Between its fully expressive material planes and the twisted forms its players are encouraged to put forward to one another, there’s no denying that the LittleBigPlanet games carry a pretty distinct sense of character. The series’ fabricated hero Sackboy has always been a good representative for his product’s motif: he’s cute, creative and sort of endlessly customisable. It’s never quite mattered that the main series games have lacked any real platforming bite; especially since you could spend hours doing anything but platforming thanks to the wacky ingenuity of the creation tools’ brightest designers. Similarly, aptly-named spin-off LittleBigPlanet Karting dutifully plays second fiddle to its predecessors by prioritising a sense of style and creation against the backdrop of a merely competent game – or in this case, a merely competent kart racer.
Almost every kart racing box is ticked here; power-ups are scored in rows along the track, you gain different levels of boost by drifting, shortcuts are abound at every other corner, yadda yadda yadda – you surely know the drill by now. Undoubtedly, LBPK makes little effort to spice up the tried-and-true formula of the long-standing kart racer. Perhaps in some ways, it’s tough to expect much else from the genre. One move lets you pull yourself forward mid-air using a grapple along designated perches during a race, also giving a small boost when you hit the ground running again, which is neat. But for the most part it’s by-the-numbers stuff, and that’s about as much credit as it warrants. Small visual touches like a VHS tape scanning forward when you activate an instant boost which shoots you ahead of your opponents are more than welcome, though. In fact, it would have been nice to see the game explore some more creative ways of representing a world which is already so full of personality; regular old rockets and mines just sell the game short.
Story mode is where you’ll find the bulk of the game’s pre-fab content, with each new planet showcasing their own settings and characters to help lend a little quirky context to the racing. The story mode levels are good at gradually introducing new modes at a steady pace (like battle arenas and even boss fights), although it doesn’t take too long to catch up with pretty much everything the game has to offer. That’s fine and all, but it won’t take you long to ditch the story mode in favour of the endless ball-pit of community-made levels instead, which is really the main attraction.
It’s funny how one of the first lucky-dips I embark on – an option which presents you with completely random community-made levels – throws me into a re-styling of the much-loved Mario Kart 64 level Kalimari Desert (that’s the one with the annoying train, in case you forgot). It’s not surprising that this level exists; nor is it surprising that it appears to be so popular with folk online. I liked that track back in the late nineties too and it’s still pretty fun to tear through now, even in a separate and arguably less appealing kart racer. For me though, the best part was seeing how the creator re-skinned all the power-up blocks and weapons to look like those of Mario Kart 64. It raised a smile of admiration if nothing else.
It’s stuff like this which goes a long way to alleviating the dryness of the game as a standard kart racer, even if the core of it is still the same. It’s much like straying away from the non-platforming levels of the original LBP games to discover someone’s crudely impressive Space Invaders clone, or that crazy person’s functioning calculator. And yes, that sort of stuff is still a big draw here. When the racing begins to wear thin, yet another version of Combat or some such rears its head within minutes of getting online. Even if that stuff isn’t always great to actually play, it’s definitely fun to mess around with. Racing or doing whatever is at its best with real people, too; although the game courteously populates empty online matches with bots to keep you occupied long enough to wait for others to drop in.
Just in case you were wondering, the game’s creation tools are just as hefty and intimidating as ever, so if you want to make something complicated or particularly noteworthy, you best know what you’re getting yourself into. The tutorials for getting to grips with the creation tools are too laborious for their own good, as well. Plus, not only did ModNation Racers do a better job of letting you just fart out a half-decent track with as little hassle as possible, but its customisation options for letting you spruce up your kart and character were a lot more lively and broad-ranging. That said, the more clothing options you unlock by picking up items as you race, the wilder your Sackboy or Sackgirl becomes. You can waste a good stretch of time throwing on any old rubbish just to see how damn ridiculous your stuffy co-pilot can look.
LittleBigPlanet Karting makes no bones about the fact that it’s a kart racer with familiar series hooks thrown into the mix. The racing itself is fine, but as ever, you come to LittleBigPlanet to revel in the madness of its community creations – and this is a lure that still works a treat here.
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