Review: LittleBigPlanet PS Vita (PSV)
Title: LittleBigPlanet PS Vita
Format: PlayStation Network Download (1115 MB) / Game Card
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Tarsier Studios / Double Eleven Studios
Original MSRP: $35.99 (PSN) / $39.99 (Game Card)
ESRB Rating: E
LittleBigPlanet PS Vita is exclusive to the PlayStation Vita.
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 286 of the podcast.
The LittleBigPlanet franchise and Sackboy have become synonymous with the PlayStation brand since the series’ debut in 2008 and gamers have come to know and love the adorable platforming adventures of Sackboy and company.
I’ll get this out of the way right up front, this is a full featured LittleBigPlanet game on a handheld device equal to, and in some respects better than, every version that came before it. It’s a great accomplishment made even more impressive by the fact that the original creators, Media Molecule, took a step back and handed the reins over to Tarsier Studios and Double Eleven. Tarsier is no stranger to the franchise, having created the LittleBigPlanet dynamic theme along with costumes, stickers and decorations for LittleBigPlanet 1 & 2.
The experience shows throughout fifty-two story and side levels and five arcade games all infused with the whimsy and charm you’d expect in a LittleBigPlanet game. The game itself is broken down into three areas, Story, Community and My Levels.
For the Story levels this time around, you’ll spend your time in Carnivalia. A master puppeteer has become disillusioned and is sucking the joy out of Carnivalia’s sack folk, turning them into “Hollows”. It’s a fun and interesting story that takes you through some wonderfully crafted levels.
The standard LittleBigPlanet platforming is on display with a unique twist. The unique features of the Vita get taken into account with front and rear touch and sixaxis motion control. The best part is that it all fits very naturally into the game and never once feels forced. You’ll be able to touch and move Blue objects around the environment, solving small puzzles or pulling them down and letting go to fling you sack person through the air. Green objects can be pushed forward into the environment using the rear touch screen. You’ll use them to build bridges, open paths and trigger switches. All the little additions make the game a unique and much more engaging experience.
Each of the unlockable side levels also use the Vita in unique ways with some having you turn the Vita vertically to play and many using some form or another of touch. There’s a Whack-a-Mole type game with Sackboy popping up on screen, Whack-a-Sack, if you will. There’s an entire level consisting of rolling an eyeball around a maze-like level using the sixaxis functionality that’s reminiscent of the old marble mazes where you had to tilt the entire board while avoiding traps. There are even a number of two player games where each person either takes turns or uses the buttons on either side of the screen at the same time to compete against each other. None of them feel like duds and it make unlocking and playing the side levels very worthwhile.
The five games of The Arcade need to be unlocked by completing each of the Story sections and believe me, it’s well worth it. Each game contains ten levels of increasing difficulty and special items to collect in order to complete the levels 100%. They’ll definitely keep you coming back for more.
I raved about one of the games, Tapling, on Episode 280 of the podcast. They’re all puzzle oriented, addicting and at times frustrating as you try to complete each mini level 100%. Super Conductor has you using the touch screen to complete ever increasing circuits in a race against the clock. Orb-it uses the rear touch screen to guide a moth-like creature around a level, avoiding danger and collecting three stars. Retro Vector is a fantastic mix of old school graphics and modern day physics as you move through mazes on a limited fuel supply attempting to rescue ten crew members while fighting gravity and a number of enemies.
My favorite by far though is StratoSphere, where a ball is dropped from the top of the screen and you need to collect all the Orbs in the level for a three star rating. Gravity controls the ball and your only influence is in touching colored blocks on the screen to remove them from the ball’s path or add them back to force the ball in another direction. It’s a simple idea formed into a superb set of puzzles that make you really think about what you need to do to win the game.
The games in the Arcade really show off what you can create with ample time and some serious effort just by using the available tools in the My Levels section.
Creation in the My Levels section is as deep as anything seen in previous LittleBigPlanet games. With access to a massive tool set, all the physics and camera controls as well as sixty-seven tutorials, it’ll definitely keep you busy if you want to put in the time.
