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Review | Little Big Planet

By Graham Jones

The current generation of home consoles has provided us with games which are more cinematic, more beautiful and on a far grander scale than anything we’ve experienced before. With the exception of Nintendo’s efforts, however, one major thing that has been lacking thus far is originality. New ways to play which gamers have never imagined, let alone experienced, have been somewhat lacking, particularly on Sony’s console. That has now changed as Media Molecule have released one of the most original, unique and quite frankly wondrous titles of the year, if not the decade. Welcome to Little Big Planet.

If you haven’t played Little Big Planet it can be quite difficult to grasp just what exactly it is. Throughout the game’s development cycle I’ve been simultaneously excited by the hype, but also left feeling a little hollow, because I didn’t quite understand what I was excited about. On the surface this is a traditional 2D side-scrolling platform game. The reason this particular side scrolling platform game has gathered so much attention is because below that surface is an incredibly powerful level editing tool, which allows players to create just about anything they can imagine and then play it. And then share it. And then play it with others.

To begin with, however, there is the ready built game. You control a fully customisable sackboy (or girl) who must run, jump and swing their way from left to right in a similar fashion to the platform games we’ve known and loved since the 1980s. The worlds you visit are colourful and varied. From the vibrant African Savannah, awash with wildlife, to the frozen wastelands of the Arctic Tundra, all are beautifully presented and contain a great balance between tricky platforming and ingenious puzzles. The game is highly stylised, possessing the appearance of a children’s story book. It’s a style which never really leads to your breath being taken away, but it all looks fantastic and works incredibly well. There’s a good eight to ten hours or so of gameplay to be had just to reach the end of the main game, and replay value is very high, as you will want to revisit every single area in order to hunt out more collectables and stickers which can then be used when building your own levels, or just to customise those areas you’ve already visited.

Once you’ve had a play with the levels Media Molecule has created for you, it’s time to dive into the level editing tool for yourself. It should be noted that all of the levels and characters included in the main game have been created using the same tools at your disposal, so the level of scope and power at your fingertips can be quite daunting at first. To combat this there are a huge number of tutorial videos relating to just about every aspect of the creative process, which are very user-friendly and also quite enjoyable, due in no small part to their being narrated by Stephen Fry, whose warm and gentle tones add yet another layer of charm to the package – as well as a large spoonful of humour. Within a couple of hours you’ll find yourself quite happily building simple stages, and then you’ll begin to lose days and weeks refining them and concocting more devious tricks to challenge other players; and that is the next weapon of delight Little Big Planet’s arsenal.

When you’re satisfied that your creation is finished it can be published online for the world to enjoy and admire. The LBP community will then let you know how wonderful your level is or, more likely, they will let you know just what is wrong with it. Cue yet more days lost refining your work. Upon receiving your first positive comments, however, and once other players begin marking your design as a favourite, you’ll find a wonderfully warm and fuzzy feeling of satisfaction that is hard to imagine in any other video game. Feel free to search for the creations of ‘G-VideoDie’ and add / detract from any good feelings I’ve received thus far.

Should you not have been blessed with much imagination or creative abilities then you can find masses of inspiration by visiting content posted by other players. At the time of writing, the game has been available for around three weeks and the huge variety and high quality of levels available is astounding. From clever spoofs of other games such as Metal Gear Solid  and Ico,  to old-school-style side-scrolling shoot ‘em ups a la Gradius,  and even a fully functional calculator level that has to be seen to be believed, this really is the game that just keeps on giving.

Along with the hugely impressive editing tools, the other star of the show is the phenomenally well-built physics engine that keeps all of your creations in check, makes stone and metal satisfyingly solid and sponge soft and bouncy. Explosions within your worlds can be a chain reaction of pure carnage with yet more feelings of total contentment. This in turn, however, leads to the one downside to the game: control. Sackboy’s physics are almost too good, and as a result lose much of the subtleness and tight feeling of control we’ve become accustomed to over the years of playing through Super Mario Bros and all that followed. It’s by no means a deal-breaker, but can lead to some frustrating moments when precise jumping is required to avoid a fiery, instant death.

Control issues aside, however, this is a flawless package. It’s a game that offers players more depth and alternative ways to play than any so-called ‘sandbox’ title. In many ways, it truly does manage to go beyond the very description of a game. Little Big Planet is a creative tool, a community and a canvas of unlimited opportunity. But it’s also a game that has the potential to never end.

In any normal year, Media Molecule would be already writing their Game of the Year acceptance speech. 2008 has given us so many great moments that perhaps that would be somewhat premature. In the years to come, however, out of all the titles I’ve loved in the last twelve months, it’s Little Big Planet that will have changed the way people think about games, and in that respect it beats anything Rockstar or Bethesda have ever produced.

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