It’s hard to think of a console game that deserves a sequel more than LittleBigPlanet, still harder to think of a console game that needs a sequel less. This, after all, is the nearest thing the PlayStation 3 has to Fallout’s Garden of Eden Creation Kit, a level editing toolset vast enough to swallow (and providing those lawyers turn a blind eye, regurgitate) the cream of the 1990s, whose angular cardboard boughs still put forth joyous, beaded-cushion fruit two years down the line.
Regular infusions of downloadable content – some throwaway (God of War Sackboy skins), some less so (sensors which alter the water and lighting levels) – have kept LittleBigPlanet’s out-of-the-box onslaught of gizmos and trinkets fizzing, and players have repaid Media Molecule’s dedication amply, with over three million user levels in circulation as of August 2010. Taking all this back to the drawing board is in keeping with commercial practice, but feels a little perverse.
When the follow-up was announced many feared the result would be a split community, a Windows XP/Vista style break between neophytes and diehards. It’s something of a relief, then, to discover that the best thing about LittleBigPlanet 2 isn’t what it adds to LBP, but what it retains: namely, each and every piece of content crafted by players of the original, be it a rocket-powered phallus or a dust-blown homage to Pitfall, imported from your PS3 hard drive at launch or snaffled from Sony’s servers.
So here we go again – tumbling down a rabbit’s hole walled with incinerators and windmills, jump pads and hidden cameras, belly-dancing zombies, founts of jazzy purple gloop and battalions of singing pencil erasers. Here we go again, plotting a course between gaming formulae past and present, between the cosy charms of the side-scrolling platformer and the World of Tomorrow, with its fancy-dan online community functions and lust for customisation.
And here we go again with the highwire act of scoring this mass of twisting threads in a pre-release vacuum. So much of LittleBigPlanet 2′s worth depends not on what’s on the disc, but on what you, Mr and Mrs Reader, choose to make of what’s on the disc. That’s a problem if your idea of an “open-ended experience” is changing your character’s trousers, but even more of a problem if you’re Me, writing this article, attempting to express something of how each proximity-triggered chipset riff or noxious wedge of cheese will hold up once veteran Creators take the plunge.
It’s tempting to tip-toe around specifics, fearful that any nits you might pick out of the dreamily done-up, artsy-crafty firmament are, in fact, evidence only of your own hack-handedness as a builder of worlds, to be rebuffed by more skilled design deities in the weeks and months to come. I can hear the quibbles already. “The writer clearly hasn’t realised that holding the action button when you place an object takes you straight to the Tweak menu”. “I can’t believe you haven’t talked about dark matter.” And most damningly of all: “You’re complaining about the jump physics? Just change the gravity, noob.”
I’m not going to complain about the jump physics, as it happens – though you might if you come to the story mode expecting Sackboy, LBP’s impish frontman, to run and jump as crisply and scientifically as Nintendo’s plumber. Inertia is as mushily implemented as before, slip-sliding the little chap to his doom if you don’t keep a firm thumb on things. Sackboy still gets stuck on one of the three movement planes on occasion, and has the same old knack of squeezing traction out of near-vertical surfaces and, seemingly, thin air.
But then, asking LBP to compete with Mario on his own, pixel-precise terms is a bit disingenuous. The side-on platform genre is no more than a launch pad here, in truth, a convenient introductory mechanical “language”. The point, if you’ll forgive further torturing of the metaphor, isn’t so much to speak elegantly in and of that language – though between trips down gigantic foam gullets and over burning cotton foliage, along wrought iron ceiling rails and through heaps of pigmented polystyrene, Media Molecule has done a reasonable job – as to broach, via this familiar vernacular, some decidedly less familiar ideas. Like how to make trapdoors open in sequence, or why on Earth you’d want to transform a cupcake into a weapon of mass destruction.