as the revolving platforming sections at the latter end of the first game to really test LittleBigPlanet veterans.
The level of polish that has been applied to LittleBigPlanet 2 is as apparent as we’ve come expect from the series, with no stone left unturned in upgrading each facet of the game’s design. User interaction is greatly improved thanks to the aforementioned tool-set and new point scoring systems add further flexibility. Visual overhauls (fire, electricity, water) also make Sackboy’s world look better than ever, and the realism of the materials from which it is crafted still impresses, thanks to an (even more) robust physics engine. It really is a step up in every regard. Even wannabe-creators get much more of a helping hand, with a comprehensive set of tutorials than far out-do those featured in the first game.
Most importantly, all the tweaks, embellishments and new additions serve one unified purpose – namely to make sure that LittleBigPlanet 2 serves up the most fun you’ve had on the PS3 for some time, possibly since the console first hit store shelves. The main downside is that we struggle to see where the series could go from here, because this is as close to perfection as we could ever have dreamed. If it is the final game in the franchise, then the series is bowing out at the top, leaving a warm glow in our heart. In honesty though – we really don’t think this will be the last we see of Sackboy and chums!
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