Media Molecule ushered in the “Play.Create.Share.” style of gaming on Playstation 3 with LittleBigPlanet in 2008 to a host of awards, including our own Game of the Year. Since then Sony have released a number of games under this same mantra such as Echochrome 2, ModNation Racers, and it’s even being teased for games like MotorStorm Apocalypse. Rather than sit on their laurels and risk other developers taking the crown, Media Molecule have decided to reclaim the thrown by releasing a sequel to the game that started it all. LittleBigPlanet 2 has a lot to live up to - can it innovate enough to warrant a full retail release when things like water and the Paintinator were only DLC?
One of the first differences I noticed with LittleBigPlanet 2 is that it actively tries to tell you a story instead of just a flimsy backdrop for platforming in a new locale. Media Molecule have put in tools that allow them to not only make cinematic cut scenes, but also include voice acting as well. These changes give the new crop of characters a style and personality all of their own. Don’t go in expecting an awe inspiring emotional story (but then who expects that from a platformer?), instead LittleBigPlanet 2 keeps things mostly light. A couple of the characters are surprisingly funny and even the most annoying character never got truly irritating. It’s all capped off with a horrible moral but beyond that the story did its job admirably.
Anyone hoping that the sequel would drastically change the physics based platforming of the first game should just give up hope now. Sackboy isn’t Mario or Meatboy and honestly I prefer that he kept his signature movement style. That’s not to say the gameplay is totally unchanged, because the sequel comes with a number of additions that really help with the variety. The grappling hook is a big step in making LittleBigPlanet a faster paced and more challenging platformer. Simply press R1 and you can grapple to any material that sackboy would be able to grab and swing from normally. Swinging with the grappling hook brought back memories of the first time I swung from a rope in the first game, but with a greater sense of control and speed.
On the other hand, the Grabinator didn’t seem like as important an addition when I first saw videos of it. Gloves that allow sackboy to pick up objects over his head as though they were weightless and toss them around seemed like a one trick pony, but Media Molecule show, through its own levels, the variety of gameplay that this adds to platforming levels. Picking up pastries and then using them to grind down rails, catching bombs in mid air before they explode in your face, and tossing your friends to heights you couldn’t have reached otherwise are all great examples of this. The community takes this even further with one community level called 'The Ancient Cave of New Beh’Ta' using the grabinator and programmable sackbots to great use for a puzzle platformer.
Another addition is an emitter you can wear as a helmet called the Creatinator. This works similar to the Paintinator gun from the Metal Gear Solid DLC of the first game, but instead of being limited to just shooting paint this helmet can shoot anything you can come up with. There are a couple of standard projectiles included in the editor such as missiles, plasma balls, and water, but the Creatinator is at its best when it is used for the unexpected, like shooting sticky cakes to make new platforms for yourself, gumming up machinery, or holding a platform in place momentarily. Unfortunately none of the community levels I've downloaded have made use of this new tool yet, but I’m curious to see what the community comes up with once the game has been out for a few weeks.
The biggest addition to gameplay is definitely the Controllinator, which allows the player to take direct control of things other than Sackboy. Media Molecule uses it to give Sackboy vehicles in the campaign and more variety in the mini-game levels, but it can do so much more once the community gets going. In community created levels from the beta (and some published with an early copy of the game) this is used for all kinds of things, from asteroid shooters to 2D adventure games similar to the old Zelda titles. Using the Controllinator and computer logic you can make all kinds of genres that were impossible in the first game.
Levels in LittleBigPlanet come in two varieties: developer levels and community levels. Media Molecule’s levels in LittleBigPlanet 2 are masterfully polished and the inventiveness in the platforming levels left me amazed on a number of occasions. However, the vehicle based levels were more of a distraction than the masterpieces of the platforming levels and Sackboy comes off as an amateur in the side scrolling shooter genre. Some of the concepts of the vehicle levels were great though, like curing a man of his mental instability from the inside out. Community levels, on the other hand, have shown a remarkable ability to make games outside of the platforming genre. Several fun shooter levels were available within the beta levels that Media Molecule chose to publish online, with multiple upgradeable weapons and a sense of speed and control that is absent in Media Molecule’s own levels.
