Review: Little Big Planet (Sony PS3)

Little Big Planet
Publisher: Sony
Developer: Media Molecule
Genre: Action Platformer
Release Date: 10/28/2008

It’s hard to have missed the hype surrounding Little Big Planet, flagged as a PS3 killer app since before the platform even launched. Its main character, Sackboy, is as direct an attempt on mascot branding as has been attempted in this decade. However at it’s core, Little Big Planet is just still an old school action platformer, with a completely new IP and a detailed level editor and creator. It’s a remarkable risk for Sony as a major first party release – it incorporates user generated and social gaming in a massive scale, using a somewhat archaic gameplay style that has been generally considered passé. Even with a last minute one week delay, Little Big Planet is finally here and for hardcore fans who remember the glory days of 2D action platformers, it seems like a miracle.

1. Modes/Story
Usually we pick one or the other for modes and story, but Little Big planet is very much 2 games in 1, so while there exists a story in the single player game, that really only tells half the story. Something has happened in the world of Sackboy and stuff has gone missing and Sackboy is investigating. Not much to it, but nothing too offensive either.

However, the story mode is just the beginning of what Little Big Planet has to offer. It has a level editor with a level of depth and complexity rarely if ever seen before. Many games offer creative level or character editors that let the player add his own touch to the game, but Little Big Planet blows it wide open, offering a deep and somewhat overwhelming amount of options for new levels.

Modes/Story Rating: Classic

2. Graphics
Little Big Planet is rendered completely in 3D but the gameplay itself exists in a 2D plane. This 2.5D-style gameplay was more prevalent on PS1, but works well for the side-scrolling platforming levels in LBP. The graphical style is unique and implemented throughout the game. Approaching the level of detail usually reserved for a Nintendo or Rare game, the characters, fonts, icons and imagery in Little Big Planet come together to create a cohesive world with an amazing art direction.

Sackboy himself is super detailed, and has texture to match the burlap-type appearance. The basic Sackboy looks great, but there are a gigantic amount of options including colors, hats, clothes and accessories. None of the additions change how Sackboy plans, but they make the game feel unique even when replaying levels.

What is most striking about the graphics and presentation is how everything seems alive with animation. This poses a slight gameplay issue, but in addition to Sackboy, all items in all three planes seem to be in constant motion, especially when Sackboy is interacting with something.

Overall Little Big Planet’s visuals are among the best seen yet on PS3 or any system, with a sharp crisp quality and bursting with color.

Graphics Rating: Unparalleled

3. Sound
The music in Little Big Planet is wonderful, and fits the various themes and locales very well. The controversy over a particular song brought another interesting fact to light – the music in games might not always be created for the game, even if it’s not obviously licensed songs like EA uses. Media Molecule found some great tracks that work perfectly with the action and feel of the game.

The wry british voiceover used for the (copious) tutorials is well done, and helps create an immersive world. You can also expect the regular assortment of sound effects and crashes, with particular notice to the collection sounds which always tend to be come synonymous with successful mascots.

Sound Rating: Classic

4. Control & Gameplay
Little Big Planet is a side scrolling action game, and as Sackboy, you actually have a somewhat limited moveset at the face. Hitting the X button will jump, and holding it longer will yield a longer jump. This does add some variety to the jumping, but I couldn’t help but feel the game needed an in-air double jump that many platformers have employed. Holding R1 will grab onto something, whether it’s a vine or a sponge or the side of a pushable vehicle. There are also some fun options to change Sackboy’s mood with the D-pad as well, including a big grin and a sad face. At times these are needed to solve puzzles so its not just a useless addition.

Each level provides a different gameplay experience, even within the limited set of gameplay inputs. Sackboy pushes and pulls vehicles that careen him around an old west mine, or through an ice cave. Although there are only about twenty or so main levels, they are so varied and different that it feels longer. There aren’t many re-used assets or themes, each level feels fresh.

There are times when the levels flow together in a Sonic-like way, with some parts feeling automatic in how Sackboy moves fast and collects a bunch of stuff. These are fun bursts of excitement amongst the puzzle-based platforming of much of each level.

There are three planes that Sackboy can move between, similar to how Guardian Heroes on the Sega Saturn worked. This actually becomes the biggest sticking point of the gameplay control scheme. Many times, Sackboy will need to move between one level seamlessly, something that the game attempts to automate. However, sometimes Sackboy will get stuck, or move into another plane when you didn’t intend to. It seems minor, but it adds up through the game, and will occasionally lead to death, which is annoying.

The other minor drawback to the controls is the overall “floaty” nature of, well, everything. The unique way that objects are rendered and relate to each other leads all objects to have motion and animation associated with them. So as Sackboy runs and jumps, the environment all reacts to him, swinging, swaying, and shimmy-ing.

