Hands-on with LittleBigPlanet

LittleBigPlanet is here, and gamers everywhere are giddy with excitement- and that’s just the adults!  Children are going to love this game, as in fact, will anyone really.  From what I’ve experienced, I can totally see how this can be a cult classic for the cool, hardcore gamers, but still be fun for all the family.

You’ll be glad to know that my woes with Amazon did not last long.  The package was waiting for me when I arrived home.  As I hadn’t been on my PS3 for quite some time, the usual formalities were required: download firmware update, install update, restart PS3.  Time for some LittleBigPlanet goodness then?  Apparently not: two updates needed to be downloaded and installed before I could so much as look at the loading screen.

This is not a criticism at all, as it is good that both the PS3, and games that have shipped can have improvements added to them, important security patches, and bug fixes applied to them.  The PS3 firmware has included a number improvements which have added a layer of polish to how everything works and is integrated.  As a matter of fact, the recent firmware update took a fraction of the time to install, than previous versions by my own reckoning.

But I digress.  Let’s move onto looking at the game itself, shall we?  I’ll start with initial thoughts and the experiences of ‘play‘.  I’d like to start off by saying that having Stephen Fry as the narrator is a stroke of genius.  From his friendly advice on online etiquette, to his tutorial videos and wonderfully fantastic anecdotes, you find yourself laughing and being put totally at ease.  It also gives a warm, fuzzy feel of Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, meets Fantasia.  The visuals are simply sumptuous: everything is rendered in high definition, but with an organic and home-grown feel.  Everything feels so alive and rustic: you’ve levels and creatures made out of wool, cardboard, wood and much more.  Fantastic.

Let’s go play.  I must confess that I didn’t really ‘get’ what people meant when they said the play levels (story mode) were tutorials in themselves, and you could look at them for inspiration.  It wasn’t until I was swinging like Tarzan, above a lake of nasty crocodiles, that I finally understood.  I took a close look at the crocs, and without realising, started to try and figure out how they were made i.e., how they ‘ticked’ (shocking joke and reference to Peter Pan, sorry).  Each level is very detailed and has a lovable, rustic quality that doesn’t detract from the game.  In fact, it immerses you even more into the world of LittleBigPlanet.  Top notch.

My only bugbear is the gameplay.  By that, I mean how the character interacts with the world.  Dragging and grabbing objects works just fine, but jumping doesn’t feel as accurate and responsive as I’d like, and moving back and forth (the semi-3D plane of existence) can be a bit hit and miss.  Other than that, I cannot fault the level design and gameplay objectives.  Whether or not community levels are as good, is up to the community.  Before I move on, I’d like to mention the music.  This is another area where LittleBigPlanet shines.  The music is bright and upbeat, and changes depending on which situation you might be in, like a spooky castle plagued with ghosts.  The stand out moment for me in this regard, has to have been on the meerkat level, when you enter the nightclub.  Very atmospheric, and an excellent choice of music. (Update: it is ‘My Patch’ by Jim Noir.)

Another area (yes, yet another!) that LittleBigPlanet stands out is the community, and multiplayer.  Even if you’re playing solo, at the end of each level there’s a leader board and you’re ranked up there with the rest of the community.  You can tackle levels with other players locally, if you’ve got the controllers, or partner up with people online.

I’ll mix up my overview of create and share together, because one doesn’t really follow without the other.  You can ‘create‘ a level of your own, then ‘share‘ it for the whole LittleBigPlanet community to play for themselves and rate.  What is really neat, is that when you select someone’s created level, you’re not left waiting much longer for it to load than a story level.  And we’re talking about 5-6 seconds at the most, people.  That’s impressive.

I’ve tried my hand at creating a basic level, but I’ve still got a long way to go before it will be of an acceptable quality (in my eyes, anyway) to share to the community.  In create mode, you’re not allowed to use a new tool without participating in a hands-on tutorial with it, narrated by Stephen Fry.  This ensures that you have a rough idea how to use all tools effectively!  I had some problems trying to get a creature moving, but that’s probably me being stupid as the whole game is ridiculously easy to understand.

The last main area I want to cover is the community aspect.  Now, surely I’ve already mentioned this a bit?  Well, yes but there’s more to tell.  My latter play through of LittleBigPlanet was with the servers down.  After initially playing with full community integration with the active servers, it was as if something big was missing.  Make no mistake, LittleBigPlanet is truly spectacular in single player mode, but nothing beats comparing scores, sharing levels, and playing co-operatively.  The experience feels a bit flat without it.  So if you haven’t got your PS3 hooked up online, make it so!  LittleBigPlanet is just so much more rewarded when connected.  It’s better being together :).

So, to sum up- this game is ground breaking.  It could be the sleeper hit of 2008, perhaps beating such games as successful as Metal Gear Solid 4.  Will LittleBigPlanet reach out to the masses though?  Given enough publicity and marketing, I believe so, as there is a compelling message to tell.

The Los Havros verdict: highly recommended.  It’s an essential buy for anyone with a PS3, and dare I say it?  Those without :p

Now, here’s something that might be interesting: my tweets on LittleBigPlanet.  Why so interesting?  This link is a search for whatever I say about ‘littlebigplanet’ in my tweets.  This means that whenever I tweet about littleBigPlanet after this post, the search will keep up-to-date and include it in the results.  Pretty neat huh?

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