In some ways, LittleBigPlanet is a series that defies traditional generational thinking, that is to say it's a game series dependent not on power or graphical output, but on simple systems, deployed and interwoven in imaginative fashion. The processor that LittleBigPlanet relies on most isn't even inside whatever PlayStation you have, it's inside your head.
With that in mind, it's a little difficult to say what a new-gen LittleBigPlanet could, or even should, bring to the table, and indeed, I think it's rather important to note that this isn't really a new-gen LittleBigPlanet. Sumo Digital, having fully taken the reins of the series from Media Molecule, have crafted something accessible and deep, creating a game that ultimately does everything to illustrate that LittleBigPlanet 3 is all about us -- the players.
Sumo Digital have some pedigree with this series, having been on hand for the excellent Vita version, and they've done themselves proud here, even tweaking a few longstanding niggles. The floaty jumping feels a little tighter this time around (though it hasn't been completely overhauled due to backwards-compatibility), and environments are larger and more dense than ever before, filled with aesthetic and mechanical riches that take full advantage of the game's increased levels of spatial depth. Alongside the straightforward map that takes you from level to level in the Adventure mode, there are now hub worlds to explore in Metroidvania fashion, returning time and again to access previously unreachable areas thanks to a freshly unlocked utility or character.
The story aspect of LittleBigPlanet 3 revolves around Hugh Laurie's maniacal Newton unleashing the power of three Titans, which then proceed to possess Newton and suck all of the creativity out of the world of Bunkum, and it's up to Sackboy, or a Little Red Riding Hood Sackgirl in the case of my adventures, to restore creativity and colour to Bunkum once more. Help is required, though, and this arrives in the form of some nifty gadgets for our stitched friend, and the resurrection of the three legendary heroes of Bunkum -- controllable super Sackfriends who each bring their own flavour to proceedings.
The gadgets include blink balls that allow you to teleport between certain areas by bouncing projectiles into special warp screens, rocket-powered boost boots that give Sackboy a sharp burst of movement in any given direction, and a hooked helmet that let's our darned friend ride rails like a knitted Booker DeWitt. The level design is fantastic, working in low-gravity vignettes, top-down scenarios, and even a spot of 2D Portal-esque action. It's just a shame that the Adventure Mode is over so quickly.
The same is true especially of the new faces. The Bunkum heroes of legend make all-too fleeting appearances in the Adventure mode, given a couple of levels to sample the wares of OddSock, Toggle and Swoop before moving on. OddSock is probably my favourite of the bunch -- a four-legged speed machine who gallops along at a faster pace than Sackboy, and can not only wall-jump but also wall-ride in certain areas, once again making the most of the additional layers. OddSock feels like the sort of platforming protagonist LBP needed in the wake of platformers like Super Meat Boy, and his levels are an utter joy to play, perfectly balanced to take advantage of OddSock's speed and abilities, but never quite allowing you to hit autopilot in the way that Sonic, for example, can do.
Toggle, as his name suggests, is a character who can switch between a slow, strong figure, and a tiny, speedy chap. There are areas that only little Toggle can reach, switches that can only be activated by his heavy alter-ego, and springboards that require quick switching between the two. There's an excellent, frantic chase sequence that has you switching rapidly between Toggle's two forms on the fly, with a smattering of multiple opportunities encouraging you to improvise a little. It's basic stuff, perhaps, but executed perfectly.
Swoop is probably my least favourite of the three -- a creation that falls somewhere between Flappy Bird and a SHMUP glider -- and his levels are just really obstacle gauntlets that seldom become particularly interesting. Tapping one button flaps Swoop's wings, while holding another has him perform an accelerated, swooping glide, and sections that require the latter tend to be a little faster and more exciting because of that, but even so, Swoop's sections seemed to lack the imagination of the other levels. We'd wondered on this site is the new characters would feel like meaningful additions or just prove to be gimmicks, and although OddSock and Toggle seemed to be perfect, distinctive fits, I can't say I felt the same way about Swoop.
I actually feel bad about saying that, given how cute and adorable Swoop actually is. What the hell!
