It’s no longer reasonable to think of LittleBigPlanet as a platformer. It’s not. Having spent some time with an updated build of the beta that’s currently doing the rounds, Sackboy’s original focus – leaping around and grabbing onto sponge – might still manifest itself throughout the game but it’s a game much more focused on widening the scope on what this hugely powerful tool can deliver.
It’s a block shifting puzzle game, for example; a four player tank blaster; a shoot-em-up; a Tomytronic-style three lane racer – all of these things not only tightly integrate with the main story progression, but they’re designed by the developers themselves and they’re there day one. They’re not user creations, they’re in the game from the off, and they’re easily the equal of the further refined platforming that the series was first known for.[drop]Further refined? Jumping is better, for starters: it’s less floaty and much easier to gauge your landings; the level design feels tighter, a no brainer given the inclusion of several key community designers from the earlier LittleBigPlanet games to the team, and it all just feels a little more snappier and exciting.
Away from the platforming, though, and one such side game – Tapling – is in the beta as part of the limited number of main levels to try.
You’ve probably played it assuming you got a code: it’s a tap-to-jump affair which ooses ridiculously high presentation and production values and wouldn’t look out of place for a couple of quid on the iPhone App Store. In fact, I’d probably buy it if it was. But here it is, part of LittleBigPlanet, and couldn’t be further away from Sackboy’s traditional mechanics (he’s not even in it) if it tried.
Like the rest of the game, Tapling is beautiful, albeit framed in familiar a LIMBO-esque aesthetic, and actually rather good fun. It’s also – like everything in the game, built with the included editor tools, and with that in mind it’s even more impressive, especially given the way it remembers your progress – it really does feel like its own distinct game. Naturally there are bigger things down the line, but as a teaser for what’s to come Tapling is brilliantly done.[videoyoutube]And as we’ve said already, the prospect of LBP as an App Store is hugely exciting.
With Media Molecule on the sidelines advising, development duties are in the hands of Tarsier and Double Eleven, a pair of studios that not only get what LittleBigPlanet games should be, but also what portable games should be.
That’s deftly demonstrated by speedy loading, the ability to store user created content locally so an internet connection isn’t always required, and all manner of social inter-activities that build up a considerable community presence.
It’s clear that this aspect is especially important to Sony this time around.
You can see this already in the user generated sections. Users are ‘hearting’ each other’s levels, commenting on creations and promoting the stuff they like the best. Profiles show what you’ve done and when, Facebook style, and it all magically tranfers to lbp.me without you having to lift a finger. It’s flawless, deep and hugely impressive, and finding cool new levels to try is a breeze, even at this pre-release stage with plenty of time to tweak.
This Vita version of LittleBigPlanet might offer all-new levels and challenges, but it also lets users use purchases from the PS3 games on top of the fact that the Vita’s touchscreen and built-in camera mean that – with a few UI differences – the editor is now even easier to use. Tap-and-hold menus offer quicker routes to tools and goodies, sliding through the racks of options is intuitive and natural and you can – of course – use touch control in your user generated games.
Everything just feels better. Visual cues as to where you’re placing objects in the 3D space; new handlers for AI and input; gesture-based input.[drop2]And with all this, expect to see things you didn’t think possible, if the early piles of ideas gently bubbling away just now are anything to go by.
I’ve played Connect 4, front-and-back touchscreen powered ant squishing, a nifty Frogger clone, an RTS demo, underwater scrollers, even a game where you control one Sackboy with the analog stick and control another with the touchscreen, offering up all manner of Escape Plan-esque puzzles as the two work together.
It’s not hard to appreciate how deep LittleBigPlanet Vita is and how important it is to the platform. Above everything else before – and that includes WipEout and Uncharted – LBP demonstrates just how powerful the Vita is and what it can do in the hands of talented developers. It’s visually strong, plays pretty much perfectly and offers more depth (and potential longevity) than everything else on the system put together. Hyperbole, perhaps, but the potential is there.
If there is such a thing as a killer app, this is it.