Wednesday, April 6, 2011

LittleBigPlanet 2

Though it wasn’t an immediate commercial success like some other blockbuster titles have been, LittleBigPlanet remains one of the most important games this generation, at least to the Playstation community. Why? Because for one thing, it was one of the games that served to truly round out Sony’s 1st party title lineup, giving them a positive image of variety. It also served as the spearhead for their “Play.Create.Share” movement, that encouraged the development of games where players could create much of the content for themselves, and share it with others across a broad, self-sustained community.

Now Media Molecule is back with LittleBigPlanet 2. This game is kind of interesting because it doesn’t initially come off as being justifiable as a full-on sequel. The graphics have been slightly but noticeably tweaked, but I don’t think the game really looks or runs significantly better. Which isn’t a bad thing, because the first game looked and ran perfectly fine, and even two years later, LittleBigPlanet 2 actually looks pretty good. When you first jump into the game, everything is very familiar. The controls haven’t changed, and Sackboy still handles virtually identical to how he did in his first outing. Upon first starting the game, you’ll run through an introductory level that serves as the opening credits, narrated once more by that charming Stephen Fry. You drop into your pod, and the replica PS3 controller is sitting there awaiting your input.

Even your good ol’ Popit is back, which gives you access to a multitude of things (more so in Create Mode) with the press of the button, including stickers, costumes, and the “reset” button, all returning from the first game, and all working in precisely the same way as before. Stickers can be used pretty much anytime and anywhere to decorate areas, but can also be used to activate switches. The reset button allows you to self-destruct, respawning at the last activated checkpoint. Costumes let you dress your Sackboy up however you please. Any costume pieces you unlocked in LittleBigPlanet will carry over to this sequel, and you’ll be able to collect even more pieces throughout LBP2’s campaign. Costumes still don’t affect gameplay in the slightest; as much as I sometimes wish they did.

In short, you will have no trouble picking up the controller again. Everything works pretty much exactly the same as it did previously, in terms of core gameplay mechanics. I really can’t stress this enough. What has changed, instead, is the sheer scope of the game. No longer are levels limited to run and jump platforming. The new tools and gadgets introduced allow for an infinitely wider range of gameplay. The Grappling Hook, for example, does exactly what you’d think it does, allowing Sackboy to grab materials from afar and swing from them. The Grabinator gives Sackboy the Herculean strength necessary to lift the various objects you might encounter in a level, and throw them. Bounce Pads are like futuristic trampolines, shooting you upward when you step on them. Four player multiplayer is back, as is the ability to play with any combination of local and online players. Add to this the fact that all of the gadgets have “friendly fire” enabled (i.e. being able to grab and toss each other with the Grabinator), and you have a recipe for mayhem. Before, I thought it was great fun to slap a fellow comrade off a cliff (which you can still do, mind you). Now we’re tossing each other into death traps with the Grabinator, forming multi-person trapezes with the Grappling Hook, and shooting giant cupcakes at each other with the Creatinator, among so many other things. In short, LBP2’s multiplayer is still composed of the same absolute hilarity that made its predecessor so much fun to play with others. In many ways, the addition of these new gimmicks have made the game even funner, whether you’re playing by yourself or with others.

What really earns LittleBigPlanet 2’s sequel certificate however, is the vastly expanded Create mode. You’ll get a taste of its potential as you play through the story. A bunch of new tools have been introduced, both major and minor. Some of biggest additions include the Controlinator, Sackbots, and the Creatinator. The Controlinator is essentially a cockpit for Sackboy. It can be used to map various functions to buttons on the PS3 controller. Before, when you got into a car, for example you might have to put in a grabbable material like a sponge, with a grab sensor plugged into the wheels. You would make the car move by grabbing the sponge. Now, you can assign those functions to buttons the controller, with (for example) the left stick accelerating the car in either direction, and the X button activating the nitro boost you almost certainly installed in the back. Basically, the Controlinator completely streamlines the use of vehicles, and allows the creation of more complex ones. For those of you who know a bit about Create mode, the Creatinator is basically an Emitter strapped to a player’s head; think about that for a moment. It’s acquired in the same way other powerups are, such as the Jetpack and Grappling Hook, and can function similarly to the Paintinator. Except instead of shooting paint, it can shoot anything. Fire, plasma, velociraptors, kitchen sinks, you name it.

Now, Sackbots are a whole different ballgame. They’re NPCs that can be programmed and customized to a pretty impressive extent. You can give them skins to make them look just like Sackboy, for example, and then proceed to dress them up in costumes just like you would for yourself. This means you can essentially have a variety of actual organic characters in levels, not just material creations with patched on eyeballs and mouths, and swiveling limbs. Sackbots can be programmed to do a number of things, including follow players and/or preset tags, use Controlinators and other powerups, and activate switches. If the basic options aren’t enough, you can also take control yourself to record an action. This can be done as many times as you please, with each action being recorded as a “Behavior” on the Sackbot’s logic board.

I could go on and on and on about the Create mode. I could excitedly explain the significance of Logic Boards and Microchips. I could mention the added ability to create cutscenes (complete with new cameras and effects), and link levels together to essentially create games. I could talk about the new music sequencer which lets you create songs from scratch, or the multitude of new world tweakers, like water and the anti-gravity tool. I could list the various other new tools added, like the various mover and rotator badges, or the destroyer tool. I could even touch on some new Share features, most notably, which is a website devoted entirely to discovering new community levels. But then this review would never end.

So, instead I’m going to close off this review by highly recommending that you buy LittleBigPlanet 2, and tinker with this veritable horde of new toys for yourself. Or with some friends. Because I can confidently say that this game is meant to be experienced, not read about. On the back of LittleBigPlanet’s box there’s a motto: “Fun Shall Overcome”. LittleBigPlanet 2 lives up to that motto so well it’s a little ridiculous. Because that’s what the game offers in spades. Pure, unadulterated fun. And for that, a 10/10.

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