It's now more than a year after LittleBigPlanet hit the PlayStation 3. While I won't go so far as to say the bloom's off the rose, we can all admit that Media Molecule's award-winning game is very much a known quantity. Loads of sticker packs and costume sets have come down the pike -- but the chief draw of the game has been the user-generated levels.
That's the problematic part. LittleBigPlanet's mojo mostly comes from what people make with it. Though they're good, no one raves about the packed-in levels of the game. It's been the weirdly wacky or exceptionally sharp amateur offerings that have made it successful. So it's weird to review the portable version of LittleBigPlanet when, in a very real way, you know the best is most likely yet to come.
When it was announced, skeptics wondered if a PSP version was a just greedy money grab on Sony's part. Thankfully, it replicates the PS3 experience without feeling gimped or compromised. That's a significant feat, considering how technologically complex and intricate the PS3 version is.
In the hands of Sony's Cambridge studio, LittleBigPlanet PSP bears most of the hallmarks of its PS3 predecessor. The signature cuteness and whimsy are no worse for the wear after being shrunk down for the PSP's screen. The floppily emotive animations will make you fall in love with Sackboy all over again, and the construction-paper aesthetic still holds all its charm.
The game offers up 30 new levels of run-and-jump adventure that riff off cultural touchstones from India, China, Africa and other locales. Flying carpets, giant cardboard dragons and sassy camels ferry your Sackperson through the race challenges and puzzles you'll encounter.
The thing you forget about LittleBigPlanet is that it's a surprisingly challenging platformer, and this is even truer of the PSP version. These all-new levels are shorter than the ones on the console, and feel much more focused on depth-based exploration. You'll shift from foreground to background on the levels' ramps and runways, either to find alternate paths or to dodge obstacles.
But moving through those environments isn't perfect. The objects in the world are terribly sticky, making it feel like Sackboy is snagging onto things. More annoyingly, LittleBigPlanet PSP is still plagued by the same floaty, imprecise physics as in the console version. Each leap feels like frustrating guesswork. You'll also find yourself lurching forward with momentum that sends you tumbling over ledges after jumps you thought you nailed. A good platformer needs to have pinpoint control, and this movement feels especially cruel considering how hard the later levels get.
You'll also be going at it alone in the handheld LittleBigPlanet. You could jump around with friends on the PS3, but not so here. Omitting multiplayer from the PSP version may seem like a cardinal sin at first, but the reality of syncing multiple player actions across the Internet would probably have been really ugly even if it had managed to work.
As challenging as the story levels are, they still feel like they're only there to be mined for materials for the game's creative side. The level-creation tools in the PSP version are simpler and more stripped-down, as would befit the platform. You'll get a few templates to get you started, but it will still take a fair amount of patience to craft a challenging set of obstacles.
The level-creation aspects of LittleBigPlanet PSP remain the biggest question mark. As the time of this writing, there are a few user-generated levels floating about, with varying amounts of inventiveness and polish. What will truly make the PSP version worth its purchase price will be the enthusiasm and support people pour back into it. A groundswell of warmth fueled the fan-made levels on the PS3 version, as if the creators were helping the underappreciated PS3 thrive with their work. It's difficult to say if that same energy exists for the PSP. But so far, Sackboy's stewards have shown enough imagination to keep the burlap hero vital for a little while longer.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.