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It’s A LittleBigPlanet, After All

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    LittleBigPlanet 3

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    It’s A LittleBigPlanet, After All

    For better or worse (almost assuredly better), PlayStation never really had a mascot. All the other cool companies seemed to have one, but Sony resisted that peer pressure and persisted on with nothing but their enormous piles of money to keep them company. Nintendo had Mario and Link, SEGA had Sonic and increasingly bad business decisions, and Microsoft had Bill Gates and his terrifying, unblinking visage. Sony had some guys that showed up every once in a while, sure, but they’re not what we would really consider mascots. Crash Bandicoot was around for a bit in the early days of the original PlayStation, but then he sort of retired on account of most of his later titles feeling like they were made by actual bandicoots. PlayStation 2 had Jak or Sly or maybe Ratchet or Kratos or any number of a revolving door of exclusive characters that were never quite big enough to compare to the Marios of the world. And then came PlayStation 3, and Sackboy from the LittleBigPlanet series decided to show his adorable little face. He is probably the closest thing Sony has had to a true mascot for some time, and one of the ones with the greatest longevity. So when LittleBigPlanet 3 was announced for the PS4, people were understandably excited. One of the biggest exclusive names for Sony was making his very first appearance on their brand new toy, so expectations were high. And while LittleBigPlanet 3 is definitely a solid gaming experience, it probably isn’t the sort of thing you want for a flagship title for your consoles due to a handful of notable issues.

    Wherever Sackboy goes there seems to be trouble. He’s just an adorable little harbinger of doom at this point, and it would be like if the four horsemen of the apocalypse were replaced by monkeys riding on puppies. Adorable, but utterly terrifying. The poor planet he is bringing doom upon this time is Bunkum, a planet full of creativity and happiness and routine platforming challenges (hey, the architect got bored, okay?). Sackboy is visiting at a good time, because apparently some time in the past three titans were mucking everything up by sucking up all the creative inspiration from the land, causing general chaos, boredom, and too many Real Housewives spinoffs to count. Sackboy meets the affable Newton, who tells him that they need to go make sure the Titans don’t escape, and that they are locked up tight and definitely won’t escape ever, no way, no how. I’ll let you guess what happens next, but if you guessed “they stay locked up and the game ends prematurely”, please contact your nearest healthcare professional because you sound concussed. Sackboy must jump into action to save Bunkum and return creativity to all of its poor inhabitants before they go and do something terrible like invent the Snuggie.

    The story itself is fine, even if it is fairly reminiscent of some past Sackboy adventures. It really isn’t a particularly riveting tale, but then again the stories themselves in these games was never one of the big selling points. Instead, it is the charm and presentation that breathe life into the world and makes you invested in its goings on. And, like every other game in this series, this is a charming title from top to bottom. Sackboy is a cute little bundle of burlap, and all the environments and background are loving created and rendered in this delightfully whimsical style. Each area has their own little guardian that shuttles Sackboy to and from the various levels, and they have characteristically wonky and silly things to say. They all do a good job providing some entertainment with their little bits of dialogue, and overall the production values here are quite impressive. LittleBigPlanet has always had this wonderful style that almost perfectly captures the feel of imagination and whimsy that the series seems designed around, and LittleBigPlanet 3 is no exception.

    The core gameplay here is essentially the same thing as all the past LittleBigPlanet titles, so by this point you should probably be able to tell already if you’re going to be a fan of this or not. Did you like the past games? Good, it’s more of that. Did you not like the past games? Bad, it’s more of that. If you are somehow entirely new to the series and need me to actually describe it to you (ugh, actually reviewing the game, am I right?), LittleBigPlanet 3 is a sort of puzzle platformer with slightly floaty platforming and fairly easy puzzling. Each level has different layers you can jump in and out of, obastacles to jump over, and a couple of “puzzles” that most of the time aren’t puzzles as much as they are “things to do”. It is a nice assortment of challenges here, but overall the game is a bit on the easy side. This isn’t one of those precision platformers where every jump matters. Most of the time you’re just jumping over little gaps, which is fine because with how floaty Sackboy is the engine wasn’t really built for anything too complex. Checkpoints are frequent so if you do die, you don’t go too far back, and there are various extra goodies hidden around that you need to find. It is a fairly solid package, overall, and this is a good enough platformer as long as you aren’t looking for too much of a challenge.

    Something the game does really well is the level design. The controls here are fairly simple, but the levels do a good job making the most of the tools provided. There is something satisfying about making it through a level in this game, even if they really never get around to testing your skills. Every little bit is thought out, and they do a nice job introducing interesting areas or challenges that feel different from things you’ve already done. Each area usually introduces a new power up as well, integrating this new tool into the levels and adding a new facet to gameplay. There is a hook hat that allows you to attach and glide down railings, boost boots that give you a second jump courtesy of the boost, and a gun that blows air and can move certain objects you can reach otherwise. It is a nice assortment of tools, and the levels do a great job showing off how they work. Things can be a bit basic at times and even with all the good ideas the game has it feels like they still could’ve done more. Still, with level design this strong, it is easy to look past little complaints like that.

