Rating: 9 (out of 10)
Reviewed on: PlayStation Vita
There are two ways to interpret LittleBigPlanet Vita. The first is as a simple platforming game – an excellent one at that – where the objective is to run and jump from ledge to ledge. The other is as a deeper social statement that attempts to get at the core of how joy and creativity connect to enhance the human experience. (No really, read on.)
As in prior releases for home consoles, players control Sackboy, the little cloth hero, as he makes his way through a colourfully manic adventure set in a world made of fabric. This time around, the story begins in Carnivalia, a circus-themed land ruled by the evil Puppeteer.
We learn early on that the villain wasn’t always a bad guy. His craft made him lonely and that eventually affected his performances. He became increasingly bitter as his audiences turned on him with boos. Now, fully evil, he sucks the joy out of people and turns them into the Hollows – soulless, faceless automatons.
It’s a modern celebrity tragedy crossed with a T.S. Eliot poem, in video game form.
Sackboy’s job, however, isn’t as poetic as it is simple: defeat the Puppeteer and bring joy back to the world.
From Carnivalia, he travels to four other differently themed lands, including the ’80s-inspired Jackpot City to the giant amusement park of Coaster Valley and finally the Puppeteer’s own Spooky Mansion. Along the way, he’s aided by the villain’s former puppets, who teach him how to use new tools and weapons.
Among these is a grappling hook, which can be used to swing up to hard-to-reach places, as well as a pair of “grab gloves” that let Sackboy move heavy blocks. Like any good platformer, the satisfaction comes from deciphering puzzles – a perfectly timed grapple combined with a correctly placed block, for example, means continuing on.
LittleBigPlanet games outshine the competition with sheer inventiveness and energy. Jackpot City, as a case in point, is made up of old floppy discs and VCR tapes ingeniously stacked upon one another to form the ledges and tunnels Sackboy must traverse. The soundtrack, meanwhile, is as upbeat and high-energy as in all previous LBP games.
Music is the franchise’s secret weapon, combining as it does with the offbeat environments to create a truly frenetic and engaging pace. And LBP is also one of those few PlayStation franchises that might actually be better on the Vita than on the home console. The action incorporates the mobile system’s unique controls – its touch screen, rear touch pad and gyroscope – in natural-feeling ways.
You can touch blocks on the screen to push them in and clear the way for Sackboy, or push them out from behind to create platforms by using the rear touch pad. Similarly, there are segments where tilting the Vita to one side gives Sackboy enough momentum to make a particular jump. These are actions that can be done on the PlayStation 3 by mashing buttons, but they feel better with the organic Vita controls.
Without giving away the ending, the story concludes with a reminder that creativity is the fuel of joy, the perfect halfway exclamation point in Sackboy’s adventure. It’s halfway because the story mode is truly only a small part of the game, if you so desire.
LBP games are all about enabling players to create their own levels, then sharing them online. As such, they’re among the best value out there, since you can play them forever with continually new downloadable content.
LBP Vita has a deep level editor, complete with exhaustive tutorials on how to design every small detail. Players are also encouraged to go back and replay the story and side missions, as well as parts that can only be done in two-player co-op, to unlock more objects that can be used in level design.
This harkens back to the game’s central message. You can marvel at the developers’ creativity in the game they’ve designed, which is fine in and of itself. Or, even better, you can try to make your own game and share it with the world.
LittleBigPlanet Vita, like its console brethren, is a nice expression of the potential for the video game medium: It can be passively consumed, or it can be turned into a personal, interactive statement by the player. Either way, this is what good games are all about.