There have been tighter action platformers that have more of a twitch reaction and exact jumps, but Little Big Planet is still very well done.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Great

5. Replayability
While the single player game is relatively short, maybe 5-10 hours depending on your skill level, the online component should keep the game fresh for months if not years to come. The story mode does have some unlockables and minigames that encourage backtracking, and offer worthwhile rewards like stickers and character upgrades.

Beyond that, there are thousandsof levels online for play instantly, some great, some horrible, but all unique. Players have stretched the core Little Big Planet platforming to have racing, shooting and even puzzle games, and it seems like people are just getting started. Hopefully even more gamers will get the game for the Holidays and give another major injection of content creators to keep the selections fresh and varied for months or years to come.

One thing that always disturbs me about a game with a large and integral online component is the long lasting life of the game. In two years, or if there is a sequel, will the levels still be online? Will you be able to find players to play multi-player levels with? What about in ten years?

Replayability Rating: Amazing

6. Balance
No one will confuse Little Big Planet with Mega Man 9 in terms of difficulty. It’s pretty much impossible to die in the game, and none of the levels really progress over a medium difficulty at best. This fits the game well actually, because the story mode serves as much as a demo reel for what’s possible with the game as it is a gameplay experience. It moves along smoothly and breezy, allowing you to soak in the beauty and creativity of each level. Even if you think the game might be too easy, you can ramp up the difficulty online with some truly hard levels. Some of the user-generated levels are hard or even unplayable, although just as many are super easy or super cheap with tons of instant trophies.

Balance Rating: Classic

7. Originality
Little Big Planet is what gaming probably would have evolved to had it not been for the shift to 3D. It’s a side scrolling game through and through, and uses many if not most of the traditional conventions of a platformer. Gamers will recognize the oft-used mine-car levels, or the jungle levels. Each of them does feel fresh, both because of the graphical style and because of the unique physics of the game.

Even the core action platforming game presents some interesting and original takes on a decades-old genre, but the true originality of Little Big Planet is in its level creator. While the interface is daunting and will take several hours to get into, the reward is a completely original experience not only in the creation of levels, but for players looking for new content to play through.

Originality Rating: Unparalleled

8. Addictiveness
Little Big Planet is a fun and not overly taxing difficulty-wise, which makes it a joy to play through. The instant and usually easy access to user-generated levels online make it easy to waste hours going from level to level to see what people have dreamed up.

Sackboy himself also contributes to the addictiveness of Little Big Planet. Much like the joy of controlling Mario in Super Mario Galaxy, it’s a joy to move around as Sackboy and to watch him react. I find the facial reaction changes particularly fun and an original graphical feature that was successfully worked into the gameplay.

Addicitveness Rating: Unparalleled

9. Appeal Factor
Having spent a good deal of time with Little Big Planet, I think that the true greatness of the game might not be seen for months or years. Media Molecule provided some great levels with unique gameplay, but already in a few weeks the gamer community has gone wild with the toolset. Even if a gamer has little interest in the game at launch, it’s possible there could be additional appeal in new, as-of-yet seen level designs. That is what makes a game like Little Big Planet so exciting.

Also, as much hype as user-generated gaming has (for good reason), only a small subset of game players will be so inclined to want to create their own portion of the game. The fact that this game went with a decidedly old school gameplay genre indicates to me that Media Molecule knew that early user-generated gamers would be diehards, with enough time and motivation to invest into the creation tools. It’s almost as if Little Big Planet itself is a beta experiment to better refine the game and toolset interface for future, more broadly appealing game genres.

In an era of gaming where all major console makers need to take innovative strides to differentiate themselves, Little Big Planet is an out of the box Sony experience that cant be matched on another console – something that makes it not only appealing as a game, btu as a potential system seller.

Appeal Rating: Classic

10. Miscellaneous
I wonder how many reviewers publish reviews so quickly of a game like Little Big Planet, because the online component has become so robust and integral to the game’s experience over the last few weeks. Each day there are dozens of new levels, some truly amazing especially in the last few days.

The level creator definitely has its kinks, and it has such a deep menu system that it occasionally becomes hard to do what you want quickly. In blazing new ground in user-generated gaming, Media Molecule has put forth its best effort as of today, and will certainly be observant of how the users are actually using the tools for a possible upgrade or sequel down the line.

The box art is well done, and the manual is in full color, a must for game with an art style as rich and original as Little Big Planet.

Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled

The Scores
Story: Classic
Graphics: Unparalleled
Sound: Clasic
Control & Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Amazing
Balance: Classic
Originality: Unparalleled
Addictiveness: Unparalleled
Appeal Factor: Classic
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled
Final Score: AMAZING GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
For an old school platformer junkie like me, just half of Little Big Planet is enough to make it one of my top games of the year. However, the deep level editor coupled with online integration that makes thousands of new levels available instantly makes LBP a GOTY candidate and a true leap forward for this generation of consoles. As much hype as Nintendo’s motion control and Microsoft’s superior online experience have received, user-generated content could be Sony’s way of setting the PS3 apart.

This is the first truly killer app for PS3 that sets the system apart from its contemporaries.



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