Review: LittleBigPlanet 2 (PS3)

Title: LittleBigPlanet 2
Format: Blu-ray
Release Date: January 18, 2011
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Media Molecule
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB: E
Extras: PlayStation Move Compatible

Gameplay:
Categorizing LittleBigPlanet 2 as a 2D platformer although appropriate doesn’t do the game justice.  It’s an entry in the aptly titled Play, Create, Share series of games with platforming being just part of the game’s “Play” element.  In fact LittleBigPlanet was the first and most effective embracing of this philosophy introduced by Sony back in 2008. 

Released in October of that year, LittleBigPlanet won the hearts of many PlayStation enthusiasts especially those with a creative flair.  The players in this equation were treated to an above average platformer in addition to having the ability to download and enjoy some of the user created levels. 

Ultimately LittleBigPlanet ended up with the biggest pair of legs a console platformer has ever seen.  But how can they make the sequel better?  For one, take the single player portion and improve it.  Then expand the set of creation tools and really open up the options for the great designers out there.  I’m pleased to report that LittleBigPlanet 2 (LBP2) has succeeded in both areas.

LBP2’s story mode includes more than forty levels across six different themes providing many exciting new areas for your sackboy or girl to explore.  The six themes fuse historical ideas and events with styles such as techno, renaissance, steampunk and cake to name a few. 

I was smiling, laughing, and even in awe at times at the wonderful and sometimes humorous landscapes created with the game’s level design tools.  Literally a sight to behold from beginning to end, the story mode includes many nods to other games/genres infused with wit and sarcasm.  When I wasn’t enjoying story mode, I was playing through some impressive and imaginative community levels designed by other players. 

I mentioned LBP’s long legs and the sequel’s will be even longer if the early community level designs are any indication.  Creators are already utilizing new features such as the music sequencer, the ability to create full-scale games, a camera for creating cut-scenes and more.

Of course this all wouldn’t mean squat if the platforming wasn’t fun.  Fortunately it is.  A lot of fun!  Controls are tight and movement is responsive and accurate.  Not meant as a precise platformer wherein players are rewarded for pinpoint accurate jumps on tiny platforms, LBP2 instead puts the emphasis on level design. 

The actual platforming movement and execution is effective and I say that because it was a criticism by some with LBP.  It’s not “floaty” by any stretch and I never found myself fighting with the controls in that regard.  Does it feel the same as the first game though?  Yes, pretty much although it seems a little less “floaty” and therefore you feel more in control of your character this time around.  In addition to jumping, a platforming standard, sackboy also has some gadgets for navigating around levels. 

The grapple hook returns for swinging across gaps and pulling objects towards you in addition to the newly introduced grabinator which is used for picking up and throwing objects.  This inclusion adds a ton of new gameplay mechanics including everyone’s favorite, moving crates.  Couldn’t be a great platformer without moving around some crates.  But what’s moving crates without puzzle to solve in the process?

As we started to see with the first game, creators found intelligent ways to take the provided platforming experience and form it into other game genres.  Media Molecule noticed this creative trend and expanded upon it with LBP2. 

I mentioned puzzle solving earlier and that’s one example of the new available features/tools.  There’s also scoring modes, racing, sports, action/adventure and more.  I’ve seen shmup levels and social/competitive multiplayer levels in addition to some neat takes on the platforming genre. 

Most levels especially those in story mode contain stickers and materials all available for collecting.  Not only does collecting these items increase level replayability but these same items can also be used in the design tools.  Find a new material that fits a level you previously created and go back and add it in.

In the Play, Create, Share equation I’m definitely a “Play”.  Although I dabbled with the level design I’m by no means an expert.  The tools are user friendly and to someone with skill and patience I can see where they’d be a lot of fun.

Visuals:
If the world’s best grade schoolers got together and using a boatload of art supplies created a world made of cardboard, bubble wrap and paint you’d end up with something similar to LBP2.  Everything in the game is constructed and is all done in manner which could be replicated in real life.  Sort of.  Or at least that’s how the game looks. 

Would a man with a notebook head and paperclips for arms and legs actually be able to talk via his pencil sketched mouth?  No, probably not but it’s that type of design that gives LBP2 its visual appeal.  Another character is folded from cardboard and has a beard made from newspaper trimmings.  Level design is approached the same way, and I enjoyed every inch of each level.  There’s so much character in the design and if you look really close you can see the moving parts and glue and not in a bad way.

Usually when explaining graphics with many references to art and color it’s just another way of stating the graphics are mediocre.  That’s certainly not the case with LBP2.  The game looks as beautiful as any title on the platform.  Pay attention to the detail in all the design both by the developers and by the community and you won’t be disappointed.

Audio:
Like everything in LBP2, even the audio can be tweaked.  There’s whole community levels recreating famous and popular songs.  Story mode has some great music which runs the gamut to match the six distinctly different themes and none of it seems repetitive.  This was a big problem in the first iteration of LBP as songs repeated frequently and after a while became annoying to listen to.  Didn’t find myself getting annoyed with any of the music this time around.

Custom soundtracks are supported and are handled uniquely.  Rather than simply replacing all the game’s music it only does so when it makes sense; in the menus.  When playing levels the custom soundtrack fades out in favor of the game music which is created to enhance the levels and support the specific themes of those levels.  I like the way this is handled as I really enjoy the game’s music.

Voiceovers are humorous and mostly done with a thick English accent.  Dialog plays to that style by including nods towards, or at least I noticed many influences, to classic English comedy parodies like Monty Python.  Makes sense considering the levels also play as a form of parody at times.  Laughed out loud at several moments to the story’s dialog.

Online/Multiplayer:
All game modes can be played with up to three friends (one to four players).  This includes same couch, online and any combination therein.  When playing online it runs as smoothly as if all were on the same couch. 

Because of all the creative ways levels can be designed, multiplayer ranges from friendly cooperative platforming to intense multiplayer score chases (as two examples).  Pick what you prefer or try some of each.  I played a user created level that recreates a popular fighting series.  Two characters control one fighter (two on two) to punch and kick their way to victory.  Surprisingly even some of the special moves were included like fireballs. 

In addition to online multiplayer there’s the community aspect of LBP2.  Share or download levels.  After you play a level you can leave feedback regarding the experience and other players can see all the feedback left for each level, for each designer and by each player.  There’s even a quick hub for seeing what your friends have recently created, liked, disliked, played, etc.

Conclusion:
LBP began a couple years ago as a great idea with no indication as to how well the community would support it.  And without community support the game and series wouldn’t truly blossom because so much emphasis was placed on creating and sharing levels. 

Fast forward two years and several million user created levels later and LBP2 introduces more features and tools to further the amazing and imaginative designs created by it’s players.  Throw in a story mode that is a blast to play and a sight to behold.  Bring over some friends or meet up online for even more fun and hi-jinx in the LBP2 universe. 

If you like platforming, and even if you don’t, there’s a little bit of something for everyone in LittleBigPlanet 2.  If you can’t find something, make it yourself and have a blast doing so.

Score:
9.0

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