FINALLY a mainstream “2D” platformer which was so fun to play as the “classic ones”! This game got a real hype worldwide, which made me want to try it. Sackboy seemed a cool character, the gameplay seemed well implemented, and to be honest, there had been a while since my last platformer. However, it was not Sackboy or the gameplay which made it to the headlines of video games’ magazines.
The game is praised worldwide by its “Play, Create, Share” motto. Time for a discordant voice: I couldn’t care less about the “Create and Share” stuff. What I really liked was the “Play” part. Little Big Planet (LBP) is a really good platformer and I will review it as such.
How I got it
When I was a kid, I was used to get video games around my Birthday and Christmas. People just knew upfront what it was that I wanted around those days. Life was simpler, and the universe was balanced.
Then I got to that age where the idea that “Video Games are for kids” started to screw my life. And I started to get “adult gifts” (I’m not talking about “naughty adult gifts” – those would be cool). I know this is clearly a first world problem, but instead of the usual video games, I started getting shirts, and suits, and shoes, and liquor (nothing wrong here), etc.
It took me a lot of work (and a website about games, and a retro-gamming collection) to convince people that they should spend their money buying me something “playable” instead of a tie that I would never use.
So, “short story long”, my sisters gave me this game for my 25th or 26th birthday. Their decision to offer me this and not a perfume probably had something to do with the fact that a few weeks before I told them about this PS3 game: “everybody talks about this very cool game. It’s supposed to be really good. I’m really curious to try it”. Dance, puppets, dance!
LBP is a cool game for various reasons, and Sackboy, its main character is… well… cute. But what made me play this game “from start to finish” was its offline co-op. Me and my girlfriend (now wife) had just moved in together, and we still didn’t have Internet nor cable, so we spent a lot of time hanging around with our Sackboys (this sentence sounds awful, I know). Like it happens with music, I have the tendency to associate some games with important times of my life. And every time I think of LBP I remember when “We” decided to stop saying things like “I want to be with you every day for the rest of my life” and actually started doing them. Happy times!
Condition and Description
“As new” of course. I got it new, and I take care of my babies!
Dave Smith and Mark Healey quit Lionhead Studios to co-found Media Molecule. After the recognition in the “indie scene” with Rag Doll Kung Fu, they had a winning idea which became a Sony’s bet as an exclusive title for PS3.
LBP is a puzzle-platformer video game. But it is also MUCH more than that. The game’s Tagline – “Play, Create, Share” made it gain the notoriety which turned it into a commercial success.
Play: The play component is “simply” a puzzle-platformer. I quoted the word “simply”, because this component is the most overlooked in the game. Here, you control Sackboy through a set of levels inspired in real world locations, like a garden in Japan, or the New York streets. Each location was created and maintained by a different Creator Curator (a deity of sorts) who the player must help against the game’s antagonist – The Collector (who is also a Creator Curator). Weirdly enough, and even if (I do believe) LBP is one of the best platformers of all times (I will develop on this latter), the “Play” part of the game was left in the shadows of the “Create” and “Share” components.
Create: In LBP, the verb “create” refers to what the player can build or customize. On this game, the player can create levels with a built-in creator. This built-in creator was noticeably a big concern on this game, being simple (considering the task at hands) to use. But it has another characteristic which made it an important part of the game: while creating a level, the player may use items he collects while playing the story mode. It’s interesting (and original) that the player actually has to search for items on the game, which than can be used on the creator. It works as an excellent motivation to explore everywhere and collect everything. Also, some items can only be collected when bought at the Playstation Store. With a lot of special packages (allowing the player to buy level decorations and Sackboy’s clothes inspired by Pirates of Caribbean or Killzone 2, for instance), this crave the players had, to have the newest clothes and decorations originated a HUGE profit.
Share: The ability for users to create content is not new in video games (out of my head… the track creator on Excitebike). In fact, (if we consider the FPS Mods as an example), not even the sharing was something Media Molecule brought to the table. What felt new was how “Share” was something so important in the game, becoming one of its main characteristics. On LBP, players were supposed to share their levels easily. And play each others’ levels, tagging and scoring them. This, together with the online community features through Playstation Network, an official community Website and the online and offline cooperative play, makes this “Sharing” more about “experiences” than content itself.
The game was widely acclaimed from specialists and players, becoming a commercial success, and winning awards on the most important video games’ competitions, including Game Of The Year at the AIAS Interactive Achievement Awards, 2008.
Unique and Notorious
Maybe the ability to create and share content is what made this game noticed. But making the player a level designer is not enough to create a good game. In fact (shocker) I didn’t even create a level, and still think LBP is a great game. I’ll explain why, and also point out some aspects of the game which just didn’t convince me.
The way the game looks – LBP looks like one big photo illustration experimental project. Using “real-world” objects together with different (and amazingly rendered) textures creates the feeling that LBP’s world could exist (invisible to humans) around us. And Sackboy, with is changeable style, fits like a glove as the hero this world needs. Also, having elements in the world which seemed taken from an elementary school’s art class only reinforces the fact that the player can “create” the world, more than only playing it. LBP, visually, is one of the most exciting games I have ever seen in my life!
