Sometimes you see a game in the months preceding its launch, and it looks like an unstoppable juggernaut. Each encounter with it leaves you feeling more positive than the last, and you end up waxing lyrical about its virtues. Perhaps even thinking it could be one of the games of the year, because after all, what could possibly go wrong with it? That's what happened with me and DriveClub a month or so ago.
Following its launch debacle and extended technical issues, the game simply didn't live up to its potential. To be honest, after that, I started having some doubts about LittleBigPlanet 3 too. I nominated it as my game of the show at this year's E3, and a second encounter a few months later further cemented my position that the game was looking every inch the winner. But could this too be deep-sixed by technical issues?
Fortunately, after playing the game extensively, I think my blushes have been spared - because this third saunter out for the rather jolly LittleBigPlanet series is absolutely spiffing, old bean.
This time, the further adventures of Sackboy haven't been penned by LBP originators Media Molecule, but are instead the product of Sumo Digital, the development team that recently created one of my favorite games of the year so far - Forza Horizon 2. And what they did for Turn 10's franchise, it seems they have also been able to do for Media Molecule's progeny.
Indeed, I'd even go so far to say that this is perhaps the best LittleBigPlanet yet. Sure, it doesn't quite have some of the signature, natural humor and those deft little touches of the first two - the narrative and dialog do occasionally feel like they're trying a little too hard - but in terms of the gameplay, LBP 3 knocks it out of the proverbial ballpark. Or hits it for six, as seems more appropriate considering the game's continually English bent.
First up - and it's a hallelujah for those who didn't like LBP's vague jumping mechanics of yore - Sackboy's leaping abilities have been given a major overhaul for his third outing. There's still a hint of float in the way that he jumps (which helps avoid making his handling feel a little too unfamiliar), but this time around he is far more adept and controllable. This has enabled the designers to create more pinpoint-accurate jumps and tighter areas to maneuver through. The end result is a platformer that feels far more direct and visceral than prior LBP games, and indeed now enables it to stand on its own as a truly great-feeling game.
The action begins - at least it will if you're an LBP veteran - with downloading your old DLC from prior versions of the game to this new one. Yep, in an absolutely brilliant turn-up for the books, you can sign into your PSN account, and download everything you've previously bought in earlier LittleBigPlanet games. I was absolutely delighted with this prospect, and within minutes had re-created my favorite Sackboy look. The same goes for anything you might have either lovingly crafted or cobbled together, depending on your level of skill, in prior LBP creation modes. Again, an excellent move on the part of Sony - bringing some 9 million old levels to the game.
Once I'd looked through all my old stuff - much of which I'd forgotten about - it was straight into the platforming, and I immediately felt well at home. This LittleBigPlanet is the first to be seen in 1080p, and it looks utterly enchanting. Textures are richer, colors are subtler, the detailing is superb, and the end result has a sometimes-photographic quality that looks quite astonishing. This is a lovely-looking game, and the more time you spend scrutinizing it, the more you can appreciate the work and effort - and indeed imagination - that has been put into crafting this game.
Fortunately, the visuals aren't the only thing that feels like they've had a lot of time spent on them. LittleBigPlanet's gameplay is deeper, more sophisticated and far more interesting than earlier versions of the game. And this is where the three twists come in. As you may or may not know, LBP's cast has been expanded with a trio of new characters - Oddsock, Swoop and Toggle. Each has his, her or its own special abilities: Oddsock can bounce and jump off walls, Toggle can alternately switch between being big and small, and Swoop can fly and carry things. Add in Sackboy and his new ability to carry useful new Power-Ups such as a "Pumpinator" that can suck and blow air to move lightweight things about, and you have a really interesting mixture of abilities.
The characters are all introduced during a long series of levels where you slowly, but surely unlock the gang so they can take on Newton, the new threat who's tearing up the town and doing his very best to rain on the LittleBigPlanet parade. Doing so is quite the challenge - especially since developers Sumo Digital have combined the new characters' abilities with the many new game mechanics to create a dizzying array of platforming puzzles and brainteasers. This LittleBigPlanet requires an equal mixture of thinking and sharp reflexes to figure out exactly how to reach the end of the level using the resources available to you. Perhaps you might need the help of Toggle to alternately use his diminutive and expanded sizes to be able to negotiate an certain part of a level. Or even his heft and lack thereof in a puzzle involving weight. Oddsock can easily best walls impassable to Sackboy, while Swoop can pick up a character and carry them to safety - assuming things like flamethrowers don't burn him to a crisp.
LBP 3's main levels are often non-linear, and comprise additional quests and challenges in the form of one-off sub-levels. This helps give the game an open feel, and begs further exploration, because once you've finished a level, there are probably areas that were inaccessible to the character you used to explore the first time around, which might be reachable with a different one.
The game's creative platform mechanics are introduced in a smart way so that you can easily get the hang on them before they're applied in more fiendish ways to kill you. As you progress, the different mechanics are cumulatively used, so you end up facing several at once - perhaps grabbing something, bouncing into the screen, up through a portal, which then warps you back out of the screen and drops you onto yet another jump platform which you can then use to make it to safety. If that sounds complicated, then I'm successfully explaining what happens on LittleBigPlanet's sometimes quite bonkers later levels.
This really is a fun platformer to play, and it packs all sorts of creative things, like weird gravity effects, rails to hang from and slide down, portals that warp you around the screen, and one of the most fun things I've used in a platform game for ages - the Blink Ball. I'm not telling you what that is, but once you start playing with it, you'll know exactly why I like it so much.
The creator mode is where LBP 3's most fervent users will be spending their time, and they'll be delighted to find there's a huge amount of potential to create all manner of levels. Things start with a comprehensive tutorial mode that helps teach you the basics. It's very well executed, which is a good thing, because LBP 3 packs a wealth of new design options that enable building experts to unleash highly sophisticated levels - that don't necessarily have to play like platform games.
Something new this time around is the ability to create Power Ups – useful items that Sackboy can carry that have specific effects. There's a large amount of room for creativity here, and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what LBP creators come up with. Also, in the same way that game levels are connected together and feature sub-levels, LBP lets players do the same thing with their own creations. That essentially lets players create their own unique games – or "worlds" as Sony likes to call them. What's interesting is that worlds now have "deep layer" gameplay. This is essentially planar depth, which enables creators to set points where the player can move "in" and "out" of the screen – either by running, teleporting, or perhaps even racing on the back of something completely bonkers.
Up to 16 planes can be active at any given time, which can give rise to some quite sophisticated levels. I've already seen this feature being used to create levels that basically look and play like isometric and overhead-viewed minigames – such as one inspired by Hudson's Bomberman.
Helping add more richness and texture to the proceedings is a Weather Tool that… well, you can guess what it does. However, in typical LittleBigPlanet fashion, you can make it rain or shine in some pretty crazy ways. Perhaps you fancy stars pouring from the heavens, or petals, or even fish and frogs, if you want to be all Armageddon, end-of-the-world-like.
The integration of creation into the game proper is most strongly seen in the Popit Power Up puzzle levels, which basically teach you how to use your Popit cursor to move and manipulate objects while playing. For example, moving objects around to create a ramp for your character so s/he/it can negotiate an obstacle, or even block off an enemy character. This is definitely a really compelling aspect to the game, essentially helping players get used to manipulating objects with the Popit Cursor, and making the transition from consumer to creator an easier one.
What this all means for most players is that it's easier to make quite sophisticated levels. And if you don't have the time or inclination to do so, you're going to have some pretty complex user-generated levels to play through.
Finally, a quick note about LBP 3's multiplayer. Levels can be tackled solo, or with friends and/or strangers. So far, I've had a lot of fun here, and some levels are really quite tricky to figure out. Once you know them, it's fun going back in and helping those who mightn't know what to do - even when presented with a Sackboy jumping up and down on the spot where lies the answer. But this is what multiplayer is all about, and I must say that LBP really nails it this time around. I've also put a big chunk of time into local co-op, and that too is excellent stuff.
It's been a long time since I've played a platform-puzzler as rich and interesting as LittleBigPlanet 3. It's easily the best game of its type on PS4, and is more than good enough to stand alone as a truly great platform game on its own merits. It has a thoroughly engaging, rock solid single-player mode, offers plenty of multiplayer laughs and hijinks, and packs a creator mode that offers the potential for diligent fans to put together levels that are just as interesting and sophisticated than the ones in single-player mode.
If that sounds like a great buy to you, I think you're very right indeed. Now if you don't mind, I have a Pod to decorate.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Absolutely stunning. Presented in full 1080p, LBP 3 visually elevates the series, and is a joy to behold.
- Sound: LBP's penchant for an eclectic mix of strange tunes, bizarre voice acting and crazy sound effects continues here.
- Interface: The creation mode is still complex, but Sumo Digital has done a great job of adding tutorials to help ease you into building your own stuff.
- Lasting appeal: The creator mode is a time sink of huge proportions. And if you're not much of a designer, there'll be hundreds of thousands of new levels to play.
A tricky and challenging single-player game, joyously mad multiplayer action, and an incredibly in-depth creator mode combine to deliver what is without doubt, the best LittleBigPlanet game yet. Wonderful stuff.
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