Why I Love LittleBigPlanet

by PocketGoddess on November 23, 2009

Let me preface this article by saying that I’ve been a gamer for many years. I may be dating myself here, but I still fondly remember my Atari 2600 and the original Nintendo NES from back in the day, in addition to a variety of other home consoles and mobile gaming devices I’ve owned since then. I’ve had a lot of great times playing games, doing everything from hunting ducks, racing cars, and shooting the bad guys, to jumping bricks and collecting coins, and of course clearing dungeons full of monsters.
All of those experiences have been enjoyable, but I have never been moved to write a feature-length article on a video game before now. I’ve been playing LittleBigPlanet for the last couple of months, and even though I’ve finished the main story levels, it still feels fresh and new every single time I pick up the controller. How is that possible? Glad you asked!

Awwwww, He’s So Cute!

For starters, LittleBigPlanet is simply charming, and I’m a sucker for cute. I won’t spoil anything if you haven’t yet played the game, but the premise is clever and the voiceover narration is spot-on perfect in delivery and tone. Of course graphics are important, and LittleBigPlanet doesn’t disappoint. The graphic style is absolutely adorable, with bright crisp colors and a vast array of objects adorning a cardboard and fabric-covered universe.
It looks childlike and very simple, but it really isn’t–you can act directly on many of those objects by grabbing them and pushing/pulling, and they all react with real physics so that you never quite know what is going to happen. That pile of rocks may tumble one way the first time, an entirely different way the second, and it’s impossible to predict. To me that’s a lot more fun than playing a game in which every single thing is scripted, and you have nothing more than an illusion of control.
Sackboy, as a character, is as close to perfect as you can get, because he can be almost anything you desire–limited only by your imagination. Do you want to dress him up in funky costumes? Go ahead! You can make him look as stylish or as outlandish as you like, using the various textures and costume pieces you pick up as you progress through the story levels. Of course you can also leave him plain, happily running around the world in his brown knit birthday suit, but where’s the fun in that?
You can also get additional costume packs in the PSN Store. Some of them, such as the special holiday costumes, are free. Others are available for a nominal fee, from $1.99 for a single costume to $5.99 for a pack of four. Most of them are based on other gaming franchises such as Metal Gear Solid, Wipeout, Street Fighter, Loco Roco, and Patapon, but others are thematic, based on important figures in history, classic monsters, Norse mythology, etc. (Unfortunately there aren’t any licensed figures or plush Sackboys available in the US, but I hope that lack is soon remedied!)
Feeling sad, anxious, or peeved? Sackboy’s expressions and animations can mirror your own. Most video game characters are “set” in that there isn’t much you can change regarding their appearance or their in-game emotions. Not so with Sackboy, and he’s quite a character, with a quirky personality. He’s ready to take on any challenge you can throw at him, and of course he loves to wave, dance, and otherwise strut his stuff, all at your direction, of course.

Just One More

LittleBigPlanet offers constant rewards, urging you to play “just one more level” both to see what’s next and also to find those elusive prize bubbles. The level designers really outdid themselves with LittleBigPlanet while also opening the imagination to all the possibilities–they actually used the level creation tools in the game to create the story levels.
There are many wondrous places to explore, from the dusty southwestern desert to exotic Asia, the African savannah, and even the big city. Everything, from the background music and sound effects to the characters and prizes revolves around the theme for each set of levels. Each time I finished I just couldn’t wait to see what came next, and I was never disappointed.
The multiplayer challenges within each level are extremely clever, requiring anywhere from two to four players to complete. The game also does a great job with the difficulty level, ramping up smoothly until the end, with only a couple of few difficulty spikes. The best way to describe it might be “easy but challenging” in the sense that the first few levels are quite easy, while others (most notably the Islands and the Temples) require a greater level of skill and expert timing.
Fortunately each level is seeded with several gates that serve as checkpoints; should Sackboy suffer an untimely death he will be immediately resurrected at the last checkpoint you crossed. And if you happen to run into a problem and need to back up a bit, you can open your popit menu to access a special “retry option” which is especially useful if you literally get stuck somewhere and can’t move.
Be sure to watch out for challenge keys as well–if you can find them and grab them, they open up optional side-level minigames and races that are a real hoot. They always coordinate with the levels in which you find them, and they’re generally quite nutty and original. They don’t offer much in the way of prize bubbles or rewards beyond trying to beat your previous high score, but they do provide a welcome change of pace.
You’ll find some sticker puzzles too, and those can be quite challenging if you don’t resort to the help of a strategy guide. Sometimes you won’t have the stickers you need to complete a puzzle until after you finish a level, which rewards players who go back and replay certain levels with additional prizes to collect.

Lessons Learned: Creativity and Cooperation

One of the most important aspects of LittleBigPlanet is its community. Media Molecule recently announced that they are not currently planning a sequel to the game because they don’t want to fragment the community, and for good reason. Even though the game is now more than a year old, people are still actively creating new levels and sharing them with the world every single day. That means there is literally a never-ending selection of new levels to play and new worlds to experience. And if I don’t find anything I like, I can always create my own levels (with the objects I’ve gained in the story levels) and then share them with the world.
I’ve made several new online friends playing LittleBigPlanet on the PlayStation Network, Sony’s free online service. We’ve completed several of the multiplayer challenges in the story levels (some of them require two to four players at once to solve) and explored quite a few of the community levels together. They also helped me out of a couple of tight spots in the game’s story levels, offering gameplay advice through text or voice chat and showing me a few secrets along the way.
Without their help I could certainly have finished those story levels, but it could potentially have been a somewhat frustrating experience–just because I love video games and have been playing them for thirty years doesn’t mean that I can always pull off that tricky jump on the first try, or even the fiftieth.
That’s a wonderful thing, and one of the key advantages of LittleBigPlanet. Most online games focus on competition rather than cooperation, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it really is more fun to play together, with each person helping the other to reach their goals. More than any other game I can think of, LittleBigPlanet teaches cooperation and teamwork in a fun and (mostly) non-violent manner.
I’ll admit that sometimes I just want to let off a little steam at the end of a long day by shooting the bad guys or vanquishing the monsters in a dungeon, but LittleBigPlanet is unique and refreshing. Of course Sackboy does get into trouble now and then, since he does face hot coals, bottomless pits, and endless hazards that may squish out his stuffing, but he always comes back ready to face a new challenge none the worse for wear, akin to the level of “violence” in a classic Road Runner cartoon from Looney Tunes.
I’ve yet to run across anything more deadly than a paintball gun in the community levels I’ve played so far–and it’s great to have a non-violent video game that the whole family can play together. I’m not a parent myself, but I can appreciate the difficulties that modern parents face when choosing appropriate entertainment for their children, and it’s nice to have such an engaging, cooperative, and fun alternative.

Not Really the End
Yes, LittleBigPlanet holds a special place in my heart, and in my PS3 library. Even though I’ve since acquired a few other games to play, LittleBigPlanet is still my favorite and one that I can see myself playing and enjoying for a long while to come. Even if you aren’t typically a fan of “cute” games, or platformers in general, you still owe it to yourself to at least try LittleBigPlanet. Once you experience that sense of wonder for yourself, you might just find that you want to play through all of Sackboy’s adventures–and there are new ones popping up every single day.

I recently acquired a PS3, and there was only one game on my must-have list: LittleBigPlanet. In honor of the game’s recent first birthday, as well as the launch of the mobile version on the PSP, this is the perfect opportunity to share my thoughts.

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