GeekDad Gets Hands-On With “Little Big Planet”

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Last week, we were able to play the Little Big Planet beta. This was exciting news, given how much we’ve been looking forward to this game. I gathered my kids up, turned on the PS3 and eagerly sat down for a couple hours, playing levels over and over again, sharing the controllers and more or less smiled, laughed & giggled the whole time. LbpgeekdadLbpgeekdad

Following that gaming session, the next 24 hours went something like this:

"Daddy, can we play Little Big Planet again?"

"I drew this level for Little Big Planet. Here’s the start …"

"Can we play Little Big Planet now?"

"Look at the Sackboy I made."

"Daddy, can we PLEASE play Little Big Planet?"

"Stop hogging the controller, Daddy!"

It’s official: my kids have developed a real addiction. And I am, sadly, their codependent father.

As one of the most anticipated games for the Playstation 3, Little Big Planet definitely lives up to the hype. Let’s take a closer look and see why.

Gameplay

LBP’s intro explains that, as we rest & dream, all of our excess creative energy leaves us and floats skyward – collecting with all of the other excess creative energy to form the Little Big Planet, a place just waiting to be explored.

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The introduction – and the tutorials integrated into the gameplay – are narrated by a gentleman whose voice and the accompanying music are highly reminiscent of the Lemon Jelly song "His Majesty King Raam".
Which is interesting because the music of Little Big Planet plays a big role in creating its atmosphere. (And – yes – The Go Team’s "Get it
Together
" is featured in the game.) But, creatively, the sound can be much more than just environmental, allowing it to become its own game element.

Lbp2Lbp2From our Pod, the headquarters from which our Sackboy operates in low orbit above the Little Big Planet, we chose to begin Story mode. The campaign begins, providing us with a (mostly) unobtrusive tutorial on controlling our Sackboy and how to interact with the LBP environments.
The visuals are pure eye candy – very realistic looking. The appeal of the level elements is that they look as though they could have actually been made from elements found about the home: corrugated cardboard, sponges, fabric and felt, wire and string.

We began with a boring, plain Sackboy and an easy level. As we completed certain goals and grabbed items, we were awarded with a variety of clothes, stickers and other objects that we could use to customize our Sackboy, our own levels, our Pod and so on. We quickly had enough to customize our character into a bunny wearing an
Elizabethan gown and adorned with Hawaiian floral printed skin. It was one of many wonderfully silly moments. Once we open more of the full game, we imagine the possibilities to customize seem to become endless.

Within an hour, we had slowly made our way through the 3 progressively tougher levels contained in the beta, using two players at some points, a single player at others. "That’s it?" I thought.

Oh well, we decided to play them through again, since skills and knowledge learned in later levels allow levels to be played again to collect more goodies and get a higher completion percentage. After completing the three levels again, we decided to revisit out Pod, where we discovered dozens more levels just waiting to be played.


Level Sharing

True to Little Big Planet’s intro, the idea of collective creativity can be found in abundance in the Cool Levels mode of game play. By selecting this option, we were able to choose from level after level that other users had created. Each level is identified by a circular avatar that features a snapshot from the level. What’s more, each level has a series of helpful information to assist us in choosing what to play: the author has provided a brief description, there’s a number that shows how many times the level has been played and another number that tells how many times it has been "hearted" or designated a favorite. Finally, there’s a page full of keywords. After playing each user-generated level, players are able to select from an auto-generated list to pick a word that describes the level: bubbly, race, goofy … just a few of the choices. Littlebigplanetthumb287x450Littlebigplanetthumb287x450

We looked through and quickly latched on to a logical choice for a first try at a user-generated level — one simply called "roflcopter".
It took a try or two to figure out, but eventually we jumped in a helicopter (that bore an eerie resemblance to its ASCII counterpart) and pulled a switch that ignited a jet engine, launching us up a ramp made of ice, before hitting the ramp’s lip and cartwheeling us out of control and finally smashing into the finish line. True to the level’s name, we rolled around the floor, laughing.

After that, it was on to "Death Wheel", "Duck Mobile" and an absolutely wonderful, spot-on (and playable!) level simply named "Space Invaders".
If this is what users have generated in the last few weeks and months, we can hardly wait to see what creative levels are generated once it has been available to the public in much greater numbers. What’s more, all of these levels – create a virtually endless amount of gameplay –
seemingly for free. The cynic in me can only imagine how much Microsoft would charge for each level if this game was on the Xbox.

There’s one additional mode of play – Quick Play – that puts the player into the LBP version of a jump rope contest. This mode was plagued –
for us – by horrible lag as other players entered and left the room.
(Strangely enough, we never actually saw them.) Hopefully, this is just a bug waiting to be ironed out and this mode will be more useful in the final version. Its current value was questionable for us.


Creating Our Own

Having seen what great creations others had come up with, we decided to make our own. So we went back to the Pod and set our destination for one of the two moons surrounding Little Big Planet. (One moon is for level creation, the other is for social networking – sharing pics, levels, messages and getting news.) After selecting a background for our level, we were ready to begin creating. However, we couldn’t.

Despite the fact we had the tools to create at our disposal, we had to sit through tutorials and exercises before actually being allowed to use them. A minor gripe, I suppose. And by completing the exercises, we were awarded plenty of new items to play with in our level building –
but it seems like a scenario of putting the cart before the horse.

The process of building is quick and painless. All of the items for building are readily available to Sackboy and moving or deleting items is a breeze. About 15 minutes after finishing the tutorials we had a basic level built and were beta-testing it ourselves.


Final Thoughts

We did have a couple of hiccups – with hangs while decorating our Pod and the nasty lag with Quick Play – but we’re willing to chalk those up to the fact that we were not playing the finished version. The gameplay – both the levels generated by the developers and those by the users were incredibly fun and wonderful to play. Sure, some of them were pretty difficult … but that’s just one of the reasons this is a great game for everybody. There are levels easy enough for kids and others that are tough enough to challenge experienced gamers.

What’s more, it took my six-year-old son to point out that if I put an in-game sticker on a cardboard star, that I’d get items in return.
Maybe that’s just something kids get, because I didn’t. But it’s just another way that the game is really collaborative.  All in all – Little
Big Planet is one of the best games I have played in a long time …
and easily the most creative. This game releases in a couple of weeks –
on October 22 – and you can bet we’ll pick it up that day. 

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