LittleBigPlanet Karting: Driving in circles, creatively

November 21, 2012

If it wasn’t clear before that Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet is kind of a big deal, look no further than the addition of a goofy kart racer to the canon of the franchise for a towering heap of evidence. Aptly (though somewhat-awkwardly) titled LittleBigPlanet Karting, the game brings yet another helping of character customization and user-created levels while dropping the adorably creepy Sackboy mascots into little racecars held together with cardboard and soda cans.

Kart racers seem to be a sort of developer champagne toast, a celebration of the guaranteed money-printing capabilities of a successful property, new or old. Sometimes, they’re even fun to play!

Karting starts by respectfully dropping all pretense and more or less explaining to the gamer (with some whimsically entertaining narration) that they are back in the world of LittleBigPlanet, but this time they’ll be saving the day by driving cars! Unfortunately for newcomers, it assumes familiarity with the diegesis of LittleBigPlanet, and throws you in without much of an explanation of how the game works outside of an overlong demonstration of the simple driving mechanics. Karting was developed by United Front Games, the team responsible for the ModNation Racers series, so fans of those games should feel right at home.

Fiddling around with menus a bit will eventually lead to the real meat and potatoes of the game which, ironically, isn’t karting. Unsurprisingly, it is the massive presence of customization for which the series is known. You can, of course, customize the look of your Sackboy or your kart, make your own levels and even mess around with the look of the moon if you have nothing better to do with your time. It’s overwhelming at first, especially since the game is constantly throwing more stuff at you and stopping just short of forcing you to replay stages to acquire even more goodies. Still, it’s a lot of fun to click around the myriad options, if only just to look at the impressive ways the game renders various household textures such as yarn or leather.

Oddly enough, the racing portion of Karting is where things start to unravel. There’s nothing wrong with the gameplay at all, as it’s actually quite solid for a game like this. Everything works the way it should, it runs smoothly and, on occasion, has a good sense of speed. The problem lies in what the game doesn’t do, which is anything beyond the status quo. It’s essentially a simplified Mario Kart with the aesthetics of LittleBigPlanet and half the imagination.

The game may emphasize user-created content, but in order to unlock everything, you have to play through dozens of uninspired tracks that suffer from a severe lack of a “wow factor.” Add to that a smattering of bland powerups (though there is a single really neat one that zips you forward with the visual effect of a fast-forwarding VCR), and you have nothing interesting going on the entire time you’re racing. The game is so torn between being a LittleBigPlanet game and a competent kart racer that it struggles to come into its own as a unique, memorable experience.

LittleBigPlanet Karting will probably serve as a fun diversion for fans waiting for the next full entry in the series, but the full price tag will probably put a damper on the appeal. Fans of kart racers in general will probably be better off looking elsewhere, perhaps in the direction of Nintendo or Sega. There is a solid racer in here somewhere, but it tragically lacks the ambition that it needed to be more than a simple cash-grab.

Pros: Tons of customization, fun world with silly narration, solid driving mechanics
Cons: Lacks anything new or interesting that might set it apart from its peers

Score: 3/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.