The LittleBigPlanet series has rapidly grown to be one of Sony Computer Entertainment’s most important franchises so it makes sense that plenty of love and care would be poured into a new LBP title for PS Vita. Rather than rushing the game to be ready for the handheld’s launch this past February, co-developers Double Eleven and Tarsier Studios have used the extra development time to polish the game to near perfection and to create one of the best PlayStation exclusives in years.
LittleBigPlanet PS Vita represents the crowning achievement of the series and ushers in a new generation of platformer that literally puts the game’s world in the player’s hands with fantastic results.
LittleBigPlanet PS Vita’s story mode takes place on a new planet called ‘Carnivalia’ which has been taken over by a nefarious man known as the Puppeteer. The tale is surprisingly dark for a LBP game and sees Sackboy teaming up with a number of quirky individuals to stop the Puppeteer from turning Sackpeople into golem-like Hollows who assist him on his quest to bring ruin to Carnivalia.
Just like in past LBP games, each world is split into story levels and side levels, with the latter stages providing a fun distraction from the main narrative in the form of bite-sized mini-games. There’s also a special world known as ‘The Arcade’ which features longer, standalone games that utilise LBP PS Vita’s new ‘Memoriser’ save functionality.
The game’s story mode is a wonderful way to start your journey with LBP PS Vita as it introduces some innovative, touch-based platforming mechanics while keeping you entertained with an interesting narrative and intricately designed levels that gradually become more menacing as you make your way towards the Puppeteer’s lair.
The level design in LBP PS Vita is some of the best the series has to offer. While there are a few enemies and boss battles here and there, most of your time will be spent working out how to progress in each level and trying to safely navigate each one’s environmental hazards. Touch-based interaction joins series’ staples like bounce pads and character enhancements such as the Grabinator to make for intuitive, engaging gameplay.
Objects that can be manipulated using front or rear touch are clearly marked so you know exactly when and where your fingers need to work their magic. Touch-based controls are used in clever ways during many levels, such as spinning a stationary, grabbable wheel with your finger in order to transport a clinging Sackboy to the upper level.
LBP PS Vita’s story mode is not particularly challenging for series’ veterans but collecting every prize bubble in a level certainly is, as is getting a high enough score to earn yourself additional rewards at the end of each stage. These ‘Collectables’ are viewable in a level’s menu screen and unlocking them gives you more options to play with when you create your own stages.
The side levels in story mode comprise a number of enjoyable mini-games that see the PS Vita being used in interesting ways. Many of them require you to hold the system vertically while others are designed around you and a friend controlling either side of the handheld’s screen. Just like in story mode, your scores are posted to a global leaderboard and you can challenge people in your vicinity to beat your record using PS Vita’s Near feature. Certain side levels support competitive online or local (i.e. ad hoc) multiplayer so you can put your skills to the test against a friend or random opponent.
Of course, a major part of the LittleBigPlanet experience has always been the series’ ‘Play, Create, Share’ tagline and LBP PS Vita doesn’t disappoint in this regard. The game has an excellent tutorial mode for beginners featuring sixty-seven in-depth, interactive lessons narrated by British actor Stephen Fry that cover everything you need to know to create your own cut-scenes, platforming levels or standalone games. Each player can publish thirty levels on the LBP PS Vita servers so this should be more than enough for even the most dedicated creator.
A new feature in LBP PS Vita is being able to download levels so you can play them when you’re not connected to the internet. This is a great feature for PS Vita owners since it means you can stock up on intriguing levels when you’re connected to a 3G signal or WiFi hotspot and then play them at a later stage. Another new feature is the ability to create your own items by drawing them on the PS Vita’s touch screen – very handy is you’re a good artist and have a capacitive stylus!
Past LBP titles have let you take photos with the PlayStation Eye but the whole process is now so much easier in LBP PS Vita due to the handheld’s front and rear facing cameras. One user-generated level I played was composed entirely of photos of the creator’s house and you had to guide Sackboy over various obstacles such as salt and pepper bottles on your way to your final objective. You can also use the PS Vita’s built-in microphone to record sound effects and voice overs to use in your levels or games – perfect for all you budding sound designers and voice actors out there.
The community features in LBP PS Vita are even more user-friendly and brilliant than previous LBP titles thanks to everyone having access to a virtual keyboard to leave comments and reviews, or to edit their profiles and level descriptions. You can interact with the community section of LBP PS Vita when you’re not using your handheld by visiting the LBP.me website, where you can queue up levels and see what’s new. The game’s community tools are incredibly comprehensive and impressive for a portable title and finding worthwhile new content to play is a breeze. It’s a simple process to report bugs or leave comments on a creator’s homepage and you can even rate people’s reviews of a particular level.
LBP PS Vita’s graphics, audio and presentation are another area where it shines. While the game’s textures are a little less crisp than LBP2 and the overall resolution a bit lower, LBP PS Vita features stunning lighting effects and a bold art direction. The game’s striking art design is most apparent during the story mode’s opening act that’s set in a circus / big top environment, although subsequent worlds also have their own unique visual flair.
The narration by Stephen Fry is absolutely hilarious at times and the game’s script allows the talented cast of voice actors to give believable, commanding performances. Disappointingly, there are a few instances where the main characters’ voices are replaced by generic LittleBigPlanet sound samples that break the sense of immersion built up by the preceding cut-scenes.
LBP PS Vita’s presentation and menu design are some of the most impressive I’ve seen on the handheld thus far. The menus are easy to navigate via touch or traditional controls and everything feels fast and responsive. It’s clear that the game was specifically designed for the PS Vita as opposed to the developers simply porting LBP2’s menus across from the PS3.
I’ve had high hopes for LittleBigPlanet PS Vita ever since I saw its first trailer, and this feeling was reinforced when I played the game’s beta a few months ago. Thankfully this title exceeds any and all expectations I harboured for it by providing a flawlessly presented, wonderfully executed handheld experience that fully represents what the PS Vita is capable of.
Hopefully this game is just the start of a beautiful friendship between Sony’s handheld and the LittleBigPlanet franchise as the PS Vita feels like the perfect fit for Sackboy and the ingenious, inspirational creations of the LBP community.