ome people just love to play with Adobe Photoshop. "Oh look," they exclaim, "I just put Aunt Mary's head on the body of a rhinoceros! Isn't that hysterical?" Well, that all depends on your Aunt Mary, I guess, but that's not the point I'm trying to make. Every day, I use Photoshop as a tool to tackle any number of design tasks my job throws at me. Do I enjoy using this application? Yes, but I don't view the application itself as a source of entertainment. My feelings proved to be similar when it came time for me to review Media Molecule's recent PlayStation 3 title LittleBigPlanet. If your childhood found you engineering elaborate Lego universes, this robust level creator may be just your cup of tea. For everyone else, be warned: that fine line between "game" and "application" can be a blurry one.
Recreate your favorite movie
moments.For as powerful a design tool as LittleBigPlanet is, Media Molecule does a pretty good job of introducing the basics. In the earliest stages, you'll be shown how to interact with the game's various set pieces and environment types. Soon enough, you're learning how to use those same set pieces to design and define environments that are entirely your own. As useful as these tutorials were, however, they proved to be limiting as the game progressed. You see, the pieces, stickers and costumes which are used to design and decorate levels are unlocked by completing challenges within LittleBigPlanet's campaign mode. To me, this was sort of like handing out a copy of Photoshop and then telling me that I wouldn't be allowed to use the clone stamp tool until I'd mastered the magnetic lasso. I commend Media Molecule's approach to the usually mundane tutorial, but wish they gave players a bit more freedom to explore LittleBigPlanet's toolset at will.
As far as gameplay is concerned, the engine on which LittleBigPlanet runs is plenty serviceable. More 2.5D than 3D, objects can be placed into one of three layers: foreground, midground and background. While this layering ability brings some of LittleBigPlanet's more complex design ideas to life, it can also lead to platforming frustrations. If, for instance, a jump requires you to move from a background object to a foreground object, you're effectively moving three dimensionally on a two dimensional plane. Sadly, not nearly enough is done to aid players in making these movements. This isn't to say that LittleBigPlanet's game engine is broken, but it can be brutally unforgiving. Indeed, here is one area where design definitely trumped accessibility.
The PS3 Eye facilitates custom
content.Elsewhere, Media Molecule's design choices are downright masterful. Around just about every corner, players are greeted by spectacles that are dazzling to both the eye and ear. LittleBigPlanet's sugary sweetness doesn't just invite, it captivates. I might add that the title features some of the most outstanding voice acting I've ever encountered in a video game — Stephen Fry (of Hitchhiker's fame) is reassuring in a grandfatherly sort of way, and his lines will often have you rolling on the floor with laughter. Visually, textures and atmospheric effects can be both mesmerizing and believable — LittleBigPlanet truly is a paper doll world brought to life on your television.
When examining LittleBigPlanet's online modes, its true nature really begins to shine. While the game's design tools can be used to create spectacular experiences for solo enjoyment, it's almost mandated that you share your creations with one and all. Indeed, there are some amazing levels out there to download and try. In fact, reverse engineering the creations of others is almost more valuable a learning tool than the campaign modes tutorials. While many PC games have included mapmakers, that's really all that LittleBigPlanet is — a mapmaker. One can only hope that the title fosters a thoughtful and fun community and doesn't devolve into a collection of phallus-laden side-scrolling experiences.
So what does all this boil down to? Was LittleBigPlanet my favorite game of the year? Certainly not, but that doesn't mean that it won't be yours. This is a truly polarizing experience: those inclined to create Forge gametypes and machinima in their spare time will quickly fall in love with the game's powerful toolset; the rest of us will fumble around for a little while and then go back to playing Super Mario Galaxy for our platforming fix. To those who fall in love with LittleBigPlanet, I've got to admit that I'm a tad jealous. Still, I ask you to take a good hard look at its tools, menus and building blocks — in my eyes your game of the year isn't really a game at all.