LittleBigPlanet PS Vita‘s self-described world of “fun, frivolity and mild peril” is massive and getting bigger by the day. Around every corner of this dystopian Toyland is a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered, and just when you think you’ve seen it all you’ll be invited to start creating a story of your own. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating this game’s scale or level of detail because it’s “just a handheld game” – perhaps its greatest strength is how thoroughly it shows you that the Vita can pack a punch.

Enter the world of Carnivalia, a land of circus-themed dreamy mystique that has seen better days. It once prospered under the rule of The Puppeteer, but everything changed when he received some unexpected criticism. Now he’s a bitter tyrant, and it’s your job to stop him and save the day. Some of the folks you’ll be asked to help are definitely odd, and many of them look like they’ve escaped from the set of Tim Burton’s latest animated film. While the strangeness of the world can make its characters a bit difficult to relate to at times, the genuinely human motivations that drive the story make it easy to get invested in the outcome. The game’s ethics collaborate quite thoughtfully with aspects of play, too, like the lack of serious death penalty reinforcing an impetus to try again rather than letting failure eat you up like The Puppeteer.

Hop, jump or fly to your next fantastic location as you race through this platforming game’s traditionally linear levels. Though simply getting to the end of each level seems like a straightforward task, maneuvering through the labyrinth of floating discs and tunnels can be quite a challenge. There will be plenty of lava pits to fall into and electric fences to fry yourself on as you move your Sackboy from one area of stable ground to another. In addition to running and jumping, you’ll be asked to use your fingers on both touchpads quite often. Some doors might be gated, for example, requiring you to scan a fingerprint by pressing your thumb against the screen. On top of all of this each area will give you a new toy to play with, like a grappling hook or a car. Every time you think you’ve mastered a skill you’ll either be nudged into using it in a new way, like bouncing around a corner with your grappling hook instead of just swinging from it, or you’ll move on to the next ability entirely.

If you tire of the story-based levels, there are a series of distinct mini-games for you to experiment with on the side, each with an interesting new twist on the handheld controls. A Tetris-inspired mini-game, for example, can be pretty arduous. Your goal is to carefully stack one oddly-shaped pillow atop another by dragging it across the touchpad with your finger, all without causing the tower to tip over.

From your very first moments in the game’s introductory credits, you’re invited to explore not just the world, but the console as well. None of the Vita’s hardware seems to be overlooked. Even the camera can be used to snap shots of whatever you like and place them all over the game world in sticker form, making relating to your Sackboy avatar easier than you might expect. You can place the stickers with your hands on the touchpad, too, just like you might place them in real life. Being constantly encouraged to assist your little Sackboy avatar by manually rearranging the world around him really contributes to the credibility of the planet’s pint-sized scale.

While it’s impressive that the game incorporates so many of the console’s functions into play, it can become tricky keeping up with so many things at the same time. Sometimes you’ll need to touch up to three places at once, which could be problematic for players with smaller hands. You’ll also have to mind how you’re resting your hands on the rear touchpad or your vehicle might unexpectedly crash into a wall.

As you race through the game’s labyrinth of single player pursuits, you’re constantly reminded of the fact that this game isn’t only designed for you to explore alone. Every so often you’ll wander by an alley or ledge with a big flashing “2X” sign hovering nearby, meaning you’ll need another player to come along with you in order to explore further. While the constant encouragement to include friends can really add to the game’s lively feel, it might be a bit of a downer to those that are not playing alone by choice.

Even after you’ve beaten the campaign you’re advised to venture out of The Puppeteer’s world and into another user’s creation, or to build your own. Making your own levels for other users to play through can be one of the most personal and creative ways you can interact with this game, too. Level building allows you a great deal of control, prompting the user to dictate nearly every aspect of the environment they generate, down to minute details like how many respawns a given checkpoint is good for.

Although keeping track of this game’s many features can be a task in itself, their presence serves only to heighten the excitement of play rather than frustrating you with needless complexity. You’re sure to be surprised by just how much is going on in this tiny but ever-expanding handheld world.

Bottom Line: LittleBigPlanet PS Vita has a compelling story and is a joy to play through. Its ability to successfully integrate so many of the Vita’s hardware functions makes gameplay both challenging and entertaining. Allowing players to contribute to its world by building their own levels is simply the cherry on the sundae.

Recommendation: If you’ve got a fondness for platformer games or you want to try your hand at building one, do yourself a favor and give this game a chance to impress you.

[rating=5]

Game: LittleBigPlanet Vita
Genre: Platforming
Developer: Double Eleven
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform(s): PlayStation Vita
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)

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