Providing the same engaging mix of platforming and user creations that surpass our expectations, the debut of LittleBigPlanet on the PlayStation Vita has been worth the wait as the game feels perfect on the device. Without altering the very DNA of the franchise, a slew of perfect mechanics have been added in LBP which take advantage of the Vita but thankfully don’t feel too gimmicky. In fact, the Vita centric elements of LBP actually enhance the game greatly as they fit the general spirit and in some cases enhance existing things such as the robust Create mode. The LBP series may not be as new as it once was four years ago, but thanks to the Vita LittleBigPlanet feels as fresh as ever due to the clever usage of motion/touch controls and maintaining the imagination driven spirit the franchise has always been known for.
+ Vita specific controls such as tapping the touch screen or tilting the handheld feel perfectly integrated and work wonderfully within the game.
+ Story mode may be a bit short, both in length and amount of levels, but the writing is excellent and each stage is highly memorable.
+ Visuals are outstanding thanks to the diverse art design and the graphical power of the Vita.
- Load times are a bit long when it comes to accessing user stages.
- Playing online with other gamers features some noticeable lag.
It may take an excessively long amount of time, but eventually a video game developer will reach the much awaited occasion of hitting the sweet spot that is finding a perfect gameplay formula. Reaching the goldmine that is inventive gameplay which connects with a wide audience isn’t an easy or cheap thing to do most of the time, but even when such a thing does happen how long it’ll last is an entirely different issue.
An interesting mix of gameplay may be found after a somewhat arduous journey, but even the best and biggest game franchises out there fall victim to becoming creatively stale over time. So with that said I was pleasantly surprised that despite being the fourth key installment in the series, the well of creativity hasn’t dried up for LittleBigPlanet’s debut on the PlayStation Vita but has instead flourished to such a degree that it seems like the franchise was destined for true greatness on Sony’s newest handheld.
Maybe I’m a bit partial to the franchise since I’ve been there from the start, I was hooked on LBP since I saw the Gamescom 2007 trailer and subsequently got into the early beta, but my fandom also means that I may look at things a bit more critically than others. So as a gamer that enjoys letting his Sackboy persona roam wild, I knew that LBP for the Vita would be good, but I just didn’t know how good it would actually be. Ok, so maybe I’m slowly creeping into that hyperbolic PS fanboy mode, but in all seriousness LBP for the Vita not only is one of the best entries in the franchise, but it’s one of the best games to take advantage of the Vita; basically giving gamers the true killer app experience they’ve been seeking for since the Vita was released.
Going into LBP Vita we may all know what to expect more or less. It’s a sure thing that a colorful and imaginative world will be provided, both in the story mode and through the ever updated user levels that range from entertaining to downright superb. However, the thing about the Vita debut of LBP is that somehow nearly four years after the debut of the first game on the PS3 a new level of immersion and enjoyment is abound in the series thanks to things getting a little touchy, a little bit wackier, and the fun factor being upped exponentially.
It may be expected how LBP uses the specific abilities of the Vita such as the six-axis and touch features, but how they’re executed and at what rate they’re provided is what really surprised. Not much has changed with the core LBP formula as I was still able to hop, a bit more precisely I may add, grab onto objects, and even shoot stuff to dispose of a few threatening bosses and unfriendly creatures.
The real treat of the game comes in how all the bells and whistles of the Vita come into play and what impact they truly have on the game. Like I said, the core experience of the game hasn’t been tremendously altered in such a way that makes everything seem foreign as there’s instead a new level of control and minor flash which makes the game both easier to play and more fun. Basically, when I’m given the opportunity to tap the touch screen to shoot my Odd Rocket that's golden, but being able to control the direction of my shots, basically doing a bit of curve shooting, adds a new level of entertaining depth to the game. Such a mechanic along with touching the screen to make objects pop out or using the rear touch pad to control the direction of my Sackboy holding onto a flying critter adds a huge amount of personality to the already deep experience that is LBP.
First thought may be that the Vita version of LBP is a bit gimmicky since there’s a whole lot of touch action going on. The thing about the game is that each of the five worlds provided in the Story Mode essentially focuses on a few particular touch/motion mechanics, which in the process keeps things fresh and ultimately results in different play elements being pushed to the forefront instead of half a dozen mechanics being forced down our throats in one level.
It's this design choice that makes the occasional new touch mechanic that much easier to accept upon first using it but it also helps that each element in the game just fits the tone of LBP and the design of a particular level. Using my fingers to touch the rear pad on the Vita to bring forth a series of walkways is a simple mechanic but it makes sense and doesn't feel like it was forced merely to have a small gimmick within the game.
Even with the specific tailoring a stage may have, whether it’s heavy on using the grapple device, a few surprises are thrown in like having to tilt the Vita to control the movement of a Sackboy stuck within a ball all while navigating an ever twisting tunnel complete with pinball style bumpers.
