LittleBigPlanet has always been an ambitious series in terms of its purpose, which is to provide a user-friendly way for gamers to create and share all sorts of 2D platforming levels. Additional genres have also been added as the series has progressed, ranging from twin-stick shooters to kart racers.
Personally, while I love the series as a whole, it’s one that I think took a few tries to truly start reaching its potential. The original 2008 title, while a fun platformer, felt a bit basic in terms of its presentation and gameplay. 2011’s LittleBigPlanet 2 fixed all that, with numerous refinements and additions making it possible to include new features like cutscenes and different gameplay genres entirely. Thanks both to a dedicated fan base of level creators and numerous DLC expansions, the sequel has enjoyed a very healthy lifespan compared to most other games, but many players have wondered what possibilities a full-fledged third entry into the main series could provide.
Now, LittleBigPlanet 3 is finally here thanks to new developer Sumo Digital, and the final product is a very promising package for level creators and gamers alike. The pre-made story mode is once again fun and creative, and the new features it boasts mixes up the gameplay in a very positive way. On the downside, the game sometimes feels rushed on the technical end of things, with some glitches and hiccups that are new to the series. That said, what works here still makes for an entertaining package.
The story mode once again follows series protagonist Sackboy as he is sucked into the world of Bunkum, by Newton, an enthusiastic character who claims to need the burlap hero’s help in stopping long-imprisoned titans from wreaking havoc. Ultimately, Newton turns out to have more nefarious intentions, and as a result, Sackboy sets out to three different areas to awaken three slumbering warriors, to do his part in setting things right again.
Much like past campaigns, the overall plot is still light and simple, but also charming enough to work. Newton is provided a lively vocal performance by Hugh Laurie of House fame, and the side characters that guide Sackboy through each world, though a bit one-note, also provide some amusing dialog.
The actual levels are varied and unique, with different aesthetics and mechanics for many of them. These can range from hiding behind walls to avoid deadly spotlights, to overhead platforming levels with full 360-degree movement, along with the occasional boss fight. Through a unique addition, getting to each level is less linear than in previous titles, which used a simple system of a map that went on a linear path from level to level. Now, the three main worlds all have a hub of sorts, which allows you to tackle certain levels in whichever order you see fit, as well as look for optional side levels and hidden goodies.
Mixing things up further are the addition of three new playable characters, who take the roles of the unlockable warriors mentioned earlier. They include OddSock, an agile quadruped who runs faster than the others and can both run up and jump off walls, Toggle, a character who can switch between a slow-but-strong form and a smaller, quicker form with a button press, and Swoop, a bird capable of flight.
The novelty of each character varies, especially considering that power-ups that served the same functions as Swoop existed in the first two games. OddSock’s speed makes for more fluid and frenetic platforming than before, though, and the different benefits each of Toggle’s forms provide offers good variety while traversing environments.
Sackboy is hardly left out, though. The majority of the campaign’s levels are still focused on him, and he has some new abilities as well. The most notable of these include the ability to climb specific walls, as well as the sackpocket, a menu which allows him to carry several power-ups and switch between them with a few button presses. The campaign makes good use of this idea, as early levels boast secrets and collectibles that can only be obtained by revisiting them later on with items equipped.
It is worth noting that if you’re only into LittleBigPlanet 3 for the campaign, go into it knowing that a normal playthrough will only take about 6 hours or so. It’s an enjoyable ride, though, and one that can be extended by going back to try and find every hidden subquest and item. The series has always thrived on being chock-full of unlockable costumes for Sackboy, as well as stickers, preset objects, and textures for the level editor, which will likely provide a greater incentive to replay levels for anyone interested in creating their own adventures.
A less prominent but still noteworthy side campaign of sorts is the Popit Puzzles mode, which mixes the campaign’s controls with many of the editor’s level-building tools in a series of levels devoted to teaching the ins and outs of each aspect of creation. These are far more engaging than the more standard tutorials in past games, and are far more effective as a result.
The editor itself also boasts many intriguing new features, such as the ability to add your own side-quests, and the very intriguing option to create custom power-ups from scratch. While LittleBigPlanet 2 dabbled in that territory with the Creatinator helmet — which allowed for custom projectiles — you can now expand into melee-based territory if you so desire, while having complete control over how your item looks.
I’ve been praising LittleBigPlanet 3 so far, and for good reason, because in just about every way — be it the improved opportunities for creators or the campaign — it’s robust and very entertaining. Where the game stumbles a bit, though, both compared to its predecessors and on its own, is in some technical areas. After sinking some time into it, I have a feeling that the development may have been a bit rushed in order to make the holiday release window, as I encountered an unfortunate amount of bugs; some minor, others potentially game-breaking.
These ranged from minor annoyances, like OddSock and Toggle randomly wearing different outfits in cutscenes, to more severe problems, such as the game randomly crashing on a few occasions when I tried to enter a level. Worse yet, the campaign threw a unique issue at me during the final boss fight, where switching to Toggle’s smaller form resulted in the character disappearing entirely until I switched back to his full size. It’s a bummer, especially because the final levels do a great job in terms of making use of each character’s unique abilities, and while I eventually stopped encountering the issue after reloading the level a few times, it still left a sour taste in my mouth.
Finally, though less of an actual glitch, despite promises that the game would be backwards compatible with previous downloadable costumes and level expansions, a good portion of both are still unavailable. Worse yet, some of the items I previously purchased appeared in the in-game store, but only resulted in an error message when I attempted to download them. Users making the jump from the PS3 games to the PS4 version of this, which I did, can still import the unlockable costumes and building materials from past titles in the options menu, but when I did, there were items missing, and I’ve already read reports of other players being unfortunate enough to have their save data for this new game corrupted by doing the import process.
Visually-speaking, the series’ second major sequel is far from lacklustre, but isn’t the next-gen showpiece that one would’ve hoped for. That’s likely due to it being a cross-gen release, though.
It’s unfortunate that LittleBigPlanet 3 has so many technical hitches, as at its core it is still a wonderful experience. Furthermore, I think that dedicated level creators are going to make some very impressive and fun stuff with its assortment of new characters and tools.
When the game was first announced, I was unsure if it would feel as substantial a leap forward as LittleBigPlanet 2, but ultimately, I think it succeeded. If the developers are able to address the issues I mentioned earlier and prevent others via later patches, I see a very prosperous future for the game. Still, even in its current state, it’s definitely worth picking up if you’re a longtime fan.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which we were provided with.
LittleBigPlanet 3 provides a fun and varied campaign and numerous meaningful additions to the series' level editor, but some technical hitches prevent it from being the true gem that it could've been.