During this console generation, Sony has become obsessed with creativity, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. The trend began with the 2008 release of Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet, which received critical and public acclaim for its unique take on the platforming genre, as well as its in-depth level creator. Since then, the series has inspired a similar take on kart racing, entitled ModNation Racers, and has spawned three additional iterations – spin-off LittleBigPlanet Karting notwithstanding.
The latest release to bear the franchise’s cute, colourful and creative brand is LittleBigPlanet Vita. Presenting a touch-infused take on three-dimensional platforming, it offers fans a brand new storyline, as well as a uniquely designed world in which to interact. Known as Carnivalia, that strange and troubled land is home to a quirky cast of characters.
After the game’s trademark tutorial level ends, players are introduced to Carnivalia as a world in chaos. What was once a popular and thriving amusement park has unfortunately become the adopted home of a disturbing brand of mechanical puppets known as the Hollow. Why, you ask? Well, it’s said that the once popular Puppet Master went a bit mad one day after suffering from loneliness, causing him to abandon his show and his friendly puppets. However, that didn’t help, and his heightened despair drove him to steal the joy of those around him. Once taken, it was then infused into a newly-crafted brand of (evil) mechanical puppets.
While the aforementioned storyline is a tad too dark for a game of this ilk, it’s not scary. The Hollow puppets have a slightly creepy look to them, but that’s about it. As expected, all of the other characters are fantastical in design, and they’re more stereotypical than anything else. You’ll come across the heroic muscle man, the adrift fairy girl and the backwoods hillbilly. However, when you consider that puppets are generally based on human stereotypes, it’s tough to view those in-game character designs as anything offensive.
It’s said that each of the encountered puppets designed their inhabited regions of the world, which explains why the game refers to them as creators. It’s an interesting ploy, which allows for unique world designs. There’s a trash-filled and broken down rollercoaster park, a colourful train and even an area filled with retro technology. The latter one happened to be my personal favourite, partially due to its inclusion of a VHS camcorder space ship. Yes, you just read that. It sounds awesome, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, some of the included worlds are more exciting than others, which is one of the downsides of LittleBigPlanet Vita. Though its four to five hour-long campaign is a good one, it’s not great, because it feels like the developers held back a bit. It would’ve been nice if they’d exercised more creative freedom, and had come up with something incredibly new and exciting using the theme park motif. However, the end result is something that is merely good, but not exceptional.
Even though the story mode won’t win any awards, it’s polished and enjoyable. Plus, it does include some standout stages and some above-average unlockable games. My personal favourites were the race levels, as well as a mini-game that essentially combined touch controls with Whack-a-Mole. However, it’s worth mentioning that the noted side stage and its peers must be unlocked with keys, which are hidden in story levels. Plus, the fact that some require you to either rotate or share the system.
What does make LittleBigPlanet Vita stand out from its peers is its inclusion of Vita-specific features. The handheld’s gyroscope factors in at times, allowing for tilt-based games, and both its front touchscreen and rear touchpad are utilized well. They usually factored in whenever blocks needed to be pushed in or out, or certain platform items needed to be moved around, but there was also at least one level where touch was the only form of control allowed. Thankfully, the finger-based system works quite well, although its pressure requirement makes time-sensitive segments hard to ace. Unfortunately, a quick flick usually won’t move an obstacle out of one’s path.
Other than its above-mentioned, handheld-specific input systems, this iteration is very similar to its peers. The main task, as always, is getting from each level’s starting point to its score calculating computer. Granted, doing so is usually easier said than done, due to deadly obstacles and relatively interesting puzzles, which means that you’ll probably die quite a bit during your first run through the campaign. However, the nice thing is that the game doesn’t punish players too much for dying, taking away score points as opposed to lives. That’s appreciated, considering the fact that LittleBigPlanet‘s mechanics aren’t as tight as what one would find in a Mario title.
Now that all of its story-based content has been discussed, it’s important to talk about this portable offering’s abundance of extra content. After all, the LittleBigPlanet series’ biggest draw happens to be its robust community portal, which allows players to create, publish and share unique stages and/or mini-games. I’m happy to report that all of those options are included within this Vita version, and that they’ve been enhanced through the inclusion of touch control, as well as the addition of a cutscene stage creation option. As a result, there’s a quality, community-designed version of Fruit Ninja out there, as well as close to 750 other created levels. Some seem to have been brought over from LittleBigPlanet 2, however.
Last, but certainly not least, is Arcade mode. Think of it as a portable version of a classic arcade, although one that features several new games instead of familiar classics. All of the option’s offered titles are quite well made, and there are some standouts – most notably Tapling, wherein players control an organism through touch commands. However, if you’d rather play something from another retro-inspired genre, then that’s certainly possible.
Needless to say, there’s a ton of value to be found inside of LittleBigPlanet Vita. In a few months’ time, the title will be bursting with user-created content, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of great ideas people will come up with. The possibilities seem to be almost endless, which is phenomenal. For that reason alone, this game is worth a purchase, because it’s infinitely replayable. Going further, it’s also quite well-made, with impressive visuals and quality sound design. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the game locked up on me once, and that it also presented some lag during a play through of a created stage, as well as during a random co-op session.
If you’re looking for an engaging and infinitely replayable Vita title to take with you while you’re on the go, LittleBigPlanet Vita is a very good choice, especially since it feels more like a console title than a portable release. Not only will it be a long time before you’ll feel finished with it, but the game also offers a mixture of both long and short-burst entertainment, which can be enjoyed by more than one player, through online or local means.
This article is based on a copy of the game that we received for review purposes.