With the Vita on a seemingly unstoppable display of going from strength to strength, it was almost unsurprising to see a complex title like Little Big Planet appear so at home so soon on the new handheld.
During our hands-on time, we were able to try out a few levels that showed off how the Vita's extra features would be uniquely utilised during gameplay. We also got to see a demonstration of the create mode too and we're now convinced it has the potential to be more user-friendly than the PS3 versions.
First up, our hands-on experience. Traditional left-to-right platforming levels heavily involve the Vita’s extra features. You can move blocks for Sackboy by dragging your finger around the screen, wheels can be turned by touch and catapults are activated by pulling the base back with your finger and releasing. An indented wavy piano keyboard needs to have its sunken keys pushed out again by using the rear touchscreen pad and hitting the right keys will open a door.
While LBP2's platforming levels were very familiar, the create mode opened up the more obscure minigames, encouraging creativity. We're glad to see that creativity injected into the traditional levels now too thanks to the Vita's control input advantages over a PS3 pad.
We tried a few minigames too. In one game different coloured squids are released from the top of the screen and you need to guide them into the correctly coloured endzones by tapping the onscreen gates that populate the twisted, overlapping pathways. It's a fast-paced game that LBP creative veterans will be able to produce with ease.
The air-hockey game is exactly what you'd expect, with touch-screen controls to move your bat. The game sensibly plays to the Vita's proportions by flipping the action sideways as you point the device vertically. Naturally, this means two players can enjoy it too, by holding it together or playing on a table.
It's worth noting, that throughout our session the game’s graphics are practically on a par with the PS3 game. Gone are the days of describing the handheld versions of our favourite games as the ugly deformed stepsisters.
Our brief demo of the game’s creative features shows a suite that is every bit as comprehensive as its PS3 counterpart, with the luxury of a few more creative features to take advantage of the platform. Shapes can now be drawn directly using the touch-screen. Swapping between tabs is handled by mobile phone-like flicks across the screen. A neat touch -that is hopefully as simple as it looks- is the way you can create moving animations for objects. Simply trace the path you want the object -be it platform or giant flying dragon- to follow and you can set it to repeat it on a loop if necessary. This looks set to add a vitally intuitive tool to LBP's sometimes-daunting toolbox.
What may be new to some gamers (especially this BlackBerry loving, touchscreen fearing journo) will be second nature to people who spend their lives wiping their fingers around their mobile phone screens. Fear not though PS3 LBP die-hards, old-school creative controls will be included too. After all, the developers don't want to alienate the huge creative talent pool that the series has already built up.
The old PSP version of Little Big Planet couldn't really offer anything the PS3 game didn't do better, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here. It’s slightly disappointing that we won’t be able to have any cross-platform connectivity, as we would have liked to have been able to edit PS3 levels on the Vita and vice versa. The touchscreen functionality of potential Vita levels held this back though as there’s no way to account for them on the PS3.
LBP Vita is the sort of early killer app that the handheld will need to convince people that it is more than a watered-down version of their home console. The Vita wants to be a contender, it isn't merely concerned with taking on the 3DS, it would like a piece of the action from the big boys too.