In March 2007, BBC technology editor Darren Waters wrote, "LittleBigPlanet is perhaps one of the most dazzling demos I've seen in the last 10 years." More than a year later, after an extensive hands-on in late April, I can only say the same. LittleBigPlanet looks, plays and feels incredibly fresh -- even for an unfinished game. It's no wonder Nintendo president Reggie Fils-Aime was covetous of developer Media Molecule after the exclusive PlayStation 3 title was revealed last year. Here's an update on its development.
What makes LittleBigPlanet stand out?
For the uninitiated, LittleBigPlanet is a stunning 2.5-D platformer that is reminiscent of side-scrolling Super Mario Galaxy levels, which are 2-D in perspective, but 3-D in nature. That's about where the comparisons end, save only the smiles that both games evoke.
In its current form, LittleBigPlanet features no enemies whatsoever; only horizontal and vertical levels with an occasional fire pit or toxic gas pocket that instantly kill your customizable sackboys and girls (the playable characters). Additionally, getting left behind when playing with two or more people will result in Contra-like deaths, where the TV border seemingly devours slower players. It's an appreciated and enjoyable nod to classic gameplay that also underscores the importance of collaborative play. To keep things moving without spoiling the fun, multiple spawn points exist throughout most levels.
In addition to pitfalls, the game relies heavily on copious amounts of puzzling obstacles, and it's up to you and your companions to figure out how to solve each one in the shortest amount of time by running, jumping, pushing and pulling manipulatable objects, including other players. Often times, players are required to race against one other to a finish line for victory points, sometimes even in mid-level, only moments after initially helping each other. The effect gives variety and is a novel approach to multiplayer.
In addition to the obstacle course-like gameplay, collectible orbs can be gathered, which will then be tallied and ranked on a worldwide basis, says Sony.
For fear of only describing the gameplay, I must say that all of the elements combined offer an addictive approach to both single-player and multiplayer experiences. The characters are light on their feet, interacting with the puzzle physics is fun, and the racing levels are an especially good time. My only concern moving forward is the lack of enemies and how that might dull the experience over time, assuming the puzzles don't get increasingly more difficult as the game wears on.
Diorama-like graphics are easy on the eyes
LittleBigPlanet looks wonderful. It's one of the most unusual and visually-appealing games I've ever seen. It features an excellent depth-of-field camera effect -- convincing players that they could be playing in an actual diorama with little pincushion dolls -- and warm, colorful backgrounds that never burn the eyes. Additionally, the materials used in the game maintain their realistic properties, so woods are hard, felt cloth is depressible, and fluffy pillows affect how a player interacts with, lands on, or jumps from an object. It's good stuff in terms of non-repetitive level design.
As with most preview builds, animation was choppy and there was significant slow-down when massive on-screen objects game into play. The game is still several months from final release, so we're confident Sony will properly QA the issue. On the bright side, the scaling camera never failed to impress. Opposing players can go opposite ways and the camera will pan wide (up to a point) and then close back in upon returning. It is a nice effect and offers lots of flexibility for multiple players to enjoy their own screen real estate without having to worry too much about each other.
User-created levels feel underdeveloped at the moment
The Sony representative on hand promised 50 developer-created levels upon the game's release, which is a good thing. Nearly all of the levels I played that were designed by Media Molecule were inspired. The same cannot be said, however, of the user-created levels that were shown, at least in terms of how consistently I enjoyed them. I laughed out loud after being launched into the air while riding a user-generated monster truck, only to quickly grow tired of the level after I discovered its slim pickings. The same can be said of other user-created levels found on the demo, which is what you might expect from amateur designers. That said, having the option to create and share your level ideas with others online is a welcome addition, and hopefully one Sony better fosters in the final version of the game.
It's difficult to express the appeal of LittleBigPlanet to anyone who hasn't yet experienced it. All I can say is that it's delightfully charming and attractive. There is still much to be seen, having only previewed the game for two hours, but for my money, LittleBigPlanet has officially become the most appealing game of 2008, and I'm anxious to sink my teeth into the final version.
LittleBigPlanet is currently scheduled for release for PS3 this fall, and it will be available as a download from the PlayStation Store or on Blu-ray disc.
This preview was based on an alpha build of the game (dated April 25, 2008) provided by the publisher.