You’d be forgiven for assuming that LittleBigPlanet 3 would play it safe, with Sumo Digital at the helm instead of the series’ creators at Media Molecule, but in many ways this is the most adventurous game in the series since the first hit the PlayStation 3 in 2008. The biggest and most noticeable difference isn’t actually a single addition, but rather three… and a half.
Yes, Sackboy’s got a bunch of new friends, the speedy dog named Oddsock, the bird called Swoop and the big and jolly Toggle – the half being the slightly less jolly miniature version of Toggle. Combined, they offer up tons of new options for level creators to play with, thanks to their greatly altered style of movement.
Oddsock bounds through the world, able to jump off walls and slide down them, even. Toggle is heavier and slower than the rest, but at the tap of a shoulder button can switch to a smaller form to fit through tiny gaps, and suddenly weighs so little that you can run on water. Swoop, to put it quite plainly, can fly.
Suddenly, it makes Sackboy’s running and jumping seem rather ordinary. Sumo have seen fit to give you a whole host of new power-ups and abilities to play with. Firstly, Sackboy can now clamber up certain walls, but within the new Sack Pocket you’ll find things like the Pumpinator for blowing things about, or the Hook Hat which lets you latch on to bendy rails that can take in and out of layers with consummate ease.
To accomodate all of these new characters and toys, the game’s story quite necessarily takes on a new form. Rather than the very linear adventure with unlockable offshoots, your quest to save the little world of Bunkum sees you travelling to and exploring three main hub world, with a mixture of story levels and side challenges for you to hunt out and discover as you play.
Each of the hubs focusses on your attempts to find the marbles and restore one the three heroes of Bunkum – Oddsock, Toggle and Swoop – but there’s also a lot more incentive to go back and explore. As you unlock the new power-ups, you’ll be able to reach new places in previous areas, and it’s a delight to see the hubs again while playing with their respective new characters.
Yet it does feel like there’s something missing from the story as a consequence of this. Once you get past the obligatory introductory levels, the main story really isn’t all that long compared to previous games, and the side levels don’t quite make up the numbers either. It’s also a little disappointing that almost as soon as you unlock a character, you’re off to the next area to find the next character and are suddenly back to playing as Sackboy. With single player the focus, it also fails to explore the potential for mixing the characters in co-op.
Then there’s the sadness I feel that that Hugh Laurie voices the character of Newton, but never interacts with the omniscient voice of Stephen Fry. There’s only a handful of Creator Curators in the world this time – such as the wonderfully named Marlon Random – but they’re brought their voices out from the cutscenes and into the levels, which alongside the improvements to the graphics, really make this feel like a step up in quality.
The story is really more of a whistle stop tour of all of the new whizz-bang features in the game, that are being made available to the dedicated and talented community. Beyond the characters and gadgets, the game world can now extend into the background for 16 layers and shuffling the action between them is made much easier thanks to slides, layer launchers, Velociporters and more. Making space for all the extra level geometry is the ability to banish the dreaded thermometer, though this puts the tools to bypass potential RAM limits by loading new level areas from the hard drive in your hands.
Then there’s tools so that you too can create your own hub worlds and fully formed adventures, the object physics tweaker, the Broadcast Microchip, and you can even create your own power-ups with the Blaster Handle and attached microchips. With so many new tools, it’s more daunting and confusing than ever for newcomers to try and learn their way around, so Sumo have added the 14 levels of Popit Puzzles, to first give you a grounding or refresher in some of the basics of using the Popit, thanks to the play and create merging Popit Powerup which will actually let you create your own Popit Puzzles.
They are, of course, accompanied by streaming tutorial videos that go into much greater depth on each tool within the game – also viewable using a Vita, phone or tablet as a second screen. By default though, you’re limited to a still very powerful subset of tools within the game, which locks off some of the more advanced logic from LBP2 and the more expansive parts from LBP3. These measures help a little, but it’s still going to be a hugely daunting task to create a level you feel is worth sharing.
If you do share a level, you’ll be dropping it into a sea of 9 million other levels, thanks to the backwards compatibility – a big reason why Sackboy’s jump is still as floaty as before, though it does feel a little better on the DualShock 4. The interface for browsing levels has been overhauled, and helping you to stand out from the crowd, you can now attach a 30 second video to your level using ShareFactory and footage from the Share button – this is one of the very few features exclusive to the PS4.
Disappointingly, opening and navigating the Popit can often cause the game to noticeably drop a frame or two, which quickly becomes rather annoying when creating a level. It’s accentuated even further when playing online co-op, where picking up any sticker for the first time or if either of us opened up the Popit, there would be a major lag spike that could often get us killed. With the game out today in the US, and no mention of this in the day one patch notes, hopefully this can be fixed for next week’s EU release, and I should note that re-playing a level without stickers saw no lag spikes.
LittleBigPlanet 3 is a quite major step forward for the series. The story might not explore all of the potential, but briefly shines a light on what the new possibilities might be for those making their own levels. The wide array of new tools, the removal of limitations and addition of new characters and power-ups will all serve to empower the community to reach new heights.
Version tested: PlayStation 4