LittleBigPlanet may be the best game Nintendo never got around to making. There’s the fuzzy little mascot, colorful worlds, a charming story and an unending barrage of innovation. It’s Nintendo to the core; except the core is made by Media Molecule and it’s on a Sony console.
The clues are there, though… LittleBigPlanet looks better than any game pretty much anywhere, has a licensed soundtrack to die for, and doesn’t shoehorn in motion controls where they’re not required. LBP delivers constant laughs. It’s a game where you’ll sit through every tutorial just to hear plummy Fry scold you about creating ‘rude’ shapes or cuss-laden levels with the warning that every naughty you make causes a little Sackboy to die. And then there’s the Sackboy himself – a blank slate upon which you stamp your own personality. Squeezing the triggers will let you gesture with both hands independently, while tipping the Sixaxis will make the little fella look around or swing his pelvis like a wooly Elvis Presley. He’s an endearing little chap, and all the better for being tarted up with paint, stickers, and costumes.
Much of the hype surrounding LBP will focus on the ability to create and build, but all that crumbles if the core experience is more Bubsy the Bobcat than Jak and Daxter. LittleBigPlanet’s greatest strength, then, isn’t the creator, or the beautiful presentation, or the lengthy campaign, or the millions of downloadable levels, but the robustness of the platforming – the way the Sackboy moves and interacts with his environment. 2D platformers have fallen out of fashion so badly that, even if it were just average, LittleBigPlanet would still be the best platform game since, er, 2006’s New Super Mario Bros. on the DS; but with the fully physics-powered environments laden with outlandish contraptions and wonderful toys, LBP distances itself from what competition it has before even cracking into the level editor.
While other platformers throw focus on the protagonist – loading them down with new moves and gimmicks, Media Molecule give the Sackboy just enough moves to let the environments shine. With only a jump and a grab button, Sackboy has all the tools he’ll ever need. Jumping will take him over obstacles; grabbing will have him pull objects aside, hang from ropes, flip switches, and start up vehicles. Use your imagination a little, and that grab becomes something special. Take a concrete cube; attach rockets and a length of string with a spongy handle on the end; hook up the sponge with a switch attached to the rockets and drop the whole thing into your world. Then grab the sponge and hold on tight – you’ve just built a rocket-powered, land-based, water-ski thing. Put a ramp in front of it, and things start to get special.