It’s interesting that, in an age of mimicry, there are certain proven formulas that go entirely unnoticed, and as a result, remain at the fore of innovation through under-the-radar solitude. The case on show here is in the console area of user-generated content; a flower seemingly ripe for the picking, yet so few have really dabbled in the area, including the world’s most innovative software and hardware developer - Nintendo.
While the larger powers that be at Microsoft and Sony are busy emulating Nintendo’s success with expanding their core audience to include casual players with motion-sensors and controllers, a developer within one of these powers is busy innovating on its own merits and are leading the user-generated content charge with a tried and tested formula the creative community is eating up in droves.
LittleBigPlanet came out of nowhere and immediately caught the attention of gamers and critics alike; serving up a never-before-seen tool-set designed to give you
the freedom to be free
. It’s arguable, that even the game’s developer, Media Molecule, weren’t ready for the rollout of content their ever-expanding community would create, and while it might seem like cashing in from afar - to craft a sequel - if anything they owe
it to the community that fed their innovative idea in the first place to expand the tool-set and create scenarios with more endless creative opportunities.
And that’s just what they’ve done. LittleBigPlanet 2 expands on the original in every way, while equally innovating beyond that core foundation to be anything but
a simple expansion. Yet it retains so much of the first game in a move clearly designed to allow for cross-title consistency. Sack Boy, for example, still has the same lofty jumps and manoeuvres of the first outing; clearly allowing for him to transition between creations of both games, for newcomers and old-schoolers alike. It’s also nice to have that retention amidst the oft overwhelming creation additions along with some familiarity - make no mistake, if you spent a lot of time crafting in the first game, you need to put some serious time aside for LBP2.
Stephen Fry returns to offer his character and voice to the game’s menu and tutorial - his English fair makes for a more accessible guide to what can only be described as akin to reading the dictionary at times. It’s heady, but the team have done a great job of not scaring players away, and you’re tasked with completing the game’s first seven levels in its first world before you can really do anything.
As was the case in the first game, LBP2 is essentially a platformer designed to feed your ideas in the creation process. The platforming and puzzle stuff in general is pretty good. It’s not A-Grade Nintendo quality, but very little really is. What it does then is offer a bit of gameplay substance to what is otherwise an interactive pro-tools for gaming; you get all the tools from the last game and as usual, you’ll unlock more to play with the more
you play through the game’s single-player offering.
But even this has been expanded now, with new gadgets and even an entirely new gameplay mechanic requiring you to lead ”Sackbots” through a level - the more you can carry through alive, the more you’re rewarded at the end of your venture. Like alchemy, LittleBigPlanet 2 is about equal exchange; what you put in, you’ll get back in kind, and it’s in this system the game employs you to push on, especially if you’re investing in the title as something of a budding game-designer, because when hitting the Workbench, you’re going to want your entire creation arsenal at your knitted stump tips.
On the single-player side of things, there are six themed worlds to play through, and as you’d expect each world and level within introduces you to new mechanics, level-design ideas, gadgets and gameplay options. One such new gadget is the Grappling hook, which I found invaluable in many of the levels I played through, and probably one of the more fun additions to the game overall (simple, but awesome). As for the game’s enemy AI, it was probably the most lacking thing overall, which seems carried over from the first game as well. They’re essentially the same as the game’s tools and in that they function, but it’s largely as they’re supposed to - there’s nothing dynamic about them, which basically makes them no different to a rolling log triggered by a well-placed trap or the like. This is definitely an area I think the game could use some love in, from both the single-player side of things and the creation stuff.
The meat of this fluff-filled game though, is in making you’re own... whatever it is you want to make, and in that department, I can say navigating and using tools and equipment is both much more robust and very, very easy. They’ve certainly beefed everything up, but it’s all logical and you can bend, shape and mold things the way you want to - aficionados of the last game are going to have a ball here, while newcomers will discover an easy-to-use system that rewards creativity.
It’s difficult to review this aspect of the game though, because what’s on offer is either going to feed the individual user, confuse them or frustrate them, and it really boils down to personal choice. Personally
I spent a fair amount of time at the Workbench and in my own levels, and found it to be far more engaging than the first game, though this time around, I also knew what to expect - but really, this aspect is going to come down to personal desires and choice.
While the PC community has been at the fore of user-generated content for gaming for a long time, LittleBigPlanet 2 is leading the charge for console gamers, and it’s equally great to see that it has so far been unchallenged, but I’m guessing after the release of LBP2 that’s likely to change, the point is though, you don’t need to be scared of downloading the latest Unreal SDK, because you can play with a plush, cute little creature and his myriad tools and worlds with ease. For the creative and driven out there, LittleBigPlanet 2 is an absolute no-brainer, for everyone else, check it out anyway; you’ll be surprised at the depth of the overall package.