Little Big Planet 2 (Sony PS3)

Little Big Planet 2
Developer: Media Molecule
Publisher: Sony
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: 1/17/2011

I’m not going to lie. I was not the biggest fan of the original Little Big Planet. I appreciated the artistry, the originality, and the potential of its online community and creation tools. But from a pure gaming standpoint, I thought it was generic and had really horrible jumping mechanics. My opinion of it over the past two plus years has not changed much. I’ve watched my kid build some pretty hilarious stuff with it, and after giving it to him, his scores at school went through the roof in reading, writing, problem solving skills, and communication/cooperation. I think it’s a fantastic educational tool for kids. But I still think its a pretty crappy platformer. So here comes Little Big Planet 2, with an expanded set of creation tools that gives players the ability to make almost any kind of game they can imagine, and that’s just great.

But is it any fun to play?

1. Story

The original game didn’t really have much in the way of a storyline. You were on a mission to save the thoughts and dreams of humans from someone called The Collector, but the levels themselves seemed thematically disjointed. Events that occurred in one level had little to do with what happened in the next, for the most part.

That has changed with the sequel. Sackboy has been recruited to help save LittleBigPlanet from the evil clutches of the Negativatron, an evil vacuum cleaner who is systematically sucking up every dream and idea and corrupting them to his own nefarious purposes. Sackboy meets new characters along the way, and each level builds upon the storyline of the last. Most of the characters, short of Sackboy himself, are now provided lines by voice actors, which also adds a new element to the game’s story telling. It’s not the most original storyline out there, but its a definite improvement over the original.

2. Graphics

The graphics are just are jaw dropping as they were in the original, but some improvements have been made. There seems to be less horizontal screen tearing than in the original. The lighting effects seems to be more dynamic, and there just seems to be even more going on at any given time than there was in the first game, and in spite of that the game runs better. This is definitely the best looking platformer available on any system this generation.

Despite the fact that you’re looking at what appear to be elementary school dioramas brought to life, the effects and visible wizardry of it all is just head and shoulders above much of what passes for “great graphics” these days. it’s one of those games that other people come over and enjoy watching it as much as joining in.

3. Sound

I wasn’t really all that enamored with the soundtrack to the original game. Sure, there were some great songs, but it just felt like a bit of a cop out to me licensing music instead of composing a score for the game. There are music tracks here as well, but it seems like there’s a lot more orchestral composition than in the first game, and that’s good. When it comes to video game music, for me anyway, originality always wins out.

The voice acting is very well done, and in a style that fits the overall sense of whimsy to the game. I’m glad they chose to keep Sackboy silent however. He doesn’t need one, especially since, when playing online, the player’s words come out of his mouth.

The sound effects are all crisp and easily distinguishable from one another. A good number of them are holdovers from the previous game, but that’s to be expected.

4. Control and Gameplay

Okay, here we go. I’m going to make this as short and sweet as I can. They didn’t do a thing to fix the jumping mechanic. Its exactly the same as in the first game: twitchy, floaty, and somewhat unpredictable due to the physics engine. When I played Mega Man 2 back in the 80s, I could make a jump, and intuitively now when to turn in mid-air, where to jump on one platform so I’d land on the right spot ont he next, and so on. Sackboy is not as intuitive. A jump you make once that safely puts you in the middle of the next platform may very well drop you into the gap between the the next time you play, despite having jumped from the exact same spot. Get to close to the side of a step or object and Sackboy with just half jump in play and fidget a bit in mid-air before coming back down again, unable to make it up onto the object with out backing up and and trying from a greater distance. These same sorts of issues are what made certain sections of the original game a downright frustrating pain in the sack (pun intended) to play, which for a game that’s geared towards the younger crowd is not a good thing.

Instead of just fixing the jumping, media Molecule added two new ways to get from point A to point B: the grappling hook and jump pads. The jump pads are pretty straight forward. You jump on one and it sends you flying into the air. These work well enough. But the grappling hook is another matter entirely. Much like the jumping, it is pure physics based, and doesn’t always do what you want it to do. You have the ability to pull yourself closer to an object or lower yourself away from it, but often times Sackboy will pull right up on an object when what you wanted was swinging room, which in situations like the second part of the last boss fight is a major detriment to your sanity.

It boggles my mind. Much how old platformers from the 80s on inferior hardware gave us more accurate and intuitive jumping, Bionic Commando on the NES gave us a grappling system that is pretty much the standard all other grappling controls are still measured against today. Now why is it that an almost 25 year old NES game can have such rapid fire accuracy in its grappler, but Sackboy is often literally left hanging by the game’s unwieldy controls?

