Review: LittleBigPlanet Karting (PS3)
Title: LittleBigPlanet Karting
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (7 GB)
Release Date: November 6, 2012
Developer: United Front Games
ESRB Rating: E
LittleBigPlanet Karting is exclusive to the PlayStation 3.
A retail disc was used for the review.
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 293 of the podcast.
Honestly, I’m a karting fan, unapologetically and to the core. I was always a fan of the ModNation Racers series, even as others nitpicked the hell out of every iteration. I admit that I really wish the Vita version had online play, but I kept playing the campaign instead. I also didn’t realize how much I missed playing the PS3 version until we played it during Extra Life this year. The online sessions, even with the load times that everyone complains about, were an absolute blast! Maybe I’m just getting more complacent in my old age…
It’s a Kart Racer, so if you know anything about those, you should know what to expect for the most part. But this is in the LittleBigPlanet world, so that’s what definitely sets this game apart from the rest. Everything, from the opening video, to Stephen Fry as your narrator and guide, to your personalized Pod, completely oozes LBP. Character, Pod, and Kart customization will feel 100% familiar if you’ve ever played another game in the series.
Also, essentially every item and outfit that you’ve unlocked/purchased in any of the LBP games in the past will be available here (the only DLC that won’t be available is that from Assassin’s Creed) The customization process is exactly as it has been in the past, and you can even control your hands and arms by holding R2/L2 and moving the stick.
*I received word that some of the DLC may not be available on Day 1, but that “it won’t be long”*
I expected an LBP-like experience, but I never expected that it would completely capture the soul of the series. This even carries-over to the single-player campaign, with short cutscenes right out of the previous games, except now your character is sitting in a Kart. The campaign is set on different worlds, each signifying a separate theme. You can choose to simply roam directly from Point A to B to C, or if you do well enough in the main events, you can try out some tangential events that open along the way. The smaller events are varied, from head-to-head events to variations on ‘Hot Potato.’ The variety available just in what’s on the disk is pretty staggering, and as expected, the community integration is seamless.
Gameplay is fantastic with controls that feel tighter than that in the MNR series, and they even give you a chance to try the two main control schemes, in which you either use the shoulder buttons or the face buttons for the Gas and Brakes. Also, tracks just “feel” more epic on average, mainly due to the backgrounds used on the different planets. There seems to be less AI rubber-banding than in MNR and even the LBP Karting beta, but your AI competition definitely gets tougher as the game progresses. I haven’t had “that” race yet though where I can’t come in better than 5th yet, so there’s definitely a better balance with AI competitors. They’re not pushovers (well, they are in the first couple of events) but they’re also not wizards that can conjure a ton of extra speed from their Karts. There is however, still an opportunity to experience a version of the ‘Blue Shell’. It doesn’t occur nearly as much as it does in that other series, but also you have the opportunity to defend yourself. You don’t have a shield as in MNR, but rather a better implementation of “dropping a green shell behind you” from the original Mario Kart. When an enemy weapon gets near to you, and you have a weapon in your arsenal, hold ‘down’ on the left stick and fire your weapon. If you time it correctly, you’ll take that weapon out without any penalty to you (except that you need to pick another weapon up.)
Another gameplay mechanic that’s unique are the swing spots placed throughout some of the levels. You’ll come across certain maps that include jumps that can seem impossible, and they are except for the fact that you can hit L1 to fire a line and hook onto a sponge placed strategically in the air, allowing you to finish the jump by swinging across. It’s a crazy mechanic that can definitely surprise, especially when you realize that you can control your swing horizontally as well.
Something that I really appreciate is that even in the main campaign, they’ll throw you a curve ball by switching the format from a traditional race to an event like playing keep-away with a dinosaur egg, or a completely old-school match of Battle Mode, which is one of my favorite things in Karting multiplayer. The overall arc of the campaign is fun and varied, and incredibly well-crafted too.
Weapons are fun and varied as well, with unique stuff like a paint gun, an electrical field, and even a cluster of lock-on missiles to name a few. The effects are great and the action is hectic. Track designs are great, with no real similarities between them (beside the theme of the planet that you’re on.) Again, some things like pulling tricks off in midair definitely harken back to the MNR series, but this game is LBP to the core. Oh, and there’s a Mine level, and there ARE minecarts in a couple of spots (Karting GOTY Confirmed!!)
Fortunately, if you have children, an Easy mode is available and it can be selected at any time throughout the game. Everything is simplified when it’s chosen, and allows you to spend some quality time with the kids while everyone enjoys throwing paint and rockets at each other, with no chance of anything but safe fun that won’t worry any parent.
The creation tools are fantastic, especially the track creator. Most everything else you’ve done before if you’ve played an LBP game, but the track creator definitely feels easier to use, and once you start poking around, you’ll find a deep system allowing for even more control over what you’re creating. Do a search for “PS Nation” and you should find the track that I created for this review. It’s not bad, but it’s definitely not finished.
Visually, LBP Karting fits completely into the LittleBigPlanet style. Everything about the graphics, including the textures, objects, and even that trademark layering in the background are all here. It completely feels like some skilled designer created a Kart Racer within the LBP 2 engine, and I love it. Sure, the framerate dips on a rare occasion, but it never takes away from the gameplay. The effects of the bigger weapons, and the continued interactions with the objects strewn-about the tracks all stay persistent, adding even more to your continued concentration. Basically, if you like the look of the previous LittleBigPlanet titles, you’re going to love this game.
The included soundtrack is fun, and exactly what you’d expect from a game in the LittleBigPlanet universe. Sound effects are pretty great, and quite effective in full surround and when using some nice gaming headphones. Everything you’d expect in this generation is there, and true to LBP, when a character “talks” you get the trademark gibberish. Custom soundtracks are supported, but not when you’re playing online, which seems to be par for the course with many games developed by Sony.
Online is very reminiscent of the past LBP titles, which is good overall. The actual online gameplay is fantastic, with load times of around 15-20 seconds. The one issue that may occur though, is getting games together without relying on friends lists. I can’t find a way to simply setup a room with a playlist of tracks/levels, which is pretty disappointing. The inclusion of Battle Mode is extremely welcome though, and the arenas that I played in were excellent. Try the ‘Blimps’ arena that has two blimps floating parallel to each other, meaning that you need to use jump pads to get across. The environmental additions on the levels/tracks is really well done too, with helicopters and jets flying around during the battle.
Voice chat seems to work fine, although I only got into one race where someone was actually using a microphone, so I’ll need to play more when other people get the game to confirm that.
LittleBigPlanet Karting does an amazing job at not only delivering a great Karting game, but at capturing the soul of the LBP universe in every aspect. The game really blows me away at many times, especially from a level design and environmental standpoint. I actually enjoyed trying my hand at creating a new track, and I do want to go back to my first one and continue to tweak it. If you’re a kart racing fan, and/or a fan of the LittleBigPlanet franchise, this is one of the best entries in the series. As I said though, my biggest and only concern really, is getting together with people that may not be on my friends list for some online action. We’ll keep playing, and I can update everyone on the podcast when I know more.
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