Developer: Media Molocule / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment / ESRB: Everyone (Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence) / Played on: PlayStation 3 / Price $59.99
When I say “Little,” you say “Big!”
Little (BIG!)… Okay, knock it off now… LittleBigPlanet 2 is the sequel to – wait for it – LittleBigPlanet, a very popular and very good game that offered clever platforming level design and the ability to design your own clever platforming levels. It’s one of the most distinctive exclusive games on the PlayStation 3, and LittleBigPlanet 2 offers more of the same, but with grappling hooks. Is that enough? Let’s find out.
LittleBigPlanet actually has a story this time out, or at least it has an antagonist. The Negativitron is a big monster that glows red… so you know it’s evil, if the name didn’t give it away. It keeps dropping into “Craftworld” from outer space to blight the land and turn the innocent Little Big people into his diabolical minions. The leaders of Craftworld have decided to cull together an alliance – cleverly called “The Alliance” – to thwart this menace, and your sackperson of choice is the hero of the day. It’s not L.A. Confidential, but it’ll do. The story, thin though it is, drives the game forward more than the flighty LittleBigPlanet 1 and the cast of characters is actually pretty funny, even if they do feel borrowed from the Tim Schafer-verse. (Tim Schafer’s given a “Special Thanks” in the credits, so maybe that’s not entirely a coincidence, but whatever. It’s clearly a good thing.)
The majority of LittleBigPlanet 2 will be very familiar to fans of the original game. LittleBigPlanet 2 is a side-scroller played on three horizontal planes that you can usually switch between at any time – or at least as necessary – to solve puzzles and get to the end of the level. In the single-player campaign, these levels are… just… awesome. There ain’t a dud in the bunch. From a pastry world in which you have to shoot giant cakes from your head to kill bad guys and create platforms, to escort missions that miraculously don’t suck, the story levels that come with LittleBigPlanet 2 are even better than the ones in the original. It’s a shame there aren’t more of them. You’ll breeze through the Story Mode in five to six hours tops, which is a little paltry. I see no reason why we couldn’t have enjoyed a few more hours of gameplay, particularly when the designers display such a knack for variety.
In addition to the familiar LittleBigPlanet gameplay, there is some new, cool stuff to play with: a grappling hook, gauntlets that allow you to carry larger items, and a slew of other gameplay modes, although most of them seem to revolve around the 2D shooting genres. To be critical, these additions are nifty but don’t entirely justify a whole new game. It seems like the need for LittleBigPlanet 2 to be backwards compatible with the original may have prevented significant changes or upgrades to that core experience, but that’s just speculation. The point is, this is essentially the first LittleBigPlanet with a few minor variations, and it feels more like a kick-ass expansion pack than a full-fledged game in it own right.
Oh yeah, and the level design tool is still great. It’s not that different – you can now incorporate grappling hooks, etc. – but really, including a level designer with a game is a lot like giving someone a guitar for Christmas. For every person who picks up an axe and dedicates their time and energy to getting really skilled, there will be dozens who fiddle with it for a few hours and then completely abandon it to just play videogames. That’s why it bugs me that the actual “game” part of LittleBigPlanet 2 is kind of anemic. Overall though, solid gameplay.
LittleBigPlanet 2 has a lot of multiplayer, and if you’re connected to the internet you can play any story level with other players across the world. LittleBigPlanet 2’s levels are well designed for cooperative play, full of puzzles that require teamwork but not so much strategy that you can’t solve it together without verbally communicating, and there are a lot of little versus levels like racing games and billiards for direct competition as well. I experienced some serious connectivity issues, but that really could be just me so I’m issuing a caveat without actually marking the game down for it. It’s a little frustrating that the game just plops you right into single-player if the host refuses to let you play (Seriously, what the hell man? This isn’t kickball. It doesn’t matter if I’m fat or anything…). Look, I wanted to play multiplayer, damn it, but instead I have to back all the way out of the level and try again. That bugs me but it’s a minor nuisance. Be it co-op or versus, LittleBigPlanet offers excellent multiplayer action.
Like the original, LittleBigPlanet 2 is a really gorgeous game. Once again you travel through luscious, ‘handcrafted’ environments that look like they sprang fully formed from Terry Gilliam’s scrapbook collection, and the levels are all varied enough that you’ll never get bored of watching them. I have no complaints with the graphics, so let’s just move on.
If you scour the annals of videogame history, I don’t think you’ll find a single more satisfying sound effect than the “popping bubble” noise in LittleBigPlanet 1 and 2. Even when you’re just trying to sprint to the end of the level because you’ve got a review deadline, you can’t possibly resist running around trying to collect every single bubble just to hear that satisfying that bubble wrap noise. LittleBigPlanet 2 also has a stellar soundtrack that propels you forward and makes every action seem triumphant, and it boasts more voice-overs than the original, although only in the cinematics. During gameplay all the characters still speak in that annoying “Charlie Brown’s Teacher” kind of gibberish, but that’s only distracting now because there’s some contrast.
LittleBigPlanet 2 is an excellent game. I wish there was more of it. Once again this feels more like a Five Star expansion pack than a Five Star game on its own merits. It’s a “Must Buy” if you don’t own the original, or if you didn’t pay full price for the original, but existing fans will have to weigh how much they really want a grappling hook and a scant six hours of additional gameplay before making their purchase.