When you’re faced with beer or beta, it’s often an easy choice. Why should you forsake a good pint in the name of free bug-testing for a game you’re probably not that fussed about anyway, right? But when you find out the beta keys are flying around the web are for LittleBigPlanet, well, the decision is easy. 900MB later, and we’re in bed with Steven Fry and a guy made from sack. And we’re smiling and laughing like never before.
Make no mistake, Microsoft and Nintendo must be kicking themselves: if LBP isn’t a system seller then the games industry’s dead to us and we’re starting a website about kittens that can’t spell instead. From the very beginning, when you first boot the game from the XMB, LittleBigPlanet’s insane production values and complete easy of use scream out. The game’s extended later development has paid off, and whoever thought about hiring Fry for the voiceovers deserves a pay-rise – he fits brilliantly and his humour fits like a glove.
The beta’s actually massive. You get a good sampling of Media Molecule crafted levels, the ability to create your own (with tutorials and videos) from scratch plus full online functionality. If it wasn’t time limited we’d probably not bother with the Blu-ray version, and we don’t want to rub this in your face if you weren’t lucky enough to snag your own beta, but this is going to keep us busy for some time. Someone said something about Wipeout hitting tomorrow – we no longer care.
Slick isn’t the word for the interface, it’s as intuitive as anything we’ve seen before, each button sticks to its single use, there’s always on-screen prompts and everything is explained to you slowly for the first time. Sure, it’ll take you a good hour to get through the Create tutorial but there’s so much in there that the manual alone wouldn’t be enough. The first few Play levels are voiced over too, but the game gradually eases you into each new concept and before long you’re dashing around the Pod, decorating the walls, exploring new levels, seeing how your friends are getting on and forming ideas for Create, usually all at the same time.
Already, by 11 o’clock this morning there was a smattering of half-decent user created levels, and the further you plug into the main Story mode the more options you’ll get to play with yourself. The beta contains a huge amount of tools and devices (in fact we can’t imagine there’s really very much missing) and creating your own levels is a doddle once you’ve got your head around the game’s key concepts of physics and gravity, and how objects interact.
The visuals are to die for, too – everything’s locked at 30fps with some gorgeous effects, subtle motion blur , incredibly tactile textures and the art direction is consistent throughout. Every screenshot you’ve seen looks so much better in motion it’s hard to describe. The audio is equally brilliant, and although we’re not going to spoil any of the levels for anyone, the way the music changes in a couple of the pre-built Story sections is really cool.
So, LittleBigPlanet is all that. This is our first proper extensive hands-on with the game, and now we’ve seen the game’s structure, the menus, the options and the full complement of pop-it items it’s easier to see Media Molecule’s overall vision for the title. It’s vast but approachable, utterly next-gen but never aloof. LittleBigPlanet is history in the making, and Sony are absolutely right to be 100% behind the game this season. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re going back to making that Manic Miner level out of sponge and fire.