Developer: Tarsier Studios and Double Eleven / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment / Played On: PlayStation Vita / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Everyone [Mild Cartoon Violence]
LittleBigPlanet is a series well-known for its quirky charm and child-like sense of style, but even more so for its wild creativity and openness in giving players the tools to create endless playable content for themselves and others. After two games on the PlayStation 3 and one on the PlayStation Portable, it’s finally time for the long-awaited LittleBigPlanet PS Vita to stand in the spotlight.
And thanks to a fun story, fresh mechanics and features, and overall beautiful visual design, its time in the spotlight is spent shining, as it’s one of the best games on Sony’s handheld, and definitely not something a Sackboy fan should pass up.
As with past games in the series, LittleBigPlanet PS Vita has no attachment narratively to any of the former games. Its story is self-contained and linear, but is so far one of the biggest standouts in the franchise’s short history, due to its support of fully-voice acted characters (a true first for the series) and the introduction of a refreshing new world.
You play as Sackboy (or Sackgirl, if you so please) in a universe filled with other Sackfolk and other creatures. The story has you on the distant planet of Carnivalia, a world themed after (you guessed it) a carnival. The fellow who runs the place, The Puppeteer, has left behind his days of performing entertaining puppet shows and has randomly turned evil, unleashing hordes of baddies onto the planet and consuming its life source: joy. At the request of the local, egotistical circus ring leader, you’re sent off to find the now evil Puppeteer and heroically shut down his operation before the planet’s joy is completely consumed by joyless bad guys.
Like the stories told in past LittleBigPlanet games, this one is charming and cute, but at the same time abundantly more comical than past games have even attempted. There are more than enough of laugh-out-loud dialogue moments in the game to leave you with a smile, though it’s the characters you meet that really make an impression. From a gentle forest-dwelling girl to a danger-loving, beard-sporting old coot of an inventor, to a mustache-donning muscle man of low wit, this is personally my favorite cast of characters in any LBP game to date.
It’s not the longest story that the series has boasted (it’s around 3-5 hours for quick completion), as it’s more quality over quantity.
LittleBigPlanet Vita plays just like the past games, in that it’s still all about platforming, collecting prize bubbles, completing puzzles, and finishing levels in record time with high scores. You still have three layers in which to traverse as Sackboy, those being the background, mid-ground, and foreground, and they play a factor into how puzzles are solved.
You’ll spend your time with LittleBigPlanet hopping from platform to platform, traversing levels, avoiding traps like spike plates, fire pits, and an assortment of enemies, while also collecting hidden prizes like costumes, stickers and decorations for your ship and created levels. It’s still as fun as it’s always been, and is yet another prime example of not fixing what’s not broken.
If you’re at all familiar with how LittleBigPlanet is controlled, you’ll feel right at home on the PlayStation Vita, as controls are near-identical to the platformer’s PS3 counterparts. Where the game does innovate, however, is in its brilliant use of the Vita’s new input hardware – namely the touchscreen and rear touchpad.
Most prominently, you’ll use the touchscreen to push, drag, or spin objects that are highlighted in blue and laced with white stitches. Though your finger oftentimes gets in the way of controlling your Sackboy, it’s still very intuitive and smooth — and feels quite natural, as opposed to awkward, frustrating and shoehorned in simply because the hardware supports it. The touchpad is used almost oppositely, allowing you to push objects from the background into the foreground by tapping from behind the game world, where they can then be manipulated further to solve the game’s many puzzles.
The ability to reach into the world and manipulate objects using either interface is extremely cool and, best of all, feels great.
While all levels have their charm, I found myself extracting the most fun and joy from the levels that employ items like the grappling hook. With physics as spot on as the engine used for LBP games, swinging around levels is a bout of plain and simple fun. Throw in traps and you’re in for a laughable, pit-fall filled afternoon.
Also, every level (campaign or custom) is playable in co-op. In fact, there exist specific areas that are only accessible with two players or more, with co-op focused puzzles usually to follow. Some online matches of co-op were slow and choppy, while others were issue-free. In those cases it’s a total blast, especially when it becomes crazily overcrowded to the point of people pushing each other into traps.
Hint: If you’re the one falling off a cliff, grapple onto your buddy and yank him down with you for a comical comeback. Don’t worry, you’ll both respawn.
It wouldn’t be a LittleBigPlanet review without mentioning the game’s built-in level creator, because LittleBigPlanet wouldn’t be as special as it is without it. LBP has become defined almost entirely by the creative community that backs it, and it’s all possible because of the incredible tools included in each game for creating custom levels – and thankfully, the Vita’s LBP is no exception.
Carrying over every tool from LittleBigPlanet 2, the level designer in this game is just as versatile, complex, and impressive as ever – if not more so. You can still make just about anything your mind can design, but you can now control much of it with the touchscreen. Feel free to scroll up and down through menus with the flick of your finger. Move objects around screen by dragging. Heck, you can draw a custom item with your finger instead of using the analog stick.
With hundreds upon hundreds of items available, and tons of players making custom levels and providing endless, free DLC for you consistently, you can rest assured you won’t be short of content with this game – so long as the community sticks around.
LittleBigPlanet PS Vita is a great looking game. From its distinct environments populated with characters, to its stunning animations and emphatic use of color and art design, this is a downright beautiful Vita game. If held side-by-side with a PlayStation 3 LBP, I’d likely hesitate in attempting to tell the difference. And with as much raw horsepower as the Vita boasts, it’s encouraging that another first-party title aside from Uncharted: Golden Abyss is taking advantage of Sony’s top-of-the-line hardware.
Even the voice acting, sound design, and music is spot on. With a fully voiced cast of characters (though they still speak gibberish and use speech bubbles from time-to-time) and a poppy, quirky soundtrack to cover it all, nearly every moment of the game is played with a sense of childish joy at the forefront.
However, I did really miss that old catchy LittleBigPlanet theme song this time around.
LittleBigPlanet PS Vita isn’t only one of the best LittleBigPlanet games ever, it’s one of the best games to pick up for your Vita. It’s got creativity, fun, and challenge – entertainment cornerstones that most people would argue make up a great video game.
If you enjoy LittleBigPlanet, the Vita entry is easily worth your money, not any score I could give it. So just buy it.