It is well known that I am a fan of cute things like puppies, ponies, and of course, Sackboy. His goofy grin and apparently limitless supply of pluck made me an instant fan of LittleBigPlanet, but he’s not what made me so fond of his second foray on the PS3, LittleBigPlanet 2. He’s still just as charming as ever, but the game’s wonderfully inventive worlds are what have me hooked this time around. The creativity and variety are off the charts, and that’s before venturing into the realms of player-created content. LBP2 still suffers from many of the same frustrations that its predecessor did, but you’ll be willing to put up with them for the privilege of visiting the game’s universe.
The first LBP was a collection of platforming levels connected by specific themes, but LBP2 actually has a story: The Negativitron is threatening all of Craftworld (which is where Sackboy and his pals all live), so the world’s various creators ask for your help in defeating it. You’ll visit each creator’s world, like Eve’s Asylum and Victoria’s bakery, on your quest to defeat Negativatron and its followers, the Meanies.
At its core, LBP2 is a platformer that plays pretty much the same as its predecessor did, with Sackboy able to jump, swing, and grab things made of cloth. Everything in the environment looks like it came from the craft store or the supermarket, with things like stickers, buttons, and sponges forming the building blocks of each level. Unfortunately, Sackboy’s jumps are still super floaty and although being able to move in towards the background allows for some clever level designs, you’ll frequently miss your mark because the game’s 2d nature makes it difficult to tell that you’re too far forward or back. It’s not a fun-breaker, but it is a frustration that never quite goes away as you play.
Normally, mushy controls would be the kiss of death for a platformer, but LittleBigPlanet 2 isn’t really about jumping with finger-punishing precision, anyway. It’s about enjoying the childlike whimsy that each level evokes and appreciating the countless little details that will make you smile — the way the fireflies light up the otherwise pitch-black course in Eve’s tree; the huge spaceship dubbed, appropriately enough, Huge Spaceship; the quirky music; jumping around on a giant, robotic bunny. LittleBigPlanet 2 is full of such moments, worked effortlessly into sprawling levels that will constantly surprise you.
Though LBP2 is full of the kinds of things you’d expect from a platformer, like pits, spikes, fire, and chasms, it adds a few new powerups and elements to expand Sackboy’s experiences. Although Sackboy could always grip on to cloth, the grabinator gloves let him pick up other things, now, too. The creatinator looks like a miner’s cap and shoots out water in some levels, fairy cakes in others. (For those who may be wondering, yes, a hat that shoots cupcakes is pretty much as entertaining as it sounds.) You’ll also snag the grappling hook, which lets you hang from soft bits of scenery and swing Tarzan-like from side to side. The most endearing of the new additions to LBP2 is undoubtedly the diminutive Sackbots, tiny automatons that will follow Sackboy to the ends of the earth, which can spell misfortune when he’s a little too slow getting through a set of crushers.
Though you’ll be using the same basic moves and tools in each new realm, each creator’s environment feels completely unique and separate from the others. Clive’s factory feels nothing like DaVinci’s lab, and really nothing can compare to the experience you’ll have in Avalon Centrifuge’s training facility. LBP2 does an excellent job of subtly crafting levels that require an ever-increasing degree of Sackboy mastery. You can make it through to the end without too much trouble, but if you want to hit all the prize bubbles – a real must for anyone interested in dabbling with LBP2‘s creation tools – you’ll need to work at it. Most levels require more than one playthrough in order to grab everything, and you’ll usually need some friends along, too; some areas are only accessible when two or more players are along for the fun.
If LittleBigPlanet is known for one thing – besides its adorable star, of course – it’s the game’s robust creation tools, which are even more impressive in LBP2. Experienced designers will be thrilled by new additions like water, neon, and microchips that allow you to program objects with basic commands, while newcomers will appreciate the effort that went into the dozens of tutorials the game provides. Newbie designers may feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of possibilities LBP2‘s creation tools provide, but the joy of seeing your work come together as a playable level is difficult to overstate. Even players who swear they don’t have a creative bone in their bodies should take a crack at crafting a level; the design tools are so incredibly simple to use that even fashioning a simple environment is rewarding.
Bottom Line: LittleBigPlanet 2‘s controls leave a bit to be desired, but the game is so charming that it’s begging to be played anyway. The main story is pretty short, but the player-created levels will offer near-endless supply of Sackboy experiences. The level creation tools, with their new additions, are so vast and easy to use that you might even wind up creating a few levels yourself.
Recommendation: If you have a PS3, you should own this game. It is happiness in cloth form, tied up with whimsy and dotted with brilliant.
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game.[rating=4]
Game: LittleBigPlanet 2
Developer: Media Molecule
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: January 17, 2011
Platform: PlayStation 3
Available from: Amazon
Susan Arendt is determined to create her very own level, complete with cheese, a conveyor belt, and a large, angry cat.