You can use the standard controls, touch, or a combination of both. It’s still a daunting task, but creating levels just got a whole lot easier with the ability to draw on the screen itself. Rear touch will zoom you in and out so you can get a good overview of your level and a handful of new options are available as well. Using your Popit in creation mode has been made easier on the Vita as well. You can expand the Popit area to cover most of the screen, allowing you to see more of it at once. You can also scroll through your massive list of stickers, colors, parts and such using the front touch screen. If you’d rather not, you can always use the Left Stick and Face Buttons like before and that’s the wonderful things about this, the options are there if you want them.
You have access to the Vita specific objects that can be manipulated during play by front or rear touch along with a new tool called the Memorizer. It allows you to create custom save points in levels and games along with menus where you can have locked levels much like the Arcade and Story Levels in the game. It opens up a new world of possibilities and I can’t wait to see what the superstars of the LBP creative community do when they get their hands on this stuff.
The other area is, of course, the Community area, where you’ll be able to publish your levels and play other player-created levels. It’ll be fascinating to watch this area fill with all kinds of fantastic ideas and games as people get a handle on the tools available on the Vita. Being a mobile platform where you may not always have a guaranteed connection, you’ll be able to download your favorite levels so you can play them at any time. There’s just so much to do in this game and it does it all so well that I can’t praise it enough.
It’s not quite PlayStation 3 level of detail, but it’s pretty damn close. It’s staggering to see the beauty and wonder of LittleBigPlanet brought to life in exquisite detail in the palm of your hand. The lighting is spectacular and put to great use in the later levels of the game.
The developers start you off in the credits like other LittleBigPlanet games, moving you from a barren, black and white landscape to (eventually) a lush world familiar to anyone who’s played the series before. Sackboy’s every stitch is visible, especially in close-ups during cut scenes. Vibrant colors and beautiful lighting techniques bring the game to life.
Everything just feels right. In a smart little touch, a Vita takes the place of the standard DualShock controller in your Pod and you can spend all day decorating it with stickers if you’d like.
Everything you know and love about LittleBigPlanet is on display and the Arcade area is a wonderful showcase of what can be done with the tools in the game. The Arcade games
feel so different, they can make you forget you’re playing LittleBigPlanet. It’s really amazing.
Every sound effect you’ve come to know and love from LittleBigPlanet is here as well. The venerable Stephen Fry reprises his role as the narrator and he’s really got a ton of (often quite funny) dialogue in this game.
Characters met along the way all have their own unique voices, with spoken dialogue in major cut scenes giving way to the standard and adorable LBP gibberish during gameplay.
All new music has been created for the Story levels of the game and each is well suited to the area you’re playing, whether it’s the bouncy, circus-like tunes in La Marionetta, the electronic beats in Jackpot City or the uneasy feeling of the Spooky Mansion, everything just fits perfectly.
You can play up to four players online along with some local, same screen, multiplayer. There’s even NEAR functionality included to post challenges for nearby players. For that, it’s as simple as hitting the “Post as Challenge” when you reach the Scoreboard at the end of a level. NEAR then launches and uploads your challenge, after which, you can return to the game.
You can send messages in game, check you Friends List to see who’s playing, and send invites all from the pop up menu screen. You can also change your privacy settings to automatically join or block other players or friends while playing the game. It even keeps track of your 3G Data usage so you can ensure that you don’t go over you plan limits. You can also turn voice chat on and off.
I played a number of games online and found that it really depends on the connection of both players. The majority of the time, the game was rock solid and it felt like I was playing against someone sitting right next to me. I did have one very poor connection with Greg Miller but he warned me ahead of time that the IGN wireless was notoriously bad, and it certainly lived up to that billing.
With a good connection, everything is smooth and playing with others can be a blast. With a poor connection, you’ll end up with all kinds of lag on your own screen leading to countless avoidable deaths and a somewhat frustrating experience. It’s best to just quickly drop out if you get a bad connection like that.
The PlayStation Store is also available directly in game so you should have easy access to all your DLC costumes from previous versions of the game. Unfortunately the connections aren’t live until the game releases so I wasn’t able to get in and grab any of mine just yet.
Taking everything unique about the Vita and mixing it seamlessly with the familiar gameplay of the series, Tarsier and Double Eleven have crafted the definitive version of LittleBigPlanet. The look, feel, features, sounds, all of it is here. If you own a Vita, you need to buy this game.
* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.
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