For the longest time, I associated new console launches with bright, colorful, and challenging platformers. That’s mostly thanks to my childhood being filled with Nintendo’s home consoles coming out of the gate with classics like Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64. It’s with that mindset that I was so pleasantly surprised to discover that Sackboy: A Big Adventure carries that running/jumping/collecting torch with grace. It delivers an excellent platformer filled to the brim with challenge, creativity, and charm, regardless of whether you play it as part of your first batch of PlayStation 5 games or as one of your last on PlayStation 4.
Developed by Sumo Digital, the game takes the titular Sackboy mascot from the LittleBigPlanet series, removes the 2D focus in favor of isometric 3D playgrounds, and thrusts him into a wonderful journey that hits on just the right amount of challenge without ever becoming frustrating.
A charming and unobtrusive story finds resident bad guy Vex, perfectly voiced by Richard E. Grant, on a power-hungry rampage to steal the creativity from Craftworld, and it’s up to our felt hero to stop him. The premise is light, but the writing and performances across the board are charming, funny, and never take themselves too seriously, like when a rampant A.I. begins to lose control and responds by dryly declaring, “Oh my, I seem to be suffering from stereotypical sci-fi glitches.”
This time around, LBP’s signature creation tools are left in the cupboard in favor of bespoke levels that constantly introduce new and interesting gameplay tweaks that keep the 10-hour adventure feeling fresh. While some might be bummed out to lose that core creative element that was so crucial to the series’s original trilogy, the streamlined focus here has led to hands-down the strongest level design in series history.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure’s 75 or so stages are presented as bite-sized, linear challenges with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, as you search for an array of collectables. Think more along the lines of Super Mario 3D World’s levels than Super Mario 64’s open worlds. You have no control over the camera, which is a bit of a double-edged sword depending on the situation. Not having to worry about fiddling with your view meant that I could concentrate solely on the platforming task at hand. That said, I walked straight into bottomless pits more times than I care to admit simply because I couldn’t maneuver the camera to see if it was safe or not.
The levels themselves look fantastic on PS4 but especially shine on PS5. There’s a constant hum of energy on every corner of the screen, with excellent use of dense layers of activity in the foreground and background. The DIY nature at the series’s core is on full display here, both in terms of the level design and the multitude of cosmetics you can unlock to dress up Sackboy however you see fit. I was always excited to see what new outfit I could cobble together and which new location I’d be visiting next.
The platforming in Sackboy: A Big Adventure feels solid, if not quite up to the atmospheric highs of its Nintendo inspirations. Sackboy runs and jumps with a nice feeling of inertia, and a Yoshi-esque fluttering ability allows for some mid-air improvisation. Grabbing onto objects with R2 adds a tactile nature to your relationship with the world, which works wonderfully with the series’s Punch and Judy aesthetic. And levels built around various gimmicks, such as a grappling hook, boomerang, or hover boots, add some excellent variety into the mix.
That said, Sackboy’s combat doesn’t feel quite as good, as a combination of the fixed vantage point and under-defined hitboxes led to a handful of deaths that didn’t quite feel like they were my fault. Thankfully the game is extremely generous with checkpoints and lives, making it accessible for folks who aren’t looking for a masochistic challenge — for that, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time has you covered — while still rewarding players who really want to kick the completionist tires.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure’s toybox is deep, as there’s a ton of stuff to find in each stage and earn through the challenging Knitted Knight time trials, and the game’s excellent final world can only be fully explored once you’ve mastered most of what’s come before it, adding a lot of replayability and reward for expert play. Couple this with an explorable overworld map filled with shops, mini-games, and secrets of its own, and Sackboy has enough to keep you busy long into PlayStation 5’s launch window.
An unexpected highlight in the game comes in how its music is not only a fantastic accompaniment to the creative levels, but oftentimes an integral part of them. The score perfectly fits each level’s theme, and the soundtrack as a whole kept me wonderfully surprised, with orchestral covers of everything from Madonna’s “Material Girl,” to the Futurama theme song, to the best take on “Fly Me to the Moon” this side of Neon Genesis Evangelion.
But apart from this, each of the worlds contains a musical stage built around the rhythm of a specific famous song, much like Ubisoft did in 2013’s Rayman Legends. While the opening world’s use of “Uptown Funk” had me groaning a bit from what I assumed the rest of the songs would be like, the subsequent choices left me grinning like an idiot in how unexpectedly perfect they were. I won’t spoil the surprise, but they ended up being some of my absolute favorite levels in any 2020 game.
The entirety of Sackboy: A Big Adventure can be played cooperatively with 2-4 players, including a handful of stages that can only be accessed through multiplayer. As expected, co-op dials back some of the exploration and platforming precision in favor of wonderful emergent gameplay moments where we found ourselves creating our own micro-challenges, devising cooperative strategies against bosses, and “accidentally” tossing one another into chasms. But at launch, there’s only local co-op available, with an online mode being patched in down the road. So keep in mind that if you only have one PlayStation 5 controller at launch, you won’t be able to access some of the stages and won’t be able to get the game’s Platinum Trophy.
On PS5, the game’s use of the DualSense is solid, if a bit overshadowed by how incredibly Astro’s Playroom showcases the new technology. The haptic feedback really shines in certain situations, like when your hover boots begin to sputter out or as you pull on an object that responds with an appropriate level of tension. That said, I did have to turn the controller volume down quite a bit, because for some reason, the sound of Sackboy’s scream whenever you lose a life was hilarious/alarmingly loud.
While it’s sure to be overshadowed by the excellent pair of Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls, Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a wonderful platformer and a strong part of what makes the PS5’s launch lineup arguably the best in video game history. The aesthetic beauty, incredible use of music, and wealth of unlockables overshadow some of the finicky control issues. Whether you’re going it alone or partying up with some pals, Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a great entry to one of Sony’s beloved franchises.