LittleBigPlanet is as much a platformer as it is a platform. Over the past two mainline titles, Media Molecule's franchise has built a solid fan base on the back of whimsical design and creative freedom. Each game does a lot of the initial legwork, leaving it up to fans to carry it the rest of the way.
For LittleBigPlanet 3, however, developer Sumo Digital has taken over for MM and done their best to keep the franchise ball rolling on a new console generation. At the same time, Sumo has tried to put their own spin on a series that has remained largely familiar since its initial launch on PS3. Their efforts aren't entirely successful, but they shouldn't be shunned by LBP fans either; LittleBigPlanet 3 is a competent franchise entry that is as encouraging as it is disappointing.
The set-up for LittleBigPlanet 3 is largely unchanged from past games. Players take control of the ever-charming Sack Boy and traverse a diverse world of intricately detailed 2D/3D levels to stop a maniacally cheeky villain. Thanks to the power of the PS4, LittleBigPlanet 3's design is bursting with imagination, as if a patchwork quilt exploded onto the screen. The franchise has always been impressive visually, but here Sumo takes things even farther. The texture work, the switch between foreground and background layers, and even the sheer inventiveness of the individual levels are enough to impress anyone.
At the same time, Sumo Digital hasn't reinvented the wheel. That is, if players were not a fan of Sack Boy's controls – i.e. the floaty and imprecise jumping – they will not be swayed by LittleBigPlanet 3. Sure, it looks better, but this sequel still carries both the good and bad trademark qualities of its predecessors. Players are still running through levels picking up customization items, stickers, and assets for the level creator, but they are also going to be fighting to nail the more challenging puzzles. At this point, the inconsistent platforming has become a part of LittleBigPlanet's DNA, and it's clearly not going anywhere.
Sumo Digital has also let their creativity shine through by introducing three new playable characters to the mix. There's Swoop the bird, who has the power of flight; Toggle, a cutesy oaf who can instantaneously switch from large to small; and OddSock, a four-legged sack person who can run fast and wall jump. Some may recall these characters' introduction back at E3 2014, but let us just say that the live demo was not indicative of LittleBigPlanet 3's final product. Where that footage suggested that players would be able to switch between the four characters at will, that is not the case. In fact, those three new characters are largely relegated to one-off levels in each of the game's three HUB worlds. Even in co-op players take control of different versions of the same character.
That being said, Swoop, OddSock, and Toggle do add new wrinkles to LittleBigPlanet 3's platforming, which is a refreshing change of pace for the series. OddSock is a particularly useful addition, as he takes the imprecise jumping and running of LittleBigPlanet's past and makes it that much tighter. All of the characters, though, bring enough new mechanics to the table that it's a shame they are so criminally underused. Granted, wall jumping or changing size is nothing new for the platformer genre, but the move shows Sumo is willing to try new things. It also opens up new possibilities for player-created levels, but more on that in a bit.
While the three new characters were billed as selling points for LittleBigPlanet 3, Sack Boy has by no means been left out in the cold. He is still the star here, and luckily Sumo Digital has given him (and players) some new toys to mess around with. With the introduction of the Sack Pocket, LittleBigPlanet 3 has introduced an inventory system where players can store useful traversal tools. There's the Hook Hat, which lets Sack Boy latch onto rails and grind through the air. The Boost Boots for that much-needed double jump. The Blink Ball, which serves as a type of physics-based teleport. And the Pumpinator, which can either pull in or blast out air.
Like the new characters, these platforming tools create new opportunities for puzzle solving and traversal, but still feel underutilized. As soon as players start to get accustomed to one tool, the game introduces another. And where it might have been fun to switch between each tool, most levels simply focus on one. Leaving players wanting more is always a good thing, but in LittleBigPlanet 3's case it feels like being short-changed.
All told, LittleBigPlanet 3 is the shortest entry in the franchise, taking only about 5 hours to complete. There are side missions in each of the HUB worlds, but those don't feel as strong as the story-focused levels. It almost seems as if Sumo Digital wanted to show off each of these new characters and mechanics, but didn't want to build on them. Which is unfortunate, because there is a lot to like about what LittleBigPlanet 3 adds to the formula.
It's also possible that Sumo figured the community would pick up from their lead, creating levels that make great use of these new tools and characters. There's no denying that the LittleBigPlanet community is a creative bunch, and they have delivered some truly impressive experiences. And with LittleBigPlanet 3 adding new creation tools, along with every asset from LBP 1 and 2, the possibilities are astounding. However, the community experience has been far from smooth since launch. Not only has the game flat out crashed while trying to play a community level, but many of the elements within said levels have been suspect. Wonky cameras and invisible walls are just two of the more troublesome issues that have popped up, which makes for a wholly unpleasant experience.
But when the stars do align, the community has already shown their ingenuity. LittleBigPlanet 3 might be a straight platformer on paper, but the creation tools give players the freedom to deliver a diverse selection of experiences. And with these new characters and traversal tools, the potential is there. It's only up to the players to keep delivering.
LittleBigPlanet 3 is as much a step forward as it is a step back. The prospect of playing with four different characters was initially intriguing, but what Sony suggested the game would be and what it actually is are not one and the same. That being said, the new Sack people add enough smart mechanics to the platforming that it isn't a total loss. Similarly, the Sack Pocket helps give the franchise an identity beyond basic jump puzzles.
At the end of the day, LittleBigPlanet 3 is a proof of concept more than anything else. The game shows that the power of the PS4 can deliver stunning levels and that these new characters can keep the formula fresh. We just will have to wait until a fourth game to see those singular elements truly come together. Die-hard fans will find a lot to love in LittleBigPlanet 3, but everyone else is better off waiting for the next game.
Have you had a chance to play LittleBigPlanet 3? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.
LittleBigPlanet 3 is available now for PS3 and PS4. Game Rant was provided a PS4 copy for this review.
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