5. Replayability

This one’s a given. Much like in the first game, there are goodies all over the story levels to be attained that give you more stuff to play with on your moon. You have your own personal playground to build whatever your imagination can conjure up, and every day thousands of new community levels pop into existence. True, you will find pieces of garbage that were just thrown up to win easy trophies. But you will also find levels that rival the story levels themselves, and in some cases, surpass them. This series is one of the first that can truly boast almost unlimited replayability. You will get your money’s worth and then some from this title.

6. Balance

Here’s a real dichotomy with Little Big Planet 2. It has the same garbage jumping mechanic. It has iffy grappling hook physics, and yet, the game is a breeze compared to the first one. yes, it still has jumping sections that will make you want to yank Sackboy out of your TV and pick up the dog’s mess with him, but compared to the first game, the difficulty level has decreased dramatically, simply because of the level design. It’s just an easier game all the way around. It almost feels like Media Molecule just wanted me to hurry up and get through the story levels so I would go to my moon and start making new stuff. My son was seven when he earned the Platinum for the first game, and he had a lot of help from some of my friends on the PSN, particularly with acing some of the harder levels. he’s a few months older, and he’s already aced all but three or four levels on his own. That’s how much difference there is between the first game and this one.

7. Originality

Well, aside from the vast changes made to the creation tools, there’s not much that’s changed from the first game, but where the meat of this series lies is not in the levels that come with the game, but the levels you create and share with others. In that respect, this title is more original than anything else on the market, as there is always something new when you sign in. And now that the doors have been blown open on what you can make, its even more so. With some time and experimentation, you have the ability to make practically any genre you can imagine: RPG, shooter, FPS, racer, fighting games, and even genres no one’s seen before. the potential really is staggering.

Of course, that’s the thing about potential: its success or failure all depends on who wields it. And there are a lot of truly awful authors out there in the LBP community. But there are also creators whose designs border on genius. It is a rare thing for me to play a session in the community levels and not at least once be wowed by a level, or puzzled by how someone pulled off a specific effect. Almost like an MMO, its a world that you can easily lose hours in wandering from created levels to fully fleshed out games and back again.

8. Addictiveness

Little Big Planet 2 is not and never will be a game I just HAVE to play. I don’t sit at work wondering about what new levels I’ll find when I get home. But it IS a game where, if you venture into the online community, you’ll find the games and levels there are like potato chips. You can’t enjoy just one. Before long, what was supposed to be a ten minute excursion to earn you that one trophy you hadn’t picked up yet will turn into two hours playing levels based on Bill Murray movies.

And then there’s the lure of your moon. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

9. Appeal Factor

Now obviously fans of the original are just going to eat this up. I would not recommend it for 2d platformer fans. The Wii is still the platform of choice in that regard, with Donkey Kong Country Returns, Sonic Colors, and a new Kirby on the way that returns the little pink ball of world devouring navel lint to his roots. But those who have an artistic or creative streak will leap headlong into the creation tools in this game, and its quite possible they’ll never come out to play anything else.

10. Miscellaneous

When you first go to your moon, it won’t seem much different to you. At first. but then you’ll notice that you can pull up tutorials to rewatch whenever you want. Animating/programming objects has been simplified and is much more intuitive, You have control over camera angles, you can record speech for your characters, you can assign life bars, and stats for creating RPGs, you can fill your RPG worlds with NPCs, monsters and side quests. You can build arcade levels that are all linked to one another to become a full game in and of itself without having to exit out and and select the next world as you did in the first. it truly is breathtaking to see what can be done with these tools in the right hands.

But then I think back to an interview Media Molecule gave a while back, that they’d never make a sequel to Little Big Planet, because what would be the point, with thousands of new levels popping up daily? Since they didn’t bother to fix the one thing I didn’t like about the first game, I have to agree with their original thinking on this. These new creation tools and story levels, as great and totally worth the money as it all is, could have been sold as two DLC packs for the original game, rather than being sold as a stand alone 60.00 title, and the only shortcoming for gamers would have been the loss of another potential platinum for their collection.

The Scores
Story: Great
Graphics: Amazing
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Unparalleled
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: Great Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
I know there are some who may dislike the fact that I’m not giving this game a perfect score. It’s an overall great title, and every Playstation 3 owner who has even the lightest bit of creativity in their body should rush out and buy it immediately, but the simple truth is that without the creation aspect, what you’re left with is a platformer that would not be able to compete on its own merits, and the small collection of Move supported levels that are included on the disk are a perfect example of that. As a whole, its phenomenal, it really is. But when each piece is judged individually, what you have is the most robust creation set in the history of console gaming and an online community who makes levels that are often better than what was delivered by the developers themselves. Heck, they can even make the jumping better.

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