This feels very much like the beginning of the end of a generation. It’s unmistakeable, really. Popular console-exclusive character in slightly off kilter genre crossover? Check. Kitchen sink approach to content, ensuring that pretty much everything you can think of is on the disk? Yep. Capable enough but a tad by-the-numbers visuals and overly familiar sound effects? Well, yeah, this is definitely one of those games you normally only get in a console’s later years.
LittleBigPlanet Karting isn’t bad. It’s not, honestly. In fact, it’s actually quite good fun (and contains a fair more meat to it than one of the other two karting games available in the same rough release window) and is as playable as you’d expect, given the developer’s heritage and the still valuable license that Sackboy and his identically boned buddies continue to manage to portray. United Front are good at this – no question – and this is much better than ModNation ever was.[drop]But there’s still something slightly off-putting here. It’s not lazy per se, but it feels like everything’s just been pushed and squeezed together to ensure that 99% of the game looks and feels like the regular LittleBigPlanet games.
The pod, the menus, the humour, the silly stunted vocals from the story-fuelling side characters, hell, even Stephen Fry is starting to grate, his whimsical jibes always about a sentence behind your itchy, stabbing index finger.
It’s LittleBigPlanet, again, but in a Kart. And everything that combination brings.
It’s all very nice and I love it to bits, I really do, but LittleBigPlanet Karting is one of those games that you wished was just that tad more streamlined. In danger of being bloated for the sake of it, this is one racer desperate to tick all the boxes. But are they the right boxes?
This has to be aimed at those familiar with the big PlayStation-owned IP, because that’s the whole point: this is a racing game for everyone that likes LittleBigPlanet, and not really for anyone that doesn’t – it’s the same game, just as a racer. And because of that, the controls are that trademark tiny bit loose, the graphics (as cute as they are) are still patched together from blocks and slices, that man-made aesthetic working overtime, again, and the level design (at first) is naggingly over complicated and visually a smidgen too busy.
Successful karting games work because they’re simple, but memorable, in their construction. Nintendo know this, it’s why their Mario Kart games are timeless, undiluted treasures. Tracks need to be distinct, original, engrossing and fun to race around, but LittleBigPlanet Karting’s first world (which is all we’re allowed to talk about in this preview) doesn’t really offer that – instead, by sticking to the LBP guidelines and standards, it’s actually a teeny tiny bit dull.
It’s like a business meeting, where everyone’s wearing five sets of clothes and dancing around in front of your face instead of everyone just wearing something nice and casual and moving to the side. It hurts to say it because I can see what the developers have tried to do, but the track design isn’t quite tight enough, the courses are too long, and any variety between them is lost in the slightly fussy nature of their LBP-guideline friendly visage.
I’m exaggerating slightly here, but it’s not a good sign when you start a track and have to question whether you’ve played it before – not that this is true across the game or even the first world, but it’s there. However, and this is where it gets really interesting: I’m chancing my arm here (or whatever it is I signed away) with the NDA, but the next world is much, much better.[drop2]And, as with LittleBigPlanet Vita, the real gems are the ones you find off the beaten path. In Karting’s first world you can expect to be dodging missiles in serial, racing across a vast African savanna with rally-style directional pop-ups and a really nifty first-person grand prix race which demonstrates that, from this view at least, the handling’s pretty tidy too. These are more than fun diversions, they’re some of the best bits of the game.
The other point to note is that – as with all LittleBigPlanet games – it’s the user creation that’s the real content here. The Creation tool is simply sublime, catering for those with plenty of time to spare and (naturally) some ability, but it draws upon the superbly friendly setup first aired in ModNation Racers but bundles it with the usual LittleBigPlanet toolset, which can (as those in the Beta will have seen) produce some outstanding stuff.
If this sounds like a preview without a real message, that’s probably because I’m hamstrung by the limitations of the content I can cover. I didn’t really get on with the Story mode in the first world but I found everything else about the game to be adorable. It’s not the best looking game around, and it is trying too hard to mimic the platformers it shares its name with, but as a Kart racer it’s entirely competent and plays well with mates.
Does LittleBigPlanet Karting have a tough ride ahead of it? Probably not – it’s designed to appeal to a specific market, and on that level it works quite nicely, the game’s subtleties (like the use of weapons to deflect other attacks if your timing is spot-on) will appeal to those that like to get their teeth into something, and there’s loads to it. Really. This is a massive, potentially limitless game.
As a fun, multiplayer focused racer, it’s shaping up quite nicely. But it’s not – from the time we’ve spent with it – going to really connect with those unfamiliar with Sackboy. But then I’m fairly sure everybody already knew that, and the same could be applied to any kind of crossover.
Our full review will follow shortly.