But that sort of goes to prove how adorably charming this game is, of course. Stephen Fry is on-hand once more to guide us through the early stages of things and explain what LittleBigPlanet is all about, and Hugh Laurie's turn as Newton is wonderfully unhinged. There's some incredible, OTT voice acting elsewhere too, including a fine turn from the bloke who does the Compare the Market adverts. The soundtrack is phenomenal as well, and the visual aesthetic is as cartoonishly endearing as always, boosted by the extra level of visual detail that the extra levels provide. Sometimes you just want to stop and stare at the backdrops and take it all in. It's a shame that there's not more to see in the main Adventure mode, really, but Sumo Digital are eager to whet their audience's appetite for more before showing them the Creation suite.
As galling as the relative paucity of developer-made content might be, LittleBigPlanet 3's attitude to Creation is the best it's ever been. There are 9 million levels (more now, at the time of writing) to be had straight out of the box, showcasing the imaginative design of LBP wizards from the early beginnings of the series to the fruits of labour in LBP 3's beta and early days of release. But it's the manner by which Sumo Digital have made Creation a more accessible proposition that really appeals. Speaking personally, I've always been one of those players happy to dive into the created worlds of others rather than worrying about it myself, never really having the patience nor the inclination to make my own when there's a vast array of quality out there already. But Sumo Digital have made getting to grips with the game's tools even easier than before thanks to quests and levels that incorporate both Play and Create into one glorious package.
There are tools, of course, to create adventures of your own, and hub worlds too for that matter. You can muck about with object physics, there's a new logic tool in the Broadcast Microchip, you can now create your own powerups, and you can use the new Sackpocket and Organisatron features you encounter in the existing Adventure mode to help you create your own. The number of additional features and objects and decorations is simply too long to list here, and it can seem daunting, but that's where things like the Popit Puzzles come in. Across 14 levels, Sumo Digital give you a practical grounding in the basics of creating things using the Popit to solve puzzles in special made levels. Eventually, of course, you'll be able to create your own Popit Puzzles too.
Everything's designed to spark ideas off in your head and prep you for creating things, and that extends to the optional side missions in the Adventure mode too. Some are little platforming challenges, while others have you playing around with creating certain objects for certain scenarios. An early example sees you having to build a vehicle and engage in a race, and although I could only build an incredibly slow pumpkin car to begin with, after unlocking a few more objects and items, I was able to construct a speedy skateboard chariot with added hot-air balloon functionality for making like Tails and flying straight to the end of the race.
In spite of the wealth of community creativity on show, though, and the fresh approach to making the Create mode more accessible, there are a few caveats to LBP 3. The first is that it's in a bit of a glitchy state. There were two major patches ahead of release, but the game still feels a little wobbly at times, and we've seen a couple of framed dropped here and there, especially when more players get in involved in co-op. The second is that LBP 3 isn't simply being sold on its Create mode, and that's why it's disappointing to barely have 5 hours of Adventure mode content. Finally, having played both PS3 and PS4 versions, it's clear to see that although the latter certainly looks sharper and prettier, enjoying more particle effects, better lighting and textures, the two games play identically. The PS4 version will be a great jumping in point for Sony newcomers who bought into PlayStation this generation, but otherwise, it's difficult to call LBP 3 a must-have game if you've already got the previous titles. It's an important one for consolidating the PS4's position, perhaps, but existing fans might not feel that there's much new here. Those 9 million levels work just as well on LBP 2, after all.
- Great, inventive level design in Adventure mode
- Creation tools more accessible than ever thanks to features like Popit Puzzles
- Vast potential in Create mode
- Oddsock and Toggle are awesome, as are the new gadgets
- As charming and endearing as ever
- Excellent starting point for newcomers
- Hugh Laurie is splendid
- ...But we wish Fry and Laurie might have had some screen time together
- Story feels far too short, not enough dev-created content
- A bit buggy and choppy on occasion
- Not enough is made of the new characters
- Possibly not enough incentives here for series fans
The Short Version: LittleBigPlanet 3 is an impressive game, stuffed with more imagination than ever before, and presented in a manner that makes user creation supremely accessible even as the toolset deepens. Though the Adventure mode is sadly short-lived, and the platform differences are fairly negligible, LBP 3 will surely prove to be a must-have game for PlayStation or series newcomers this winter.
8 – GREAT: Great games typically provide competent production values with a degree of innovation, personality and soul that's sometimes absent in titles that score lower. Or even just exceptional raw value on top of competent execution. There'll usually be a little something to stop games like these from reaching the very top - innovative but slightly flawed, fun but not groundbreaking - however you can buy games that score 8/10 with confidence.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | PS3 (tested)
Developers: Sumo Digital
Publishers: SCE <