Though karting games have come a long way graphically since Super Mario Kart created the karting sub-genre in 1992, the core mechanics of the games haven’t changed much at all. You’re still holding the gas, power sliding around corners, and shooting your friends with a varied arsenal of weapons. LittleBigPlanet Karting continues the tradition when it comes to racing, but offers some unique kart and character customization as well as the ability to create your own tracks and environments.
LBP Karting tosses you back into the Craftverse, the quaint little stitch-and-yarn universe, sometime after the events of LittleBigPlanet 2. Here you must race to defeat the Hoard, grabby little sackpeople who are committed to stealing and hoarding all of the Craftverse’s goodies. Armed with only your driving skills and collected Weaponators, you must out-race and out-shoot the Hoard to put a stop to their pilferous ways. Guiding your progress is the narrator, whose soothing voice brings some continuity into an otherwise disjointed experience as you race between planets from the King’s Castle to the funky space disco, The Space Bass.
This installment in the franchise is surprisingly adept at representing the playful and creative spirit of LittleBigPlanet with every character, even the nefarious Hoard, being cute, playful, and surprisingly emotive. Every time your sackbuddy makes a face, be it grimacing at bad news, or his tongue-lolling grin at having come in 1st place, you’ll find it difficult not to smile. From the live-action opening, to the vibrant track environments, and onward to creating your own levels, the substance of LittleBigPlanet brilliantly shines through the karting motif to give you a truly LBP experience.
Also continuing the tradition is the ever-present narrator, voiced again by Stephen Fry, and one of the most delightful aspects of the game. Offering the basics of the story at the beginning, all of the various tutorials throughout, as well as an overview of most of the Story Mode tracks, his familiar voice and charming humor are inextricable from the game experience. Be sure to take a moment to listen before starting each race, since it is thoroughly enjoyable and will occasionally give you hints about the upcoming level.
Story Mode is a wondrous little jaunt through the distinctly-themed planets of the game. Each planet contains several tracks as well as VS versions of some levels which are subtly tweaked for a multiplayer experience. Every track is elaborately decorated in keeping with its host planet’s composition, and despite the whimsical nature of the graphics, you’ll find yourself immersed in the fanciful atmosphere of each world as you progress through the story. To keep things interesting, and presumably to showcase some of what you can do with the game’s creation tools, there are a number of different styles of levels scattered throughout Story Mode. Battle Arenas have you trying to score the most hits with your Weaponator, which vary from seeker missiles to EMP pulses, before time runs out and Checkpoint Rallies will set you to hitting all of the checkpoints on the map while the clock ticks down. There are even a couple off-the-wall experiences like the RC tracks, reminiscent of the old school RC Pro-Am, and the Flamepede boss fight, which puts you in top-down view with infinite ammo to try to take down the boss segment by segment. While these are fun diversions, you’ll usually find yourself wishing you were back in the races after a couple of thwarted attempts at a boss fight or rally.
While the execution of the Craftverse’s worlds and characters is impressive, the experience was slightly marred by some unfortunate bugs in the game. There are some places where you can go off-track without triggering a reset which prevents you from continuing the race, forcing you to either restart completely, or just wait for time to expire. Hitting one of these spots while you’re in first place on lap three can be unimaginably irritating, but the frustration is offset slightly by the brevity of each level. Additionally, in later Story Mode stages, there are sections where you’ll actually be rewarded for poor driving. In these areas, it is possible to get teleported forward in the rankings when your kart explodes from a Weaponator hit or crashing into an obstacle, pushing you from 6th into 3rd, just for crashing your kart while your opponent carefully navigates the obstruction. Naturally, nobody wants to see their expertly-timed Weaponator shot push the would-be victim into a leading position, but neither bug is prevalent enough to significantly detract from the general experience of the game.
Bottom Line: If you’re a fan of Mario Kart, LBP Karting will be thoroughly enjoyable with familiar controls and adorable characters. The planets of the Craftverse are varied enough to keep you playing through the Story mode, while the creation mode gives you all the tools you need to spend any number of days crafting your own unique racing experience.
Recommendation: If you like building worlds, playing in other users’ creations, or Karting games in general, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in LittleBigPlanet Karting.[rating=4.0]
Game: LittleBigPlanet Karting
Developer: United Front Games, Media Molecule
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment