Virtually all of the hype leading up to the release of LittleBigPlanet for the PlayStation 3 focused on the game's remarkable level editor, or its adorable mascot, Sackboy, so I had no idea what I would encounter when I played the actual game. I was somewhat stunned to discover that it's a surprisingly simple platform game - no powerups or special abilities, no life-giving collections of a hundred somethings, just basic running, swinging, and jumping. Relying on little more than the most basic components of the platforming genre, LittleBigPlanet is just a 2d platformer...the way a 1967 Shelby Cobra is just a car.
Your first glimpse into the simplistic brilliance of LittleBigPlanet is its control scheme: press X to jump, hit R1 to grab something. That's it. Well, you can hold down X longer to jump further, but that's about as nuanced as things get. As for the game's plot - there really isn't one. Each of the worlds fashioned by one of the game's "creator curators" has a loose connecting narrative, but for the most part, you and Sackboy are exploring the world simply because it's there and you can. There are few enemies in LittleBigPlanet, and no bosses to speak of. It's just you and your jumping skills versus the perils of the environment. In any other game, this stripped-down approach might feel sparse or lacking, but it lets the best parts of LittleBigPlanet, the wonderfully creative levels, shine through without interference or interruption.
You'll fall to your doom more than once in LBP simply because you're so caught up looking at the scenery. The 2d levels are more like dioramas than game environments, with fabric trees, string rope swings, and paper animals dotting the landscape. It all has a very tactile quality that makes you feel as though the entire game were crafted with scissors, construction paper, and glue. It's part game, part puppet show, and the effect is both charming and endearing.
What's even more refreshing is that the worlds of LittleBigPlanet don't fall back on the typical element-based themes like fire, ice, and water so common to platform games. Rather than design an entire world around such an overused trope, LittleBigPlanet's levels use them merely as accent points, such as in the level featuring a herd of rampaging buffalo. The forest they're running through is burning, but that's incidental to the real focal point of the level - the crocodiles causing the buffalo to run amok. (It's not their fault, really, just the result of a misunderstanding with the meerkats.)
LittleBigPlanet isn't a complete departure from platform gaming, however; it has its fair share of items to collect. Each level has scores of collectibles like stickers, fabrics, materials, tools, costume pieces and objects that you'll use to customize your Sackboy and create your own custom levels. Each world also contains a few hidden keys that will unlock special survival stages whose goals are nothing more than scoring as much as you can before time runs out or you die. You don't have to complete these stages to progress in the game, but they provide a healthy, and usually quite funny, break from the precision platforming action.