When LittleBigPlanet was first announced it seemed like a game with a limitless amount of possibilities. The promise contained within the title was so large it ended up being the game’s biggest downfall. No matter how many unique and creative ways the game could satisfy each gamer’s imagination it just never live up to the hype. With LittleBigPlanet 2, developer Media Molecule have set out to take all that was great about the original and employ a new motto ("A Platform for Games") to their game design to take the idea of level creation and platforming to a whole new level. I was able to get my hands on the beta for the game and I found a lot to enjoy, but still saw a lot of the flaws from the first game.
From the very beginning I noticed that a lot of the whimsical elements of the game will be making a return, things like the pod computer, worlds, and Sackboy customization. Nothing much has been done to make these elements any different than the previous version besides additional options, but in my opinion this was an area that was executed very well in the original game. As a jumping off point LittleBigPlanet's start screen has always been both concise and imaginative.
Unfortunately, in the story side of the game, the beta only has five Media Molecule levels to offer. Two of the levels were more mini-games than platforming levels, but otherwise what was available gave a substantial glimpse at the games platforming. Arguably one of the more frustrating elements from LittleBigPlanet was the way in which the Sackboys controlled; there were certain issues with jumping. In order to make level traversal a bit easier Sackboy has had a certain weight added to its movements to make moving from point A to point B a little more precise. There are still those moments where you struggle with the dual planes of movement (down stage and upstage), but improvements have been made.
Two new items to the game that add a new variety to levels are the grappling hook and the 'Creatinator'. The grappling hook is perhaps Media Molecule’s greatest new addition, due to its ability to alleviate some of the frustration of falling to your death. Being able to swing a la Spider-Man also makes for some interesting platforming moments, but it certainly isn’t anything you haven’t seen before. While very few of the community created levels actually made good use of the grappling hook, it'll be exciting to see in the future.
For me, the Creatinator is the item that is going to bring the awesome to the game. The idea is simple: a Sackboy puts on the Creatinator like a hat and then is able to shoot a particular item. In one of my personal favorite community-created levels, the Creatinator is used like a flamethrower and pits players against each other in a deathmatch style of game. As more items are added to the creation inventory of LBP2, I can see the Creatinator as the go to item for exciting new level design.
Community created levels, so far, are only beginning to pick up speed; there are only about 30 solid user-created levels available. Just as before, the most engaging levels are those that mirror a previous game experience. Being able to tap into a familiar style of gameplay from our past is something gamers love and LittleBigPlanet has always had that going for it above all else. Personal highlights for me included a Connect Four recreation, a Space Invaders style of game, and a boxing match. Sure, these will add to the life of LittleBigPlanet 2, but they can only go so far in this evolved market where every retro game is now being recreated on the iPhone.
As a complete experience, LittleBigPlanet 2’s beta has a lot to enjoy. Media Molecule’s story levels are inventive and the improved platforming abilities make for a less frustrating experience. You will still find yourself struggling here and there to get through levels, but the addition of the grappling hook and new elements like gravity manipulation can help change the pace of game play so that you don't notice your frustration as much.
Unfortunately, LittleBigPlanet 2, like the first game, feels like a missed opportunity. Community created levels once again lack the finesse of the story levels and usually require near impossible sequences of action to progress. With more time with the game, I imagine a ton of gamers will be creating levels that will feel as if they were straight from Media Molecule themselves, but at this point most of them left me wishing for more story levels. There is so much promise held in these titles that no matter what product is delivered it will never satisfy the entire population of gamers. Sure, you can’t help but put a smile on your face when playing this game, but a smile only takes you so far.
By relying on audience participation to be one of the major sources of your game’s success you are taking a major risk, but the risk is worth the potential reward when it’s a game that could continue evolving for years and years.
What do you hope to get out of LittleBigPlanet 2? Are you hoping to create a one-of-a-kind level for the community or do you want to see what Media Molecule has cooked up?
LittleBigPlanet 2 will be released January 2011 on the PS3.