    They also do a fantastic job with the level variety here, perhaps even more so than in past games. There is a lot outside of the normal platforming levels, beyond just sticking stickers on random things like LittleBigPlanet has always been fond of. There are a handful of different boss levels which tend to use the mechanics in some halfway interesting way, but these are fairly straightforward and really aren’t even as clever or complex as the standard levels. But you also have three little buddies you unlock along the way that have their own levels and own entirely unique mechanics. There’s a bird that can fly, a dog that can run up walls and jump off them, and a guy named Toggle that swaps back and forth between a little and big version of himself. Each has their own specific set of challenges to face and changes the standard gameplay fairly significantly. On top of these, there are extra little bonus challenges that mix things up in some way. One level has you controlling eight different sack people at once while another will have you flying around and avoiding missiles as long as you can. Overall, this is a very diverse package, and all the different things the game throws at you adds up to one satisfying experience. Every thing the game does, it does well, and it never feels like these new elements were just tacked on for the sake of it. They do a great job keeping things feeling new, and of all the LittleBigPlanet games this feels like the one with the biggest variety to it.

    It is a bit disappointing how short the whole experience is, however. There are four areas, each of which has four standard levels and a handful of side quests you can do. It feels like the briefest LittleBigPlanet adventure by a good margin, and if you wanted to you could probably power through it in a single day or two if you just want to get to the ending. Multiple playthroughs are encouraged, but they don’t always do a great job of encouraging you to do so. You get bonuses for finishing the level without dying, which is admittedly a solid enough challenge and a nice addition as the game itself can be a little easy without it. However you also will need to replay the level after you beat it the first time, because almost every single level has a switch trigger you can’t use until you get a specific sticker that is awarded for completing that same level. That isn’t any additional content, LittleBigPlanet. That is the same damn content you are just forcing us to do again because you ran out of ideas. There are some entertaining levels here and the core gameplay is solid, but it feels like we’re missing out on a good chunk of adventure.

    Of course, the actual story adventure is really just a small piece of what LittleBigPlanet 3 has to offer. This series always is really desperate to get you involved in the action, like the oversupportive parents always pushing their kid to do new things because they know how amazing and special he truly is. They basically give you the entire development kit here, and after you finish the main quest you can jump online to create your own or see what else other people have made. There is a ton of replay here because of this, and you will almost certainly never run out of levels to play. This is one of the few games like this where they provide a strong single player campaign in addition to all the creation tools, so if player created content isn’t your cup of tea, there is still enough here to warrant a look on its own. There is a lot to see and do, and there is a tremendous amount of promise to the online play here simply because of how impressive the level creation tools are.

    Unfortunately, a lot of this promise is undermined by the fact that the online functionality of LittleBigPlanet is completely and utterly broken. This game came out like three years ago now, so the likelihood of it getting fixed at this point is roughly the same as Nintendo releasing a patch to fix all the problems in Superman 64, and once something is broken long enough it just tends to stay broke-ed. The issue here is the servers are powered by one old man in Nebraska turning a crank, and you’re about as likely to have a fluid cooperative experience online in LittleBigPlanet 3 as you are to have one in Duck Hunt for the NES. This is an issue when one of the big selling points in this series has been cooperation and online play, and the game even goes as far to hide some of the prize bubbles behind doors that can only be accessed by two players.

    It clearly wants there to be cooperative play here, so it doesn’t make sense as to why they did such an atrocious job with the servers. “Come play online with friends,” the game says. “Sure, how?” you reply, only to notice the game is now glitching up and down and has throw you halfway across the level while shouting gibberish. The lag is so egregiously bad, even with just one other player online, that I lost track of the times I killed myself in game because it wasn’t registering my inputs correctly and kept me running long after I told it to stop. There’s one quest here that require four players, and good luck finding a PS4 that can handle that because when I tried 1% of the time was spent actually playing, 49% was spent trying to get my character to move, and 50% was spent trying to put out the fire that started on top of my PS4. It leaves the online almost unplayable, and if you’re trying to do anything other than downloading levels to play by yourself, you aren’t going to have a good time.

    There is another issue here, beyond the fact that in the time it took me to type this sentence I got booted from the servers three different times. This is a game that relies heavily on user created content, which might not even sound like a bad thing to most people. The game is based around that idea, that in every person playing it lies a spark of creativity and brilliance just waiting to get out and that we should share it with everyone. It sounds like a noble idea, but it also leads me to believe the creators of this series have never talked to other people before or viewed a Yahoo news comments section. Here is the thing. There are a lot of fun little levels here. Lots of good ideas that definitely help extend the life of the game and give you something to do after the main quest is over. The “top rated levels” are full of fun adventures like this, varying in length from one really well designed level to entire adventures with stories and cutscenes and multiple areas. But the absolute best of these still aren’t as good as the stuff in the main portion of the game. Nor, should they be, really. If random weirdos are putting together levels in their free time that surpass what an entire team of people is getting paid to develop, then someone should probably be fired. Maybe multiple people, because there is no way “SnoicXAmy5EvAr” should be making things better than people that does this professionally.