The way the game plays – The game is a platformer/puzzle. It is also an example on how to get an old genre to feel fresh and fun. First, it is a “3-layer-2D-game”. This does not add “a lot” to the gameplay of a 2D platformer, but is a nice twist, which at times brings some interesting moments when navigating throughout the level and in some foes’ encounters. The gameplay is also improved by the existence of power ups. These work as “temporary gameplay shifters” and are usually some sort of weapon or tool (usually increasing your mobility somehow), and bring an extra interest in the game. The fact that many levels are designed with these power-ups in mind make them feel original and fun (although some are a little repetitive on platforms/puzzles you have to surpass with a given power-up).
The multi-player modes – I only played LBP this way, either just with my wife, or with my wife and more players online. The game is well balanced to work this way (specially with two players). Having another player makes some parts of the game easier: imagine you’re fighting a boss; you have twice the “fire power”. But there are also some things that are harder this way: simply by needing to keep two characters on screen at the same time means that you don’t only have to beat obstacles, you have to beat them in a synchronized way. Another point worth mentioning is that although you’re playing cooperatively, you’re still trying to get more points than other players. This competitive aspect of multiplayer games also shows itself in levels where you race against other players. There are also sections in the level accessible only by 2 or more players, allowing you to collect more items and points.
The possibility to build and share – As I already said, the possibility for the players to create content is not something original. What this game successfully allows is the cycle play -> get items -> use items to build levels -> play levels. When it comes to player types, the “builders” are encouraged to be “collectors”. And the other way around. Sharing only brings more to the table, by allowing the game to expand “virtually to the infinite”. It also feeds the “narcissistic beast” in all of us, with “level designers” hoping to get more and more plays and good ratings on their levels, becoming more popular. This was very well implemented, and immensely increases the game durability. In fact, for those who wish to be level designers (or at least try it), the game box has a good free platform to have a first contact with this art. But truth to be told: LBP original levels are very good, and sometimes brilliant. User created levels… “meh”!
The story – Ok, so LBP is an “all ages’ game”, and the story should always be adapted to the younger players. But how about the others? Brain-dead dialogues and (that’s what really pissed me off) a fit-to-3-years-old-ending were a terrible way to use some cool characters, and the skills to create those who could be outstanding cut-scenes. It’s not that important… but I have the opinion that if you’re going to have a story, it should be good, and avoid clichés.
The forced “place a sticker” actions – Really fast: I understand the designers wanted to teach the players how to scale and rotate the stickers, before placing them. But every time the gameplay got RAPED while I placed a stupid sticker somewhere in the level, I felt the need to hit the game designer in the face, with an iron. A really hot one!
Formal Elements (as defined by T. Fullerton)
Objective: Defeat “The Collector”, a Creator Curator who is stealing other Curators’ creations, and restore the order in LBP.
Procedures: The player can walk, run, jump, grab ropes and other surfaces, turn ON switches, push and pull objects, place stickers, press buttons. There are different power-ups adding new procedures to the game momentarily, like the ability for the character to fly, or shoot some sort of weapon.
Distinctive Rules: The player moves in a 2D platform world. Sometimes, there is more than one possible path. To progress throughout the levels, the player must solve some puzzles, interacting with the world. To defeat different foes, the player must usually hit a “glass glob” of sorts, located somewhere in the foes’ body. The player picks something resembling spheres which can increase the player’s points, or held costumes for Sackboy, materials and stickers. Stickers can be used as decoration when building levels. Some “pickables” are well hidden in the levels, or somewhere where they are hard to reach. Some of them are in special areas, and can only be reached when two or more players work cooperatively. Foes and some obstacles/booby-traps might hurt the player. When Sackboy is hit, he loses a life. After losing a life, the player appears in a portal of sorts. Each portal, working as checkpoint, only allows a given number of “resurrections”. When the player gets to a new portal, further in the level, he will start re-appearing there after a death, with a restored number of continues. After losing all continues, the player returns to his capsule where he can choose the next level. When a player gets stuck somewhere, he can “explode himself”, losing a life. Aside from all the levels composing the story, there are challenge levels, which can be races, for instance, and are usually competitive when played by more than one player. This only allows the player to get more points and items. The player picks some items which work as power-ups. These could be for instance rocket propellers (Jetpack), or the Swimming Gear, and allow the Sackboy to reach different parts of the levels. The power-ups also change the way the game plays while active.
Resources: Number of lives corresponding to a given checkpoint. Points. Time (in levels with time-limit).
Conflict: The player tries to end the levels while solving puzzles, and avoiding enemies and hazards. The player may also find items to decorate their levels.
Boundaries: The player movement is bounded by the levels’ navigable area. All levels usually have more than one path. There are no portals to skip levels, but there are occasions where the player may choose the next level from more than one options.
Outcome: The player defeats The Collector. There is no limit on the number of times a player can try a level.
Name: Little Big Planet
Company: Media Molecule
Game Designer: Mark Healey, Dave Smith
Fullerton, Tracy, Game Design Workshop, 2nd Edition: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. Morgan Kaufmann, February 2008.