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LittleBigPlanet

Sack boys and girls really only have one thing on their minds; goofing off. Despite this desire they’re still a selfless race of characters wanting nothing more than to share their shenanigans and hijinks found on LittleBigPlanet. The sack people are an unflappable bunch and when you arrive they’ll give you carte blanche over their world, what’s theirs is yours. What you do on LittleBigPlanet is up to you, the planet has numerous sights to see from the start and new distractions are seemingly erected over night. If you aren’t content with the attractions you find, become the architect and shape the planet for your own desires. Whatever you decide to do on your visit, the sack people will always be happy to see you and perhaps jokingly bump you off a cliff.

Once landing on LittleBigPlanet you and sackboy are immediately surrounded by darkness with a lone spotlight introducing the star of your adventure. As the world around you comes into focus you’ll see that LittleBigPlanet is a very striking looking place to visit. The sack people are well designed and are a perfect match to the aesthetic that Media Molecule has created. The environments are crisply rendered and evoke a surreal child like dream world. Everything from the characters you encounter, the locations you visit and the narrator have an extremely playful charm.

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The music also helps cement the style and tone of LittleBigPlanet. The music is comprised of various licensed tracks that go hand in hand with the pieced together world that you’ll explore. All of the artists have a whimsical sound that melds seamlessly into LittleBigPlanet’s dreamscape. Music ranges from ambient to upbeat instrumentals to even tracks with lyrics, but they all fit in their own unique way. The sound effects work in harmony with the music and the little bit of voice work found in the game by the narrator is extremely polished as he eases you into your sometimes bizarre surroundings.

The narrator will help familiarize you with how to get around and soon you’ll be wreaking havoc across the introduction level, which in addition to getting you acclimated introduces you to the Popit. The Popit is a built in menu that can be accessed by pressing the square button at any time, it allows you numerous base functions including placing stickers, text chat and customizing your sack boy or girl. You’re going to want to look your best as the new kid on the block and as you find more outfits you’ll be able create a unique look for your sack person. From the start LittleBigPlanet emphasizes that the world is about interaction, not only with your surroundings but with the other sack people.

Although they are a fun loving bunch the sack people aren’t completely care free and have a range of emotions mirroring our own. At any point online or alone you can show how you’re feeling with a few presses of the directional pad. The expressions will read clear but if you want to ham it up some more feel free to tilt the SIXAXIS to really wear your heart on your sleeve. In addition the L2 and R2 triggers individually control your left and right arms respectively, allowing you to mix emotions and body movements to create dances, wave to friends or even smack the grin off the sackboy standing next to you.

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When you’re done learning the ins and outs of the sack life style you’ll be greeted with the first area and its creator, the King. As you make your way through LittleBigPlanet you’ll encounter each of the seven creators and help them with the current dilemma that has beseeched them. Progressing through the story of LittleBigPlanet works much in the same manner as any other old school platformer, you’ve got a world map and as you complete certain levels and objectives new locations will open to explore.

To pass a story level in LittleBigPlanet all you have to do is get from point A to point B, there’s a beginning and an end just like a trip down 16-bit memory lane. What separates your sack persons’ journey from travels of old is their ability to move between different planes and interact with their surroundings. Although the stages of LittleBigPlanet are two dimensional, they are separated into three distinct layers of two dimensionality. At any point you can hit up or down on the analogue stick and your sack person will jump forward or backwards changing the plane they are currently interacting with. This opens up a world of possibilities allowing multiple paths or creating some unique platforming elements between different planes. Unfortunately it also creates one of the issues found in LittleBigPlanet, if your sack person is approaching certain obstacles in one plane they’ll automatically switch planes forward which will sometimes lead to unexpected deaths. It also can confuse the player in situations where there is a lot of scenery or activity on screen, and you aren’t sure what plane you are currently occupying. Beyond the planar interactions, jumping in LittleBigPlanet feels a bit strange. Some surfaces and obstacles you find yourself on will not only be difficult to land on but also to jump from.

The other feature that separates sackboy from older Mario and similar titles is the emphasis on puzzle solving. LittleBigPlanet is littered with puzzles ranging from the simple dragging a block to reach a ledge to holding onto NPC’s legs and catapulting them to reach insanely hard to reach areas. Many of the puzzles can be solved as a lonely sack person but to experience everything the planet has to offer you’ll have to either bring a friend or make some new ones. You’ll work hand in hand with other sack people to destroy barriers and lower bridges, and although it may sound like work the puzzles are well designed and fun to tackle.

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If no other sack people dwell in your immediate surrounding there’s no cause for alarm, you can choose to play online at any time. Once online you’ll be able to play whatever level you like and other sack people will be able to come and go as they please. Despite the enjoyment that can be found in the excellent stock levels, playing with others is where LittleBigPlanet really comes to life. Up to four sack people can frolic around a level, pulling on each other, makings faces and running around. This is what the planet is all about, goofing off, cooperating, or just causing mayhem with others. The online runs fairly well but will succumb to lag occasionally, which can hamper some platforming.

Once you’ve run enough of a muck and exhausted the story challenges there is still a very large portion of LittleBigPlanet left uncharted. As your sack person completes games on and offline you’ll find objects and various items that will flesh out the inventory for the games’ level creator. You can start with a blank slate or work from a pre existing template based on some of the story levels. The beautiful thing about this part of LittleBigPlanet is that whatever you’ve experienced in the story levels you can replicate yourself. Each item type and tool given to you has a corresponding tutorial to ease you into the creative process. In addition to showing you the ropes, you’re given an almost game like challenge to use the said tool or item. The tutorials are for the most part quite fun but in an unfortunate move unable to be skipped. To use a specific item or tool the corresponding tutorial must be completed, while most are fun and quite short some of the earlier tools seem self explanatory and could have been figured out through practical use.

Building your own world with your sack person can be a really soothing experience but LittleBigPlanet will not build itself. The tutorials are good and most of the tools are very intuitive but your own desire and commitment will still show through in the stages you create. After you’ve learned the tools and how to navigate the creator you’ll have to start thinking like a designer and working within the parameters of the sack people’s world. Physics play an important role in your adventure through LittleBigPlanet and these same laws will apply to your creations.

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Once you’re finished you can publish your creation for the legions of sack people to consume. People will not only be able to play it but plaster their stickers over it, leave comments and rate your masterpiece. In exchange, you’ll be able to do the same to theirs and this is where everyone in the sack community will decide the future of LittleBigPlanet. It’s a living breathing place that is waiting to be molded into the experiences that people want to see and play with. If sack people tire of jumping and swinging perhaps someone will publish a stage that is completely puzzle based, or even a shooter. Although LittleBigPlanet is a world founded in platforming it will most certainly be a home to many other types of play styles.

LittleBigPlanet is much more than simply a game or even a tool, it’s an experience. The sack people are an infectiously charming bunch and as soon as you’ve settled in you’ll want to stay for the foreseeable future. Like any other place LittleBigPlanet has its faults, jumping and plane shifting will take some getting used to and occasionally frustrate but they’re small blemishes on an otherwise Utopian world. After all, even the sack people know perfection is boring.

10 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @_seankelley.

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