Sackboy’s latest adventure will probably sound familiar to you. The happy-go-lucky home of Sackboy and all his chums has been torn asunder, and they’re off to save the day, guided as ever by a charmingly voiced cast of supported characters.
The big difference is that this isn’t LittleBigPlanet, it’s Sackboy: A Big Adventure, taking MediaMolecule’s beloved franchise and morphing it into a 3D platformer. There’s no creation here – though you can still style it up with collectable costumes – with the focus instead on co-op play that you can see through all the levels.
The big bad this time around is the Vex. Sorry, not the Vex of Destiny milky robot fame, but Vex, the maniacal Jester that seems to have watched the Sideshow Bob episodes of The Simpsons on a loop for the last decade. He scoops up all the sack-people of Craftworld and starts putting them to work, with only Sackboy able to escape, snatching his plans and heading off in a rocket to try and put an end to them. Right away, Scarlet, an old adventuring Sackgirl, steps in to guide and mentor your journey.
You have to dive into level after level across five worlds from the Imagisphere, and not just make it through to the end, but find all the secrets and cubby holes where Dreamer Orbs have been tucked away. It’s these that unlock the boss battles at the end of each world and let you fly on to the next.
It’s all nicely put together. The game looks fantastic on PlayStation 5, taking the style of the LittleBigPlanet series and fleshing it out to feature 3D platforming. With four player co-op in mind, theres similarities and parallels that can be drawn here to Super Mario 3D World. There’s multiple paths to take through many areas, arena-like spaces where you’ll do battle with cutesy Uproar monsters, and also plenty of opportunity to slap anyone you happen to be playing with.
The problem is… it’s just a bit dull for a long stretch at the beginning. That’s certainly accentuated by playing solo, but even grabbing a partner to play with you feels bland. Better, but bland. The story takes a very hands off approach as Scarlet and other characters only rarely interject, so there’s barely any drama to keep you engaged. Again, it’s pretty, but there’s not quite enough to keep you hooked through the first few worlds.
Some of that, I think, comes from the music. Sumo break out a contemporary The Go! Team track for an early level, but the level as a whole is quiet, muted, like a ray traced reflection of the iconic Get It Together track from the original game. The first level I truly enjoyed saw the game really embrace a licensed track, having the whole level bouncing and bopping along to the tempo and refrains of Uptown Funk in a joyous fashion, but that contrasts to all the levels which aren’t as vibrant and are backed by Muzak soundalikes of popular tunes – it goes so far as to have a not-quite-Futurama tune for a sci-fi level. The game pulls that same trick a few more times – David Bowie’s Let’s Dance was another highlight – but even that starts to wear a little thin as you realise the level is constantly waiting for the music before it can progress.
The wider level design that’s intended to accommodate four players means that difficulty starts low and only very gradually picks up. It’s also quite forgiving – getting hit once by an enemy won’t send you back to a checkpoint, but a second hit will. There is a turning point as levels start to use more and more power-ups after the second world – around a third or half the way through the campaign.
The first sign of this comes with orange gloop that lets you run up walls, later getting your hands on Iron Man-style hover boots and pew-pew hands and the LittleBigPlanet 2 grappling hook. It’s here that the game makes the most sense, when it’s pulling the same kind of side-scrolling platforming tricks as classic LittleBigPlanet 2 with bounce pads and grapple points combining for some high-intensity sections and lightning fields and spikes to avoid, but then throwing in moments where 3D can come to the fore. By the end, the difficulty has been ramped up pretty high, evoking the kind of challenge that the original LittleBigPlanet games managed, and further challenge awaits after beating Vex for the final time, with more levels to tackle and a drive to collect more and more of the Dreamer Orbs to unlock them.
An extra disappointment is that you are Sackboy and only ever Sackboy, despite Scarlet being a Sackgirl. Of course you can play dress up through the game, with some of the earliest costumes to unlock or buy being for Red Riding Hood and a punk rocker girl in a tartan skirt. We’re at a point now where girls, women and non-binary people should be able to choose to be referred to as Sackgirl, Sackling, Sackthing or a handful of other options in the cutscene dialogue, but there’s no option, and it leaves Sackboy: A Big Adventure feeling a bit behind the times.
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