At this year's E3, LittleBigPlanet 3 was my pick of the show. It was a hard choice, because there was so much good stuff on display, but in the end I went with the title that reminded me best of what gaming's all about.
And that's fun. The kind of fun that helps you forget that you're tired, stressed out, and slightly fed up, and takes you to a different place. That happened when I stepped up to the LittleBigPlanet 3 demo at the show and engaged in a four-multiplayer bout of platforming. Even though I didn't know any of the other players, we were soon talking and laughing as we tried to figure out how to use our character's skills co-operatively to negotiate the game's puzzles. It was an ice-breaker, a blast and a much-needed break rolled into one, and we all emerged from our session energized and visibly cheerier. Good old infectious gaming fun: it's hard to beat.
The big change-up for the LBP series this time around is the introduction of three new characters, and these were at the core of the entertainment I outlined above. Each new character has its own specialty: Swoop is a bird-like creature that can pick up objects and characters; Toggle can change its size from big to small; Oddsock vaguely resembles a dog, and can climb up walls. Of course Sackboy still plays the starring role, and he's the same as he ever was. Well, almost.
Developer Sumo Digital has designed the game around the quartet's special abilities, ensuring that one character cannot progress without the help of another. Perhaps you might need Toggle to shrink so it can fit through a small gap and pull a switch. Or maybe Oddsock has to take point and climb up a series of walls to drop down a rope so the others can join him. These co-op puzzles help add depth to the platforming action, and keep the interest up - especially when you hit an area with puzzles whose solutions aren't immediately obvious.
I checked out the most recent build of LBP 3 last week, but instead of playing a multiplayer game like I did at E3, this demo was a single-player experience only. As soon as I started playing, I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite things about this newest LBP, and that's its new jumping mechanics. Prior entries in the series have been criticized by some for their lightweight, rather wafty and imprecise jump physics. LBP 3 addresses those complaints with leaps that feel tight and predictable. There's still just a whiff of floatiness to evoke that classic LBP feel, but not so much that characters don't feel eminently controllable. LBP the third really does play like a classic platformer now.
Single-player mode involves controlling two characters, but obviously not at the same time. Progress is made by switching between the two to navigate hazards. I played as Toggle and Oddsock, an interesting duo who provided several moments of joy. I jumped into some water as Big Toggle and sunk to the bottom. Changing to Little Toggle resulted in the bijou version of the character bobbing up to the surface like a cork. I then discovered that the deeper Big Toggle is, the more speed Little Toggle builds up as it rises to the surface, and the higher it pops out of the water. Ah-ha! High enough to get over that pesky jump I was trying to navigate.
In another part of the level, I had to jump on a spring as Big Toggle to compress it, then switch to Little Toggle to send it flying through the air. As I delved deeper into the demo, these weight and dimension puzzles began to get more complex. I loved it: classic, dynamic, puzzle-platforming.
Complementing the action are the kind of rich, textured backdrops LBP is renown for - only this time around they look even more resplendent thanks to LBP's graphics stepping up from 720p to 1080p on PS4. From card and paper to hessian and felt, LittleBigPlanet 3's vistas and landscapes comprise a stunning array of textures and colors in pin-sharp detail, making this perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing PS4 game yet.
I didn't get the chance to spend any time with the creation side of the game, but the developer has said that LBP 3 will add a suite of new tools to make content creation easier, and level designs potentially more varied and sophisticated than before. Whether or not LBP 3 will deliver that remains to be seen, but so far its gameplay is looking great.
The new characters work very well, and my overall feeling walking away from the demo is that the LBP series is evolving nicely, but without losing sight of its roots. I'm really looking foward to playing the finished product in November to see if it's as good as it promises to be.