Preview: LittleBigPlanet Vita is about the little touches

August 8, 2012

You’d think a portable version of a console game as ambitious as LittleBigPlanet would have to make some compromises in the transition. That was certainly the case with the PSP port, as while the game was an admirable effort, it certainly didn’t have the capabilities of its big brother. LittleBigPlanet for the Vita, on the other hand, seems to be equally-capable, if not more so, thanks to developers Tarsier and Double Eleven taking advantage of the hardware’s strengths.

This new adventure takes you through the world of Carnivalia, and the campaign seems to try for a mysterious tone and a slightly-creepy aesthetic. At this point, it’s nice to see an attempt at a themed adventure, at least when it’s possible, since it’s no longer entirely about providing disparate sets of parts for the Create mode. Also, the campaign is the least important part of LBP Vita, as the revamped creation setup and cool new tools steal the show.

While we’re certainly not capable of making really slick levels on the first attempt, we were able to check out some of the more experimental levels from Tarsier/Double Eleven and the community. While LittleBigPlanet 2 introduced the “platform for games” concept, LBP Vita allows for creating the types of games we’ve seen in the burgeoning mobile space.  You can make touch-controlled platformers, puzzle games and silly action levels. You can orient everything vertically and hold the Vita sideways. You can save long-term progress, meaning games can keep track of levels you’ve beaten and items you’ve collected between play sessions.  Oh, and you can totally tilt stuff.

Even with normal levels, there’s a lot here to make things easier. The Create mode uses front and back touch as cursors and such, so you’ll be able to make things more quickly when you dive in. The front and back cameras make for easier access to custom stickers, though we’re sure super-serious creators will go for something a bit higher-quality. And since the portable nature of the game means fewer chances for multiplayer sessions (though the game still has that full functionality, both online and ad-hoc), there’s greater opportunity to make super-challenging levels that make players juggle multiple input devices at once.

We’d like to share a few specific experiences to better express LBP Vita‘s capabilities. In one level, you control your own Sackboy along a bottom path of the screen, triggering and grabbing things as you normally do. A Sackbot inhabits the upper path, and it responds to front-touch commands to jump on things and progress along. A follow-up level gives the Sackbot a head-mounted water gun, aimed with the rear touch, that is used to trigger things it can’t reach. The result is a strange, frantic amalgamation of holding the R button, tilting to one side and using both touch functions at once to clear yourself a path. It’s crazy. It’s also kind of brilliant.

In another level, you turn the Vita sideways and tap parts of a series of pipes to change their orientation in an effort to have two different-colored balls fall into the right spots. Yes, it’s a puzzle game, and there’s a touch-based puzzle select menu and everything. (We also saw a similar set-up with a whack-a-mole-style game, as well as a tap-to-jump platformer with three special collectibles in each level and persistent level progress. Those were developer creations, but entirely possible for amateurs in the toolset.) And while they weren’t fully-functional prototypes, people are already working on touch-based real-time strategy games, fully-playable musical instruments and games where you stop ants from stealing your food by crushing them between your fingers.

If you’re looking for that second-wave game that accomplishes all the things a launch title should have, justifying the system’s new elements and being compelling enough to play for weeks and months, this could be it. LittleBigPlanet lands on the Vita on September 25.