Throughout gaming history there have been many weird and wonderful characters memorable enough to be elevated to the status of console icons. From Nintendo’s Mario all the way through to the Xbox 360’s Master Chief. Not to mention all the bandicoots, speeding hedgehogs, ball dwelling monsters and buxom tomb raiding millionaires in between. It’s certainly an impressive array of diversity but still Sony’s latest offering, Sackboy, seems a little unusual. Why, in the gaming world where anything is possible, would anyone want to play as a sack? They have no personality, are generally dull and are lacking in distinguishing features.
Quite handily for LittleBigPlanet this builds into the heavy emphasis on personalisation that is present throughout almost every aspect of the game. Your Sackboy is delivered to you as a blank canvas to customise to your liking. Sack material, eyes, mouth, nose, facial hair, clothes and accessories can all be changed. This doesn’t mean creating a sack to suit your tastes and having to go to a ‘create-a-sack’ option to change it. You can modify your character whenever you want. You can be half way through a level and suddenly decide you would perform much better with a magician’s hat, a dog’s nose and polka dot sack material. Simply bring up the aptly named pop-it menu and make your transformation. The customisation is also present in the ability to decorate your game pod, which is basically a cardboard box, by applying various stickers to make your home your own.
Adding to the customisation is the ability to animate your Sackboy with a range of emotions and actions aside from the standard blank expression. The directional pad is assigned to the four emotions of happiness, sadness, fear and anger with three levels of each emotion depending on how many times the direction is pressed. Each arm is also moveable using the left a right sticks in combination with the respective L2 or R2 trigger buttons. The final addition is the sixaxis motion movement to control the head or pelvis area. All of this adds up to making your Sackboy a lot more expressive than your average game character.
It seems now would be a perfect time to mention the biggest customisation feature in the game. The ability to create your owns levels from scratch. This is achieved by using the many materials, pre-made objects, decorations and functional items on offer. This incredibly deep level maker is made more accessible and understandable through the means of numerous tutorials that are a burden and blessing at the same time. They are incredibly useful, charming due to Stephen Fry’s narrative input and will enable gamers to better understand the tools of the creator but they are numerous and unfortunately are compulsory if more objects and functions are to be unlocked. This means a slow start to the building of levels and even when all tutorials are completed it can still be a daunting and time consuming process to produce fun and interesting levels. Not to mention the trial and error often needed to make sure your creations are playable. That said enough practice and players would be able to build creations that others will enjoy and add to the experience that is the LittleBigPlanet community.
Anything that can be produced can be submitted for the world to play, rate and comment on. This collaboration of ordinary people’s imaginations and creativeness links perfectly into the game’s ‘Play.Create.Share’ philosophy. This ideal can ultimately make the game last so much longer and be more varied than most games on the market at the moment. Obviously this all depends on the offerings of the players of this world but only time will tell. Even so, it’s all well and good creating the most original and perfect level the world has even seen but how does the actual game play?
LittleBigPlanet has decided to take the tried and tested side scrolling platforming formula and out it’s own twist on it in the shape of three levels of play. This consists of the background, middle ground and foreground, and access to them all depends on the level being played. A quick double press up or down on the left stick shifts Sackboy to each plain as well as an automatic detection feature being present. This does on occasions take you to somewhere you didn’t necessarily want to go but it’s not a major issue to correct. As for the abilities and powers of your fabric acquaintance, they really aren’t that impressive. He can run, jump and grab onto things. That’s unfortunately the limit of his skills and given the platform nature of the game, it’s not the most accurate of controls especially when it comes to jumping. There never seems to be a standard way of performing the same jump twice and the movement can feel very loose. It’s a strange combination of either too forgiving or too frustrating but never the same. It’s fortunate the levels have a tendency to provide ways to get around in the way of springs, lifts, winches etc.
Seeing as this game is all about collaboration it’s not surprising it features a multiplayer option. This is integrated seamlessly into the game giving player options to invite or join friends in the middle of levels, in each players pods as well as being set up with random players across the world for user created levels or the preloaded levels on the game disc. The game also supports voice chat, text chat, and the ability to mute or kick players if you are the host. All standard issue as far as multiplayer games are concerned but it further promotes the community spirit that the game is centred around.
All in all, this game is a breath of fresh air in a world overcrowded with prescribed gameplay, inviting players to create their own experiences and share them with others. The limp controls may not be welcome by some platforming veterans but it’s not enough to ruin the playability and fun of the game. It’s still the level maker that’s the star of the show with its deep and powerful editing tools. Anyone with enough time to trudge through the tutorials will really reap the benefits of the potential given to them. Given the amount of quality levels already available in it’s first week of release, it’s looking like the future is bright for our new woven best friend.