LittleBigPlanet PS Vita Hands-On
Developer: Tarsier Studios and Double Eleven / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment / Release Date: September 25, 2012 / Platforms: PlayStation Vita / ESRB: Everyone
LittleBigPlanet PS Vita has a lot going for it – from its new approach to storytelling for the series using voiced characters and a tangible narrative, to support of online multiplayer, and even the inclusion of the impressive and innovative “do it yourself” sandbox that the franchise is known for. While it’s not Sackboy’s first foray into the mobile space, it’s one that’s shaping up to be among the top contenders in Vita’s considerably limited catalogue.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the fortune of spending some quality time with LittleBigPlanet PS Vita and the many features it brings to the table, such as a new narrative-driven single player mode, online multiplayer co-op, and an extremely robust creation tool that has remained the backbone of the series since its launch on PlayStation 3 in 2008. The game is all about Playing, Creating, and Sharing – and it does just that, and does it very, very well.
The beginning of the story dropped me in La Marionetta, the first of many regions on the planet of Carnivalia. The planet is under distress after its master and provider of entertainment, The Puppeteer, lost control and started acting all funky (and angry) and decided to take control of Carnivalia. Now, its citizens are in need of help. That’s where I, as Sackboy, was prodded to step in and lend a hand, and learn the skills necessary to make the journey and defeat the now evil puppet master.
Now, that plot, that is merely the backbone for the cute and quirky gameplay that LittleBigPlanet games exude – which is now as refined as it’s ever been. Through my adventures across eight or so levels of the game, I ran and jumped as I have in the past, solving puzzles and placing stickers to my heart’s content. And while the traditional 2-D platforming on a three-dimensional plane is as satisfying (and adorable)as with previous games, it’s the new gameplay and control mechanics that really stand out here – providing new LBP experiences that only the PlayStation Vita is capable of. I really mean that.
Thanks to the multitude of hardware features that the Vita has built-in, Sackboy has been given more ways than ever to take control of his environment and solve obstacles. Aside from the conventional method of input (read: buttons), Sackboy can manipulate objects on-screen using both the front touchscreen and the rear touch panel. Objects on a level that are stitched and highlighted blue can be dragged around the environment using a finger on the touchscreen, making obstacles that are out of Sackboy’s reach a synch to manipulate.
As LBP players are aware, every LittleBigPlanet game has been (at its core) a 2D platformer with three planes available for traversal at any given time: the foreground, the middle ground, and the background. Sackboy can hop between these planes at almost any time to solve puzzles, and this functionality is intertwined nicely with the mechanics applied to the rear touch pad on the Vita.
The best example of this feature’s usability is when you’ll often come across parts in a level where blocks are pushed into a wall or crevice in the background, but it’s obvious that they need to be pushed into the foreground to allow you to cross a gap that’s too wide to leap across. These “pushable” objects are highlighted in blue and can be tapped from behind using the rear touch panel to shove them into the position you desire. Once they’re in the foreground, they can then be pressed back into place via the front-facing touchscreen, as some puzzles later on require. It’s fluid, not clunky, and most importantly, an innovative way to reach into the level and manipulate it yourself. It feels really, really cool.
In addition to the handful of music and circus-themed levels of Carnivalia, I spent some time with the always-included level editor that LittleBigPlanet has become famous for. Following the “play, create, share” philosophy of design, the editor is just as formidable as its console counterparts, sporting hundreds of objects, pages of useful tools, and collections of stickers beyond your wildest dreams. No really, you probably couldn’t dream up some of these more whacky sticker designs.
Every object I encountered was editable down to its most basic function – bouncy springs could have their power adjusted, spinning wheels could have their speed slowed down or sped up, and thrusters could be latched onto vehicles and launched at an alarming rate. In addition to that, every single tool/object in the game had its own tutorial to play through. While ambitious and extremely daunting, you have to give props to the devs for making an already pretty-accessible creation tool all the more accessible.
It’s extremely impressive (and mind-boggling) that every tool from LittleBigPlanet 2 made it into a handheld LBP. I suppose that serves as an encouraging reminder of just how much horsepower the Vita sports.
As always, the Community Planet is available in the game that allows for players to not only share their own created levels with others, but also download and rate the custom creations of community members. You can find levels by their rating, by their creator or by a number of other defining categories. Like LBP titles in the past, so long as people are playing, creating, and sharing, you can look forward to almost infinite, free DLC fashioned by the community.
Finally, it shouldn’t go without saying that you can (as in the past) effortlessly customize the daylights out of your Sackboy or Sackgirl using your poppit (the player’s customization menu). With an over-abundance of hats, pants, shirts, tails and crazy outfits, you’ll be hard-pressed to try and find something not to wear while playing.
My short time with LittleBigPlanet PS Vita has certainly been a familiar one, but most definitely not a dull one. Like Nintendo’s own Mario, Sackboy continues to impress and provide fun, child-like, joy-filled experiences time and time again, using a tried-and-true set of mechanics that, while simple in execution, are simply… fun.
Also, dang the in-game music is catchy.
LittleBigPlanet PS Vita launches this September exclusively on the PlayStation Vita. Be sure to tune back in then for our full review.
Additional Screenshot Gallery Coming Soon…