There was also a promising RPG concept level called Omicron-Neon City, which had surprisingly good aesthetics, and a Heavy Rain-like adventure game called The Lost. Both of these levels were not fully realized and mostly showed how the creators had been able to create QTE based gameplay or town/building exploration required in any good RPG (more proof that HD RPGs can indeed have towns), but they show the amazing new things that are possible with the improvements to the editor. Media Molecule weren’t kidding when they said that LittleBigPlanet 2 wasn’t just a platformer anymore.
Speaking of the editor, I couldn’t possibly list all of the upgrades that have been made in the sequel, but I’ll touch on the biggest ones that I haven’t mentioned already. Probably the biggest addition for Joe Shmoe creators like myself is Sackbots: little programmable Sackboys that allow you to make AI controlled Sackboys in your levels, either as helpers or enemies. This addition works well with the new movie cameras, since you can force the Sackbot to act out a pre-recorded movement set and with a bit of camerawork you suddenly have a cut scene. Having an actual sackboy giving instructions at the beginning of your level using your own recorded voice through a headset is a far cry better than a cardboard cut out with a text box.
The other big improvement is that just about everything has been made easier to make. Instead of setting a platform to a piston and slowly tweaking it until you got the exact movement you wanted, you can now just place an object tweaker on the object you want to move in create mode and completely cut out the mechanical middle man. There is also actual computer logic available. Adept creators in LittleBigPlanet had already been using computer logic gates by making mechanical contraptions that simulated the input and output of an AND, OR, or NOR gate, but now you can again cut out the middle man and use the logic directly.
The added simplicity and decreased thermometer usage in create mode should allow creators to make much more complex and polished levels than before in the same amount of time. There are a plethora of other improvements such as gravity changing object tweakers, the ability to change a material’s properties part of the way through a level, and all kinds of new sensors, but you’ll have to see those for yourself. Just know that even if you don’t care about creating levels in the slightest, all of these additions allow those that do create levels to make them better than ever, so everyone benefits in the end.
Technically, visuals in LittleBigPlanet 2 aren’t really a huge jump from the original, but it’s a noticeable upgrade and the art design has significantly improved. There are 6 themes to the levels and each of them is a work of art. These themes feel much more inventive than the simpler Jungle, City, and Arctic based themes of the first game and really work well with the overall hand-made feel of LittleBigPlanet's visuals. One technical blemish is that there still seem to be some connectivity issues when loading online levels, just like in the first game.
Music choice is another hit out of the park for Media Molecule; these guys really know how to choose some great licensed music for their levels. Each of these songs is then made available for editing, but you can go one step further and make your own music using the Music Sequencer. There are already some great renditions of gaming classics like “Buy Somethin’ Will Ya?” from Earthbound and “Interrupted by Fireworks” from Final Fantasy 7 in a Video Game Music Collection community level, but I’m mostly curious to see what kind of original music the community can come up with using the instruments available. The instruments seem to lend themselves more to classic gaming music over orchestral or rock game songs from things like Shadow of the Colossus or Persona 4. The music sequencer can also be linked to events in the level to perfectly time your level's actions with its theme music.
I know I’m going to get complaints for not giving LittleBigPlanet 2 a ten in value, but to me a single player campaign of only 6 hours for a platformer is way too short to give the game a perfect value score. You can argue with me all day about how the focus on community gives it a nearly endless amount of gameplay... and I would agree, but for $60 I think you should get more than 6 hours of campaign content from the developers. I love what's there, but I really feel like there should have been more. It’s still a game which offers amazing value, and the improvements to the menu system for searching through levels (including a filter system that allows you to filter for key words as well as single or multiplayer levels) will help to keep me playing this game every once in a while for years to come. That is, of course, assuming you have internet access for your Playstation 3, but if you don’t I would still recommend you play LittleBigPlanet 2, just don’t pay release day prices.
LittleBigPlanet 2 is everything a sequel should be - it stays true to the vision of the first game while adding feature upon feature. The graphics are improved, the gameplay additions are all fun, and the new editing features will allow the LBP community to give us lowly free loaders great levels to play for years to come. That said, the vehicle gameplay in the story campaign felt a little weak and the story campaign still only takes 6 hours to finish. Sackboy is once again the king of “Play.Create.Share.” and I wouldn’t have it any other way.