Having each world in the story campaign introduce a new touch mechanic was a nice design decision, but on top of that the amount of superb design choices and the overall direction of each level are staggering good. The LBP series may have started off slow with an almost non-existent story mode in LBP1, but such a thing was rectified in LBP2 and now I think it’s been perfected in LBP for the Vita. With a level of dense and somewhat whacky imaginative worlds that are so original that it seems like it was created by famed Director Terry Gilliam, developers Double Eleven and Tarsier have created what I think is the best story mode to appear in a LBP game.
With a plot that involves around the hero of the hour, the Sackboy/gal, rescuing a world from a once happy but now evil Puppeteer, there’s a nice mix of humor and actual storytelling in the game which manages to provide a decent amount of exposition without being too boring or feeling out of place due to the main protagonist being silent. Best of all, the humor that’s presented doesn’t feel out of place as it’s not childish or too deep in providing inside jokes that only the older crowd would appreciate. As much as I would’ve like to see some deep Louis C.K. humor appear in a LBP game, I’ll accept and enjoy seeing a somewhat crazed adventurer take my Sackboy on a high-stakes heist as he strives for stardom.
The thing about LBP’s second handheld debut is that it’s usage of the Vita’s abilities go far beyond what gameplay mechanics are dished out in the story campaign. Besides having to tilt the Vita to make objects move or doing a bit of DJ scratching to unlock a Trophy, the game does an excellent job at building the LBP experience from the ground up to fit its current console home. Such a thing is more than apparent in the legendary Create mode, which uses the same tools and menu system, but has few added tweaks to sweeten the already perfect mode.
Beyond using the touch screen to select what items I wanted to use, the Create mode also allowed me to do a bit of finger tapping to change the size of objects and even use the power of my fingers to draw exactly what I wanted out of whatever substance I selected. It may not sound like much as such a thing has been featured in other games more or less, but it enables a huge amount of freedom in LBP which feels natural and in the process elevates the game to another level. I’ll admit that I did have to get used to doing rapid finger tapping to select items and expanding their size due to my slightly ogre size fingers, but the wonderful thing is that all the touch controls work as there weren’t any nagging issues like things being unresponsive or extremely touchy in how the actions are executed.
The familiar and easy tools offered in the Create mode has already resulted in some fun user creations, that while not on a level as the famed Azure Palace from LBP1 still manage to show some design ingenuity. And in case you were wondering, it’s indeed possible to create levels that feature or revolve exclusively around touch mechanics. Utilizing such motion controls in the Create mode is easy enough for would-be budding game designers and it has even allowed a LBP version of Fruit Ninja to appear, which if I may add is an admirable recreation of the mega hit game.
When it comes to accessing the wonders found in the Community mode of LBP or even playing online with fellow Sack people the game things aren’t totally perfect as of now. Currently there are a few long load times upon entering user creations, as well as some occasional lag when playing a level with other sack people. The moments of lag I encountered were somewhat sporadic, and weren’t based on how many people were playing in the same game as at times I found myself with a one to two second moment of lag when playing with only one other person. As you can expect such a thing did throw me off my game a bit as it became hard to properly judge my movements and make jumps that didn’t leave my Sackboy becoming nothing but a faint mist. I don’t know if the lag and slow loading times are present because people are hammering the servers, but I hope that such issues are addressed via a patch as it could lead to folks becoming annoyed and in turn leaving the online community.
Featuring some fancy touch controls and a rich selection of user creations to play once the story campaign is completed is nice, but the biggest achievement of LBP Vita is how it looks. The geniuses at Media Molecule created a defined look with the LBP games on the PS3, and surprisingly such a thing is still present on the Vita version in a way that hasn’t been compromised. With a framerate that stays steady, the fidelity in LBP on the Vita is something that truly shows how powerful the device is. It may seem like I’m being a mouthpiece for the PlayStation brand, but seeing the worlds presented with such crisp visuals that are devoid of rough edges, questionable textures, or pop-up issues is something that I think anyone can appreciate as it’s one of the finer Vita games to be released this year.
More importantly, the visual direction of LBP Vita comes with an art style that takes advantage of the Vita and that thankfully isn’t a retread of what we’ve seen before. A few key design elements from past games appear in the Vita iteration, but there are quite of few new materials which will please fans along with the scope of the worlds as they range from a weird mish-mash of antique garbage piled together to present a carnival like atmosphere while others are sleek and have a high-tech atmosphere – despite the ancient relics that are a VCR and a CD popping up here and there.
Having sunk a good 80+ hours into the previous two LBP games for the PS3, I can safely say that despite not taking the franchise to the next level through a massive reinvention, the experience that’s offered in LBP for the Vita is so deep that it feels like the perfect platform for the series to be on. Seeing the game appear on the Vita exclusively in the future may not sit well with longtime fans, but based on the level of interaction that’s offered in the Vita iteration and the inclusion of small mini-games such as a version of whack-a-mole which features the Sackboy in place of the mole, LBP just feels perfect as a handheld experience that can be enjoyed anyplace – whether it’s on the couch, in the bathroom, or a movie theater filled with annoying people.
This may be the fourth main LBP entry, but thanks to the PlayStation Vita the series is fresh as ever and it feels like only the surfaced has been scratched in what can be achieved.