LittleBigPlanet 3 Review
Now with 300% more Sack Things
LittleBigPlanet was a bit of a revelation for the PlayStation 3. It brought a new flavor of platforming, a set of robust creation tools, and Sackbots for all. The sequel followed a few years later and largely refined the existing formula without making any significant alterations to gameplay. LittleBigPlanet 3 looks to shake things up, however. With a new development studio at the helm and the debut of the franchise on PlayStation 4, this entry sees the most significant changes to the formula to date. The resulting game is a mix of new mechanics and tools, even if it doesn't all gel together as well as its predecessors.
The campaigns in LittleBigPlanet titles have always been a showcase of the best that the game has to offer, expertly designed by the folks who are intimately familiar with the tools. It took us to unique worlds, strange characters and sometimes exhilarating levels. LBP3 offers only some of those thrills. LittleBigPlanet 3 takes place on a new planet in the Imagisphere called Bunkum. We are quickly introduced to our hero Sackboy, who unknowingly releases three evil titans. The titans take over Newton (voiced by Hugh Laurie), a naive robotic character that only wanted to get the titans to help him bring even more joy to Bunkum. Thus, Sackboy sets out on a quest to re-capture the titans and restore order to the planet. Stephen Fry continues to lend his voice to the narration.
But after starting off in a rather dark and Halloween-like prologue, the story mode never really grabs you. The plot is definitely one of the most heavily narrated and voice-acted compared to the past entries, but it is also likely the shortest. Players will explore less than five acts, each with two or three classic linear levels, plus a central hub area. Exploring this hub will remind players of Metroid, as some areas will not be accessible until later. There are even optional mini-levels and quests, tracked in the new menu item called Organisertron.
Levels themselves are visually striking, still utilizing the same cartoon-like style that the LittleBigPlanet is known for. The visual variety is impressive as is the dramatic color scheme. And although the graphics are not exactly pushing the power of the PS4 hardware (because the game was also developed for PS3), the backgrounds are still very nice to look at and the platforming is smooth. Alongside the great voice acting by Fry and Laurie, the music is excellent in style and composition. Unfortunately, it has a tendency to play on a loop and the game features sometimes just one track for the whole level. So while great to listen to, the music seems to lack in quantity.
The gameplay design of the levels leaves something to be desired. This is definitely the most difficult game in the franchise, with many deaths seemingly unavoidable without trial and error. You can pretty much forget trying to ace levels on your first go, because some traps come fast and furious with no warning (thus trial and error), and many areas either require two players, or access to one of the new gameplay tools that you won't unlock until later.
Besides the usual somewhat floaty platforming controls, our sack hero also gets the above-mentioned new set of tools to play with. There's a blow gun-like item that can both suck and blow air, thus giving you the ability to interact with objects too large or too far to physically touch. A flashlight illuminates the dark areas of levels, while a Hook Hat lets you glide along rails. Boost Boots give players a chance to reach higher ledges, and finally the Blink Ball grants the ability to teleport short distances to a special Blink circle. All of these items offer some significantly new gameplay opportunities, even as the basic platforming remains frustrating at times due to its inaccuracy.
But none of the items alter the gameplay as much as new sack heroes do. For the first time, you're no longer only able to control the Sackboy. Three new heroes enter the fray - Oddsock, Toggle, and Swoop. Oddsock resembles a lovable pet dog, and he is all about speed. Controlling Oddsock is akin to using Yoshi in a Mario game, as your gameplay becomes much more about velocity and longer jumps - as well as ability to slide down vertical walls and run up curved ones. Toggle, meanwhile, is actually two characters in one. At a touch of a button, you transform between his big and small versions, and not only are they used for obvious purposes (such as using passages that only small Toggle can fit through), but they can interact with each other. For example, big Toggle will stand on a platform, lowering it - then you switch to small Toggle and the platform will catapult you into the air. Finally, Swoop opens up a whole new level of interaction with the game world thanks to its ability to fly. Suddenly, the term "floaty controls" is appropriate.
These three new heroes, plus Sackboy's own new inventory of tools, open an even broader opportunity for gameplay variety than before. Unfortunately, the campaign rarely takes advantage of the new cast. The only time you're able to use the new characters in Adventure mode is during specific levels and hub worlds (where you must annoyingly use a swapping location instead of switching at any time). So there's barely any room to truly exploit the power of these new heroes. Even playing cooperatively, players will all be forced to use Sackboy because the levels are designed for him, so if you seek friendly co-op chaos with all heroes involved, you won't find it in the campaign.
You may find better use of these heroes in the extensive online user-made level selection, however. Despite a vast difference in quality among the content, LBP3's community engagement is now the game's largest selling point, given the disappointing campaign. It's as easy as ever to find new levels, download them quickly and hop in for unique experiences. It undoubtedly helps that almost all of the levels from LBP and LBP2 can be imported, thus giving this sequel and already overwhelming amount of user-made content.
But it's not just the fact that your levels can be imported - you can now go back and use LBP3's new range of editing tools to update and refine them. The Create mode remains both impressively powerful and overwhelmingly complex. Depending on the kind of player you are, this is either the biggest time sink in the game or a passable side feature. There are far too many new additions to the editor to go over them in any kind of detail, mostly due to their sheer complexity and depth. But without a doubt, creators will be happy to get their hands on the new gameplay-altering mechanisms and layers.
Those who are not afraid of taking the plunge should check out Popit Puzzles mode. Here, a series of levels introduces players to the Create mode and most of its tools. But unlike in the past, where you were faced either with pages of text or lengthy videos, the Popit Puzzles are fun, short levels that feel much more like you're still playing rather than learning. Each area introduces new tools that players then use to complete the level on their own. This is most definitely the best way to get players started with the creation toolset that the franchise has come up with. Even if you've been overwhelmed or disinterested in creating something of your own before, playing through Popit Puzzles may change your mind.
Another notable area of concern is the technical performance. Despite it not being an overly impressive visual experience, LittleBigPlanet 3 often experienced framerate troubles during our time with the game. Attempts to join or invite others for co-op, theoretically the way the game was designed to be played, was met with frequent errors and disconnects. We sometimes found ourselves stuck in limbo, between different sets of menus displaying the wrong images. And even the Popit tool, used endlessly during creation mode, sometimes took a while to appear, introducing notable lag to proceedings. Still, at least we had no level or game breaking issues that some users reported before the latest patch.
LittleBigPlanet 3 seems excellent on paper. New developers have decided to introduce new heroes, new tools for Sackboy, and significantly altered gameplay. But in reality, most of these additions are simply thrown out there for community to use, and the content you actually paid for in Adventure mode seems slim. If you're okay with that, LBP 3 delivers the most engrossing set of creation possibilities and gameplay alterations for fresh new platforming opportunities. But if you were holding out for another fun, grand adventure starring the new heroes in equal parts, the game doesn't deliver.