Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I picked up LittleBigPlanet shortly after its release, and, prior to that, I had been highly anticipating it, despite the fact that I hadn't really bothered with a platformer since the 16-bit days. But platformers with simultaneous play for even two players are exceedingly rare, and the idea of a four-player 2-D platformer was irresistible. The user-generated content aspect also appealed to me, although I probably already knew that I wouldn't be motivated enough to build levels of my own, unless the system was extremely easy to use. Unfortunately, playing the game, I've found that it has some serious intrinsic flaws that have made it a real slog to get through, and now, months later, I still have yet to finish the story mode, let alone find time to explore the level creation process.

To start with, as a platformer, it's honestly not that great. It has great moments, such as an early puzzle where my fellow Sackboys and I had to load up a box with weights in order to tip it over to operate a pulley, or a sequence where we had to frantically run Indiana Jones-style from a rolling object demolishing everything in its path, but those moments have become increasingly few and far between as I've progressed. The game also becomes surprisingly difficult in its later stages, usually due to an overabundance of high-speed kill mechanisms. Even when they work, the many "snake wheels" randomly strewn about everywhere are merely mildly thrilling, rather than legitimately inspired. The sheer maddening nature of some of the level design can produce occasional unintended laughs when playing with other people, after everybody has been utterly shattered to the point that the frustration simply exhausts itself and it all becomes just a joke, but I'd frankly rather have a game that is fun to play.

Much of the difficulty arises from the game just not feeling as a good platformer should. Despite surface appearances, it's not a 2-D game. Nor is it 3-D. It's an extremely janky 2.5-D, using a Fatal Fury-style multi-plane system, but without any dedicated button to transition between the three planes. Instead, shifting is handled manually by pressing up and down on the analog stick, or, more often, occurs when an obstacle or just the stage structure automatically pushes the player character into a different plane. The system is unintuitive, with characters often shifting unintentionally and even unnoticed, and, more importantly, it does nothing to enhance the platforming experience, rather making basic movement awkward and clumsy when you find yourself unexpectedly on the wrong plane. It's just a needless complication that seems implemented to distinguish the game from Super Mario Bros., to its own detriment. The physics and collision are also touchy and overdone, introducing too many minute holes in the environment. I constantly find myself getting stuck inside walls and objects, where, after minutes of struggling to no avail, the only solution seems to be to resort to the suicide function, allowing my stuck Sackboy to reset to the last checkpoint, assuming my team hasn't already spent all my limited respawns. Such a lazily implemented "fix" might be acceptable in the untameably massive 3-D environment of a fast-moving downhill snowboarding game like SSX, but, in LittleBigPlanet, it's far too often a cheap way for the developers to turn the other way from what would otherwise be obvious progression-halting bugs.

As for the user-generated content, the level editor quickly overwhelmed me, but the stages uploaded by others provided some amusement early on. Unfortunately, it doesn't take all that long to check out all the worthwhile creations, and the influx of new good material has slowed considerably since the early days. I recently checked out the "LittleBigContra" project that is currently getting so much buzz around the community. The obvious effort and ingenuity merits the acclaim, and I was immediately astonished by the incomprehensibly faithful reproduction of even the title screen of Contra. But I ended up admiring the work far more than I enjoyed playing the stages, which felt like playing the actual Contra, already a very difficult game, but without any of the sharp controls of that game. A common theme, in fact, among the user-created levels seems to be a determination to punish players with the most sadistic setups possible, as if the ability to play or design a ruthlessly difficult stage were some proof of one's manhood. I wouldn't classify LittleBigContra in that category, as it's merely bound by its commitment to faithfulness, but, all the same, the user-generated levels are not a good place to turn for an escape from the already frustrating story mode.

On the bright side, I may not be a fan of the game's British charm, but Sackboy himself is exactly the cute mascot character to give the Sony PlayStation brand a face. And while multiple players can sometimes make the platforming more complicated and deadly, it's still great to be able to play a platformer with other people. Despite my complaints, I like the idea of LittleBigPlanet. I just wish it were paired with a better platforming engine.


Czardoz said...

They should call them Smackboys, because they smack each other all day long.

Riyuu said...

That's not true. Not everyone is a jerk that smacks his allies around like they're his bitches.



Czardoz said...

True. There are those of us who smack, and those of us who try desperately and FAIL.

Riyuu said...

Hey, I resent that!

Don't forget who was the master that TAUGHT you that technique, young apprentice.

Czardoz said...

So I'm the young apprentice? Your powers are weak, old man!

The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master!

Riyuu said...

Fine, but don't come crying to me after you've fallen in lava and your only means of survival is wearing an ugly mask for the rest of your life!