Sackboy: A Big Adventure Review
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Any company launching a new video game console would want to offer variety – shooting, racing, perhaps an arcade game or two – for fans to play when they pick up the new hardware. Another major genre staple of any launch lineup is the platformer. It's a way to offer an accessible title for younger audiences, something they can dig into and pester their parents about as a reason to buy the console. Sackboy: A Big Adventure is just that sort of game for the PS5, and while it offers some enjoyable gameplay and lots of variety, it's not exactly going to be the main system seller.
Fans who have followed the PlayStation brand for a while will recognize Sackboy as the hero from the LittleBigPlanet franchise, the platforming and creation series of games that began on PS3. A Big Adventure is a sort of spinoff, as it features many of the familiar elements, and yet offers a slightly different experience and focus. While LBP games were equally focused on platforming and creating your own levels and experiences, the new PS5 title is more of a traditional platforming game without much deviation from the genre norms.
A Big Adventure sees the hero Sackboy living alongside his friends and other sackpeople, when a villain named Vex appears and sucks up all his friends into his secret lair. Vex's plan is to use their labor to construct a machine known as the Topsy Turver and bring chaos to the Craftworld. Sackboy manages to resist and escapes the grasp of Vex, and is met by an older sackwoman named Scarlet, who tells him he must persevere and believe in himself, and go on to rescue his villagers from Vex, and stop the build of the machine.
The story is very simple and straightforward, and serves as a basic mechanism to string the different sections of the campaign together. We are also told about a goo known as Uproar spreading everywhere, but this is never actually seen in the game, which is a bit strange. Sackboy will get to visit five different worlds where Vex is apparently harvesting materials he needs for the machine, and there he will meet a new character that will aid in his journey. All characters have very little screen time, which is too bad, and the cutscenes are brief.
As mentioned, you'll visit a few different worlds in the campaign, which essentially gives you a small hub world to run around in, and it is where you select the levels to play. The worlds are themed after the Himalayas, a futuristic airport, an underwater adventure, and so on. At the end of each hub world there is a boss encounter with Vex, but to unlock it, you have to complete levels in a mostly linear order. You must also find Dreamer Orbs – collectibles that are hidden across all of the levels. It's an interesting progress gating mechanic, as the Dreamer Orbs are often difficult to reach and in most games they would usually serve as optional collectibles. Younger fans may have some trouble, but experienced players who do some exploring should have no issues having enough orbs on the first pass to unlock the boss encounter.
The decently long 7-8 hour campaign features a variety of levels, with the biggest change being that this is a 3D platformer with a fixed camera, rather than the 2.5D platformer that the LBP series was. This means you can freely run around the levels, and there is greater variety possible as the camera can shift the perspective. All the usual tropes are here, and the levels are well designed – from the traditional side to side and up/down traversal, to the top-down views, spawning/tilting/moving of platforms, dangers such as spikes and fireballs, and more. Levels can also feature dangers that require you to keep moving, or place you on a moving object with occasional opportunity to jump off and get some extra goodies. There is a lot of design variety, and a few memorable sequences, though most of this you've seen before in other platforming games.
You won't just be going up against the elements however, as now there are various enemies that must be dealt with or avoided. There's smaller enemies that just try to hit you in melee, bull-type enemies that charge at you, spinning enemies that can't be approached, and enemies that throw arrows (sometimes, annoyingly, of the guided type). There are lots of checkpoints, and Sackboy has four lives per level, with more lives often appearing from enemies or prize bubbles. You lose a life if you take damage twice, before reaching the next checkpoint. Enemies also die in just a couple of hits, or if you jump on top of them. There are no difficulty settings, but again most players should have no problem, and with many lives even the younger fans should be OK. As with LBP games, things get pretty tough towards the end, but it only gets annoying if you're trying to go for a no-deaths run and high scores.
To deal with the new dangers, Sackboy has a few new tools. There's still the usual run, jump, and flutter (extended jump), and the ability to grab and throw things. To deal with enemies, your moveset is expanded to include a roll (for faster level times and to stun enemies), a punch, and a nosedive to slam into whatever is below you. Some levels also feature specific items that are required to progress, such as a Whirltool boomerang to eliminate enemies and hit objects/switches from afar, a Grapple tool to swing from surfaces and grab things, an orange liquid that lets you walk up any surface, and the special booster boots / blaster that let you hover in the air for a little while, and shoot at things. These tools are only used in specific levels, but they are fun and add more diversity to the platforming challenges and exploration opportunities.
