LittleBigPlanet (Vita): The handheld’s killer app (store)

October 4, 2012

The original LittleBigPlanet was a marvel and a breakthrough. Hitting just as the world was ready for it, it provided the PS3 with three elements it desperately needed: a family-friendly flagship series, an excited, engaged creative community and a fun multiplayer game both online and locally. The second game was a logical next step, rounding off a few rough edges and really opening up the level creation possibilities. Along the way, it got a PSP version, which was generally scaled back to the point that no one could get too excited about.

Don’t worry, though. The Vita’s new LittleBigPlanet follows LBP2‘s formula most closely, letting the new creative possibilities drive the experience and hoping the rest falls into place.

Tarsier and Double Eleven take over development duties for this installment, and the fresh blood does a good job of maintaining continuity while delivering an inspired (if inconsistent) new creative bent to the game’s campaign. As you traverse through the quest to save Carnivalia from the Puppeteer, you’ll notice a mix of reminiscent and fresh aesthetics. Some familiar elements had to be retained for the game to contain those items to collect in the editor, and the game’s new control options are sometimes shoehorned into the levels in such a fashion that’s more demonstrative than inspired. Sometimes, though, like with the action-filled super-’80s world of Sean Brawn, mechanics and visuals mix in a way that’s simply a heck of a lot of fun.

So what are these mechanics? It won’t surprise you that touch takes center stage, with specially-colored objects able to be moved or triggered with front or back touch in a way reminiscent of LittleBigPlanet 2‘s Move functionality. It’s better here, as it’s more accurate and integrated, and in the campaign, it’s primarily used to push platforms or objects backward or forward in some interesting puzzle-platforming. There’s also tilt functionality, letting you slide hanging platforms. There are a few new iterations on old objects too, focusing on timing-based challenges that work well with the inherent multitasking.

We are getting to the point that the “imagisphere” thing is reaching the end of its useful life, and while the game is no less because of it, we’d appreciate it if future games scale back the schtick a bit. We love Stephen Fry as much as anyone, but we’d bet he’s tiring of these same phrases all the time. Still, the soundtrack feels like it belongs, which is an arduous enough task, and the new environments spawn a few interesting costumes to make your Sackperson sufficiently silly-looking.

The real gems in LBP Vita‘s campaign are the side levels. Generally throwaway concepts in previous games used to show how far the engine can stretch, LBP Vita‘s side levels offer super-polished little games in their own right. The system, with its touch control, does an admirable job emulating game types popular on the smaller and more phone-like portable devices, and the campaign includes takes on Bust-a-Move and air hockey, as well as thinking-heavy puzzlers. A new feature allows levels to save progress, allowing for stat-based games and ones with individual puzzles and three-star scales.

These are great inspiration for creators, who seem to already be jumping on the opportunity. LittleBigPlanet Vita isn’t compatible with levels from any other version (though it does allow use of costume DLC), but what it showing up is taking advantage of the new features. It’s a lot like an app store in there, as players recreate simple-but-addictive games in the LBP engine. It reminds me of an early-life Android Market; there are lots of clones, and things aren’t exactly polished, but since no one’s charging any money, it’s fun to go treasure hunting. You can even download levels to play while away from a Wi-Fi connection; it takes longer than it probably should, but you can load up your Vita with some cool “apps” for your next trip.

The rest of the online functionality isn’t incredibly notable. You can play online (or ad-hoc) with friends, though (probably due to level scripting purposes) you’re all stuck on a shared screen that behaves like the console version. The in-game level navigator still doesn’t make it easy to dig much further than the current cream of the crop, so if you love a good search (or want to find great levels suggested by others), it’s nice that is once again there for that purpose.

LittleBigPlanet is the hardware-justifying launch title the Vita badly needed and never received. It delivers on all the promise we saw earlier this year, and if you own a Vita, there’s no reason you shouldn’t dive in and have a good time.

Pros: Great touch-based creative elements, new mechanics allow for user-created app-style games
Cons: Aesthetic can get tiring at times, platforming still floaty, occasional server hiccups

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.