When you boot up LittleBigPlanet 2 for the very first time, the game asks if you’d like to import your sackperson and Pod from the original – assuming you have the relevant data. It might seem like an obvious feature, considering the community aspect involved, but it’s a simple, effective way to welcome you home. Having not played the former entry in months I’d forgotten about my own sackboy, with his broken TV helmet, Cyclops’ eye, busted up grill and pancho. I’d also forgotten about the huge sticker my friend had pasted of himself all over my Pod. Within those few minutes I was hooked again. I felt like I had never left, and, I was drawn back in by the whimsical allure of LittleBigPlanet.
It’s been a little over two years since Media Molecule released the original and a lot has happened between now and then – namely over two million user created ‘levels’ and tons of DLC. During that time span it’s become clear that the community desired the ability to create all-new games, as evidenced by the insane workarounds and ingenuity seen in many community levels; creators wanted the tools to work outside of the platform genre. Thus, the new mantra of LittleBigPlanet 2 was born: ‘A platform for games’, rather than a platform game. Depending on what sort of fan you are, this will end up being the best aspect of the title, or the worst.
The all-new campaign has a heavier focus on storytelling and narrative when compared to the previous game. Each area in Craftworld – the world of LittleBigPlanet – has its own creator and is in sore need of your help. The nasty Negativitron has besieged the land, generally running amok and dispersing his minions, the Meanies, all over to spread the negativity. Being the positive soul you are, and by the quizzical requests of the eccentric Larry Da Vinci, it’s up to you and ‘The Alliance’ to restore the dreamscape to its natural order.
Much like LittleBigPlanet before it, each area of the campaign is broken up into a series of story stages and non-essential challenge levels. In fact, the very beginning of the game plays out a lot like the original, as it evokes a bit of that game’s more elaborate level design. On the other hand, early challenge levels begin to show the wider breadth of game types LittleBigPlanet 2 boasts, including top-down racers, scrolling shooters and so on. The new challenges are a great way of showing off what the engine is now capable of, without taking away from the central platforming experience. Or, at least, they were. As the campaign plays itself out more and more, story stages increasingly become built around these alternate play types. And while it’s difficult to deny that playing R-Type in LittleBigPlanet 2 isn’t cool, it’s also very easy to say that that isn’t what I want out of the stock game from Media Molecule. In actuality, none of the levels quite live up to the dizzying, maniacal designs found in the latter portion of LittleBigPlanet 1.
The other issue with the campaign is the overwhelming amount of variety involved. Now we all want variety in our games, as we don’t want to do the same thing over and over again, but when we’re introduced to a new gadget or gameplay style we like, we want some time to play with it. The best example would be LittleBigPlanet 2’s Cakeinator, a helmet that shoots cakes. The one stage it appears is arguably the most fun you’ll have in the entire campaign, as the level is perfectly designed to exploit the many uses of the device; at one point you’ll use it to blast away frosted enemies, and then to platform, using the delicious projectiles to reach previously unattainable places. The main point is, Media Molecule gives you a taste of dozens of fun little gameplay quirks without offering up a full meal. Many levels feel like a wink to aspiring creators, showing them what can be done and encouraging them to run with it, leaving those of us who are just players feeling a little cold.
As evidenced already from the LittleBigPlanet 2 beta, the sky is the limit for both new and veteran creators. Major additions include programmable NPCs, named Sackbots, the ability to create custom control schemes, link levels together and more high-end logic tools. The creative suite itself has remained mostly unchanged, which is fine because it’s generally easy to use and navigate once you’ve gotten your bearings. The problem is despite the relative ease of use, the time it takes to get that bearing is rather long, and it probably should’ve been made a whole lot more fun the second time around.
Considering the playful nature of LittleBigPlanet it’s astonishing that the creator’s tutorials are still presented in a static list. When you first enter My Moon – the creative side of the game – you’re greeted with a list of fifty plus tutorials, and it’s frankly daunting. Teaching someone how to use the editor – and build levels with it – is obviously an involved process and requires a lot of instruction, but there has to be a more enjoyable way to convey all that information. Whether it be simple stages where different create tools need to be used to either solve puzzles or complete objectives, or areas like the campaign that group tools of a similar subject, there needs to be something more than a series of videos and a single object to test on. Returning narrator Stephen Fry does his best to engage you while you learn but it does little to hide the tedium involved. And while on that subject, the tutorials have no chapters or rewind/fast-forward features, so if you fall behind prepare to watch again, from the beginning.
The single most impressive aspect of the title is actually the improved community side of the game. Navigating your friends and recently played levels is a breeze and makes the community tools that shipped with the original look rudimentary at best. One of the problems back then was finding an efficient way to find and sort community levels – remember there are over two million – but with the improved tag system and robust search features it’s much more likely you’ll be able to find the stage you’re looking for. But, what really elevates the community side of LittleBigPlanet 2 is all the added personality that Media Molecule has injected in it. Simple things such as liking or disliking a stage take on a new feeling when the icons associated are of your own happy or sad sackperson, and the myriad of new in-game achievements – called Pins – keep you informed of what your peers have been up to.
There’s no denying that Media Molecule has cobbled together another great game with LittleBigPlanet 2. The game is practically bursting at the seams with wild, illogical ideas and a feeling of whimsy and creativity that no other modern franchise comes close to matching. There’s also no doubt in my mind that the game will be supported with great DLC and amazing user generated content, but as a player who fell in love with the original’s level design, as well as it’s infectious personality, this sequel never quite met my admittedly lofty expectations. Still, depending on what you’re personally expecting in a return to LittleBigPlanet, you can be sure you’ll be doing a good portion of it grinning from ear to ear.