    The vast majority of levels here are absolutely awful, terrible little abominations vomited up by the Internet to make your day a little worse. A lot of the top pick stuff is excellent, but even that isn’t a guarantee. Going outside of that though, you will not find a more retched hive of scum and villainy anywhere, regardless of what lies Obi-Wan Kenobi tries to tell you. Most levels are barely even levels, weird little blips randomly thrown together that are just random assortments of items and blocks without any real design to them. It’s like a level editor threw up and no one bothered to clean up. One level I wandered into was a weird Sonic fanfiction come to life, and it was like I accidentally wandered into a weird section of the internet I didn’t want to be on. Even the best levels here are missing just a little something, and even with all the heart and effort people put into this, they simply can’t compete with the years and experience needed to put together something really remarkable. The user content here is good, but I wouldn’t have recommended the game based on that alone.

    The tools the game gives you to create stuff though is really impressive. There is a ton of variety online, various little adventure or minigames that really make the most out of the tools provided. And honestly, the only limit to what you want to create is your imagination. As long as you want to sit down and work at it, the tools here are interesting and allow for a ton of customization and creativity. The only issue is they aren’t always intuitive, and you will need a lot of practice and sitting through tutorials to figure out exactly what the hell you should be doing. The level creator feature is fantastic, to be sure, but you essentially need your Ph.D. in LittleBigPlanetology to put together something halfway decent, and this isn’t exactly the kind of creation feature a lot of people are going to be able to jump right in and do something with right away.

    There is also the question of whether or not this is worth it. Not in an existential sense, mind you. I don’t want you sitting at your television screen with a sense of dread that you’re wasting your life trying to figure out the perfect positioning of bounce pads. It more in the sense of “is anyone even going to play this?” that I’m talking about. Here’s a hint, by the way. The answer is no. Putting up a level in LittleBigPlanet 3 is like spitting into a pool and trying to find your saliva afterwards. There is just so much content, and since so much of the new stuff is genuinely terrible, no one is playing it. No one is looking for random levels because 99% of random levels are no fun. So if you spend hours putting together something halfway decent, or days putting together something great, there is almost a 100% chance that it is going to be lost in the wild right after you post it, played by maybe one or two people and then forgotten about forever. So not only is it a bit difficult to put together a level, there is a good chance it isn’t going to pay off in any way because the game simply does not incentivize playing anyone’s levels other than the “top pick” ones they promote.

    LittleBigPlanet 3 is a good game that could’ve been a great one. There are a lot of good ideas here, but so much self-inflicted harm that it gets hard to see them sometimes behind all the band-aids. There are some great core mechanics here and the platforming segments are a lot of fun, but this is also the shortest game in the series so it doesn’t have time to shine as long as it should. The emphasis on a multiplayer cooperative experience is great, but the servers are currently on fire and you can’t possibly have any fun when the lag is this bad. And the tools they give you for level creation are fantastic, but the majority of stuff people put up online is awful and it is hard to get your own creations noticed. Still, even with all the shortcomings, this is an entertaining experience and it is at least charming enough to take home and snuggle up on the couch with. It might not be as good as it could’ve been, but it is still good enough to warrant a purchase. So come visit LittleBigPlanet. Just watch out for all the construction.

    Create (THE GOOD):
    +Really good level design that compliments the mechanics
    +Great presentation full of charm and whimsy
    +Great level of variety in the gameplay, plenty of side missions and new mechanics to keep things fresh
    +Decent assortment of tools and new characters that integrate some interesting gameplay elements
    +Really good toolkit that would let you create basically anything you want
    +Tons of online levels are created by the community and basically add endless repaly value

    Destroy (THE BAD):
    -Online play feels almost broken at times, and the lag can make playing with friends almost impossible
    -Most of the online levels are absolutely terrible, and if you venture off of the “top picks” or “most hearts”, you will really have a hard time finding something decent
    -Creating an amazing level with tons of tricks almost feels like a waste of time because there is a very low chance anyone will play it
    -Game is short and it feels like an entire area is missing
    -Platforming is a bit floaty and overall the difficulty is tuned a bit low
    -Some bad design decisions that have always plagued the series – putting stickers on thing isn’t fun or interesting in any way

    Imitate (THE UGLY): It is kind of hard to pick a vey worst moment for me, as pretty much the entire online experience kind of blends together in one big dumpster fire. Trying to get the four player quest finished was the worst though. It is a race with all four of the characters, where each will need to complete specific tasks along the way to open up the path and get to the end. It sounds like a lot of fun, and it might have been, but with four people the lag is so bad you might as well start putting in your inputs yesterday if you want them to register in the game at the current time. It is like watching a video of someone playing the game with about a three second delay and trying to guess what their next input should be. The next time LittleBigPlanet wants to put in some online play, they might want to use something better than the servers they stole from a 1994 elementary school class to power it.

    THE VERDICT: 7.00/10.00

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