You know a game’s going to be special when the first voice you hear is that of Stephen Fry. The Blackadder alumni and bona-fide national treasure has leant his superior vocal talents to LittleBigPlanet – one of the most convincing efforts at a PS3 ‘killer app’ so far.
For the uninitiated, the idea is simple: do whatever you want. The game presents you with a gigantic toolbox full of shapes, textures and hundreds of objects and, thanks to a remarkable physics engine and an awful lot of free-spirited fun, lets you build levels that can do anything you like. Solve puzzles, play music, re-create Super Mario Brothers; it’s a game where, unlike many others, almost anything is possible.
This is introduced in a charming tutorial, voiced by Fry, that establishes the curious, brilliant world that LittleBigPlanet inhabits. The main story mode takes you, literally, all over the world – groups of levels are bunched together in each continent, with the levels in each area reflecting the people who live there – animals in Africa, for instance, and some spooky, voodoo-esque dolls in South America.
For such a cutesy-looking game, the difficulty level ramps up surprisingly quickly: you’ll zoom through the introductory levels, but move on a couple of continents and the puzzles become more intricate and require both far more cerebral effort and precision to complete. Even at the start, though, there’s plenty to collect and acquire – and, whichever level of difficulty you’re tackling, LittleBigPlanet requires a huge amount of effort to achieve 100% completion on each level.
The real meat of the game isn’t in the admittedly excellent story mode, though. Take the game online – in the form of scrolling around another planet alongside that which harbours the story missions – and you’ll see the huge amount of creativity and imagination that’s flowing out of the LittleBigPlanet community. You’ll find levels that ape traditional platform games – one was set in an Aztec-style temple, whereas another was a carbon copy of the opening level of Super Mario.
Others, though, are a bit different. One has your Sackboy placed on a vehicle, which moves past strategically-placed markers to play a cheesy version of Sweet Child of Mine, and another must have taken hundreds of hours – a brilliant, fully-functioning calculator. Once you’ve completed your sums, the level offers a jetpack so you can fly around and look at the mechanics behind the simple calculator. A quick look reveals literally thousands of moving parts; it must have taken dozens of hours to complete, and is a real testament to the fantastic amount of potential inside LittleBigPlanet.
Every level is navigated with your own personal Sackboy. He’s a remarkably cute little bloke made of, well, a couple of sacks, and from simple beginnings, you can customise and personalise him to suit you. The game includes hundreds of costumes from the start – mine has, so far, been dressed like a pirate and an Elizabethan – and more will be available from the PlayStation store, including a selection of Street Fighter and Metal Gear Solid costumes.
That’s not the only customisable areas, either. Before jumping into levels, you can personalise your own little pod and, of course, create new levels. It’s incredibly simple to create your own areas, although, of course, it’ll take longer if you want to create some of the masterpieces that have already been uploaded.
Graphically, too, LittleBigPlanet is a masterpiece. The various objects in the game do look realistic, but with a charming video game sheen over the top. It’s difficult to describe how fantastic LittleBigPlanet looks – everything has a cute, addictive charm through both the way it’s both designed and animated. It’s a look that carries over to every visual style, too, throughout the game.
Jumping around the levels often requires a fair amount of precision, but the game just doesn’t let you have it. Jumping is often muddy, indistinct and sludgy, and it’ll often see your Sackboy dead through no real fault of your own – which can often get infuriating.
LittleBigPlanet will only succeed if the community really embraces the huge amount of potential available here through the numerous creation tools. First signs are good; the numerous levels already available to play are both imaginative and addictive. The actual game behind this huge amount of potential is utterly brilliant, too: a cutesy, charming, absorbing and addictive platformer with an adorable lead character, a huge amount of variety and Stephen Fry. It really is one of the most convincing attempts at a PS3 ‘killer app’ so far, then – and hopefully it’ll be supported by its players.
Littlebigplanet is out now.
30 December 2008