The controls remain quite floaty and not overly precise, as LBP fans would be familiar with. It's not usually a problem, though there will be a fair share of deaths because you got bounced off of the ledge or Sackboy refused to grab the yellow rollers. With the move to 3D, it can still be tricky to judge the distance and direction of the jump. It takes a moment to adjust when you gain and lose the special items that expand your abilities, like the Whirltool/blaster to deal with enemies from afar. Moves like the nosedive slam are used very rarely, and your basic punch is pretty slow, leaving you exposed if the timing is poor.
You'll also come across a few boss fights, and the ones against Vex at the end of each world are fairly disappointing. It's essentially the same fight each time, but with one additional challenge thrown in. Instead, the mid-world boss battles are more original and enjoyable, even if they follow the Nintendo formula a bit too much, by making you dodge until you're allowed to attack, and needing about three attack patterns to complete.
You can return and replay levels at any time, whether you need more Dreamer Orbs, want more collectibles, or just want to set a higher score. Each level offers challenges – to find all secrets, collect enough of the blank bubbles to earn a Gold-tier score, finish without losing a life, and finding the Knitted Knight level token. The more you achieve, the more Bells you will get, which is the game's currency to spend at Zom Zom's shop, who lets you customize Sackboy with a variety of costumes. You even play an occasional minigame to get more Bells. The cosmetic items offered at the shop are wide ranging, across many different themes. Customizing your Sackboy in all sorts of whacky outfits can be amusing, though the added bulkiness and cloths may prevent you from performing the accurate platforming needed for high scores. You can also find new costume pieces across the levels as you play. Beyond that though, there are no customization or creation tools, so fans who played LittleBigPlanet for its user-made content won't find any here.
If you're looking for a more streamlined challenge, or perhaps need a few more Orbs and don't want to replay levels in search of them, you can attempt the Knitted Knight Trials. These are races, usually under two minutes long, across a custom course that will test your platforming skills and speed. Reaching Bronze and Silver tier of times is quite accessible, and often the Gold times are also achievable, even for casual players. Your completion times in these trials are also entered into the global leaderboards, though they appear in the PS5's UI instead of in-game, making them a bit annoying to access.
While A Big Adventure loses its creation tools, at least the focus on multiplayer is still intact. While you can finish the game solo, all levels and content is playable with up to four others. There are a couple of optional levels that require Teamwork and must be completed with another player, and some items in the regular levels are not reachable without either a friend, or a solo player having to re-do the level. Playing with others is not too different from LBP, in that you can choose to help or hinder one another, and compete to see who gets the most bubbles and higher score at the end. At the moment, only local co-op is available, so hopefully you have more than one DualSense controller as the PS4's controllers are not supported on the PS5 version. Online co-op multiplayer was delayed, and should be released as a free update before the end of the year.
A Big Adventure is a fun game, and a solid launch title, but it's not something that you couldn't experience elsewhere – and in fact, there is a PS4 version of the game available. The game doesn’t really take advantage of the PS5's power or unique features. It looks very vibrant and colorful, and has very quick loading times, but the environments don't offer anything particularly impressive, nor are they highly detailed. The framerate is steady, though the game did have a hard crash a couple of times. The adaptive triggers of the DualSense controller are only felt when grabbing something, and the haptic feedback is rather low key and not very detailed. The game uses the built-in speaker and the touch pad as a big button – same as it would on a DualShock 4. The art style is familiar for any LBP fans, though it certainly does have a number of changes to its look, and at times the backgrounds feel a bit inspired by Tearaway.
What's really strange is the audio design – first off, the developers decided to give Sackboy a young boy's voice, which you can hear whenever there are grunts or other audible emotions during gameplay. It's a bit off-putting, and doesn’t make him feel like the blank slate avatar he always has been. The other strange choice is the fact that a few levels feature popular songs and enemies / platforms move to the beat. Hearing Let's Dance by David Bowie, Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars, and Toxic by Britney Spears as you run around collecting bubbles in an imaginary world is just weird. The rest of the game, the usual background music is instead underwhelming, with forgettable tunes on a short loop.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a solid title that rounds out the PS5 launch lineup with a platforming experience. It is enjoyable to play through, with lots of level variety and good mechanics, even if the controls can sometimes let you down. There's enough content here to satisfy fans, without outstaying its welcome, and the co-operative options will please fans of LBP. What may be less appealing is the lack of any creative tools, though to be fair the game's name clearly indicates a departure from the LittleBigPlanet franchise. It's also not a game you want to use to show off the PS5, as it doesn’t take much advantage of it. Still, it's a fun spinoff adventure that moves the series into a slightly new platforming subgenre and should satisfy younger fans.