In 2008, Sony attempted to force-feed their starving fan base a lovable mascot in the form of Sackboy, and it worked. LittleBigPlanet was a sizable success, catapulted far beyond the core creation by developer Media Molecule thanks in large part to the viral, user-created levels. Two years later, the original LittleBigPlanet community is still ripe with over three million user-made creations and counting, so I have to wonder why (other than money) this sequel exists, as it feels like little more than a healthy expansion pack that addresses none of the former game’s fundamental flaws.
The story mode brings five new worlds, each containing a handful of stages leading up to a boss battle of variable epicness. More emphasis has been put on the game’s “story,” but like all unnecessary mascot sequels (I’m looking at you, Sonic/Crash), the plot makes extremely little sense. Like the game world itself, the characters and dialogue seem to have been chopped up into tiny pieces and glued back together haphazardly. Some prefer to label this approach “eclectic” and “artsy,” while I prefer to call it lazy, uninspired, and blatantly disjointed.
Media Molecule may have created the powerful editor tools, but they’re arguably the worst at actually using them. Like the original, the stages in LBP2 are questionably dark in tone, almost as if inspired by Wes Craven rather than Shigeru Miyamoto. The final boss even utters the line, “If you destroy me, you destroy yourselves!” and not in that acceptably cute Pinky and the Brain sort of way. The overall style and dreary color scheme make almost every story level seem like that one stage you loathe playing through in good games (such as the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time or the nightmare sequences in Max Payne), especially when they drag on long after they should have ended.
To further accentuate Media Molecule’s mediocre design philosophy, rather than fix the undeniably “floaty controls” of the first, they have simply attempted to cover it up with bells and whistles. In fact, you will spend at least half the game off the ground entirely thanks to the new grapple hook and an assortment of robotic bunnies and hamsters. Admittedly, there is considerably more variety this time around, especially in the optional cooperative and versus levels, but anything Media Molecule has delivered is immediately overshadowed by even the middle-tier user creations. I definitely enjoyed all the new toys Sackboy has at his disposal, though, and am looking forward to seeing their implementation into bigger and better things on the community side.
The clunky pod and world menu system returns, but luckily a website has been erected that will allow you to circumvent the terrible in-game navigation while searching for and rating user-created levels. Whether you’re about to play a story or custom level, an icon will show you how many other Sackfolk are currently on that specific level as well, and you will be given the option to join them (or they will attempt to join you, occasionally). This sort of social inter-connectivity is nice, but it has two major pitfalls. The first is that many LBP stages, including those crafted by Media Molecule, are not really optimized for two or more players. New Super Mario Bros. Wii cleverly found a way around most of these frustrations, but LittleBigPlanet 2 doesn’t have time for such absurd improvements, apparently. The second is that, from a technical standpoint, online multiplayer is shaky at best. Whether it’s lag you’re facing or abrupt, lengthy loading times for no apparent reason, there’s always something in the way of you enjoying your time with other Sack people.
The true genius of LittleBigPlanet lies far from the “official” content, deep within the layered universe of user-created goodness. Utilizing the enhanced features of the LBP toolset, players are free to create everything from new levels, characters, vehicles, or even new game types. Whether it’s a top-down racer, multiplayer puzzler, or isometric dungeon-crawling RPG, you’d be hard-pressed to think of something that can’t be done here. Sackbots alone open endless possibilities. In the story levels, these little robots follow you around helping with objectives and opening gates (a la the gadgebots in Ratchet and Clank). In the editor, however, they can be programmed to be friend or foe, to follow or to lead… Essentially, they infuse a sense of companionship or rivalry into the game even when playing alone. And, they’re surprisingly good about not jumping to their deaths, though one always seems to value his life less than the others. There are over 50 tutorials to help you get started, but anyone hoping to magically create something brilliant overnight has a rude awakening ahead of them. The game itself and all the marketing may be aimed directly at the unsuspecting casual market, but the editor requires more ingenuity and patience than the average gamer likely has time for.
Quite honestly, you can only slap each other around, collect pointless stickers, and throw the peace sign so many times before it gets old, and while I have nothing but the utmost appreciation for the immense talent poured into the community creations, LittleBigPlanet is never quite as much fun playing as it is to watch on YouTube–a surefire testament to the flaws inherent in the game’s design. Also, although the case says the game is Move-enabled, it is only referring to the extremely brief “Sackboy’s Prehistoric Adventures,” a downloadable title already on PSN. This isn’t even part of the LBP2 package, as it is installed through an Extras menu and accessed independently of the main game. There’s nothing like a shameful dose of misleading marketing to build good will with consumers.
Aside from the creation tools, very little of this title’s worth is derived from Media Molecule. The actual game included on the disc is an amateurish platformer at best, and a tremendous waste of potential under scrutiny. Instead, LittleBigPlanet lives and dies on what the community builds, and only therein lies the infinite value made possible by this robust toolset masquerading as a AAA “game.” If you’re willing to dig for it, or, more impressively, make it yourself, LittleBigPlanet 2 can be almost anything you want it to be, just don’t expect to get your money’s worth right out of the box.