Preview: LittleBigPlanet for PS Vita
LittleBigPlanet is one of the few games that appeals to kids and adults alike. It's a puzzler/platformer that's easy to get the hang of and hard to conquer, with cute little customisable characters and ways to both help and hinder your co-operative partner.
Siobhan Keogh | Wednesday, June 27 2012
Product type: Puzzler/platformer
Platform: PS Vita
Test Platform: PS Vita
Developers: XDev, Tarsier Studios, Double Eleven; Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
LittleBigPlanet for Vita has impressive graphics and a great rhythm to it.
LittleBigPlanet is one of the few games that appeals to kids and adults alike. It's a puzzler/platformer that's easy to get the hang of and hard to conquer, with cute little customisable characters and ways to both help and hinder your co-operative partner. As such, it's sold pretty well - couples can play together regardless of what 'genres' they like, parents can play with their children, and everyone can have a good time playing as their very own version of Sackboy.
To illustrate the point, I once interviewed id Software's Tim Willits, who's worked on nothing but violent first-person shooters like Quake and Doom for his whole career. What does he play in his spare time? LittleBigPlanet.
When LittleBigPlanet was announced for the PS Vita, it seemed like the perfect combination. Each of the levels in LBP and LBP2 were only a few minutes long, so it's ideally suited to the pick-up-and-play style of a portable device. Having played through several levels of the game on the Vita, both at E3 and in the closed beta, I have to say that LittleBigPlanet seems as though it will be just as good as the console versions of the game have been.
When I first laid eyes on the game, I was immediately surprised by the high-level graphics. LittleBigPlanet actually looks better on the Vita than it does on the PS3, and that's no exaggeration. While part of that will be due to the smaller screen, it's still quite astounding to note all of the crisp detail in the material of Sackboy's body.
There are two main story levels in the LittleBigPlanet beta: 'The Mainframe Heist' and 'Flounder's Jump and Jive'. The Mainframe Heist is an extremely cool, sci-fi futuristic level in which Sackboy has to hack into a computer mainframe and avoid getting lasered to death. 'Flouder's Jump and Jive' is a classic LBP race level, which players have to complete as quickly as possible while jumping through hoops along the way.
Perhaps the best part of the beta was when I picked up the device and played - none of the controls have changed, and having played the previous titles I fell into the rhythm of the game very quickly and it felt very natural. Almost immediately, I was jumping, bouncing, grabbing and grappling like a pro. The way you can be lulled into a rhythm is, I think, one of the most underrated qualities of good gameplay.
There's one problem with that, though - the rhythm is instantly destroyed when the touch elements of the PS Vita are introduced. You'll be racing through a level at the speed of light, when suddenly you land on a blue block with glowing white fingerprints on it. To proceed, you have to use the touchscreen to drag down that block and fling your Sackboy up into the air to land on a ledge above. You have to drag the block very slowly so you don't let go of it too early. This means that gameplay can go from moving lightning-fast to moving at the speed of Auckland CBD's rush-hour traffic, and it definitely pulls you out of the experience. It's especially noticable in the race level, where every action is followed in quick succession by another.
There are also moments when you have to move objects using the touchscreen, or the rear touchpad, in order to keep on going. Only once did I see this used in a way that was fun - when I had to remove blocks underneath my Sackboy to avoid him getting fried by a laser. On all other occasions, it was just annoying.
That's not to say that touch is always a bad thing - just that it doesn't actually work very well during gameplay in this particular game. Fortunately, LittleBigPlanet also has a 'create' mode, where you can design your own levels for others to play through. In this mode, touch is king - if you want to colour the whole background green, you can do that by rubbing your finger on the touchscreen, rather than using your thumbstick to colour it in, which would take much longer.
LittleBigPlanet's create mode is incredible - essentially, it turns the player into a game designer. The level you create doesn't have to look or play anything like LittleBigPlanet, as both the developers and community have shown. Developers XDev have shown that by including an entirely separate game that they created in the level creator, called Tapling. Tapling is played entirely using the touchscreen, and frankly looks like indie game Limbo.
I also tested out a couple of the community-developed games - one person made a game called Drop Down, where players had to solve puzzles to get a ball into a hole of the same colour. The game was complete with different levels, music, and more, but it looked nothing like LittleBigPlanet. There's also a very well-crafted demo called Flowtation, which reminded me of Thatgamecompany's Flow, if that game had been a puzzler.
All in all, my experience with LittleBigPlanet for PS Vita so far has been a lot of fun. It's all very inviting and familiar, like putting on a worn-in pair of slippers. For those who are into level design and game creation, it also provides a set of easy-to-use tools to make your own games with. I just wish there wasn't some touch-control quota developers had to fill to develop on the platform.
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