The LittleBigPlanet presentation behind closed doors at Gamescom kicked off with some figures too large to really fathom. Over seven million user generated levels have been created since the series' inception, at an average of thirty-five thousand a week...and rate that shows no sign of slowing down. It would apparently take Sackboy twenty-one years to run through them all, and they would extend halfway to the moon.
Of course, as United Front Games' William Ho pointed out, previous LittleBigPlanet titles have been "shiny happy games", with collaboration and co-operation the order of the day. This karting spin-off brings with it a wholehearted sense of competition. It'll pack a fully fledged story mode - with two player co-op available offline, and four with an internet connection - but really it's all about taking on your friends, and taking them down.
Pleasantly, LBP Karting appears to have gotten the basic tenets of karting bang on. Four player splitscreen is in, with up to eight players er race available online. It handles pleasantly too, and why wouldn't it? After all, United Front Games cut their teeth in this market with the hugely impressive ModNation Racers...even if it was somewhat less impressive on the Playstation Vita. The action is instantly accessible, rip-roaring, anarchic fun, exactly what you want from this sort of game. A Quick Play feature helps you get into the mix even faster, pulling together seven other assorted racers as swiftly as possible, with the ability for racers to vote on the next track from a pool pulled up at the end of each contest.
But it's the customisation and user creation elements for which the LittleBigPlanet brand is renowned that makes this game such a tantalising prospect.
Craftworld is now rendered in full 3D for the first time ever, with classic areas such as The Gardens, Eve's Asylum, Avalonia, and more represented in the developer-crafted circuits. The creation suitegoes about its business in near identical fashion to Sackboy's earlier triumphs, albeit now in 3D, with a vast canvas upon which to make your mark.
And the options available are staggering. Some of the racing levels generated during the game's beta have been truly exceptional. We're treated to a Roman-style gladiatorial gauntlet, with huge pistoning columns and slaloming deathtraps, the level bathed in an atmospheric sepia tone. A look at a prehistoric, winding level with speed boosts and animated dinosaurs that loom over the action is made all the more impressive with the revelation that it was created by a nine year old girl. There are no barriers to entry. Within minutes you could be on your way to creating masterpieces.
And the limit really is only one's imagination. Ho revealed that United Front Games have allowed players to fiddle with every fundamental mechanism to be found in the game. Custom weapons allow players to craft armaments out of whatever they choose. You could fiddle around with weapon sets, or simply vary the frequency of weapon drops in a level, or you could create them scratch. "You could paint a cow and turn it into a cow bazooka," Ho say, with a broad smile dancing on his lips. "You could pull flaming monkeys out of thin air and toss them at your friends."
You'll be able to customise the AI on your map too. Want them jostling like the rubber-banding cheaters of classic Mario Kart? The option is right there. Want to increase the kart speeds to WipEout-style velocity? That's on the cards. Want to have your karts bouncing around like hydraulic-pimped Cadillacs on the Moon? Go right ahead.
But it doesn't stop there. You can craft custom intros and outros for your levels too - placing your circuits in some context, perhaps; giving them a narrative background with you as director. Camera angles, shots, cuts, and lens types are all at your disposal. You can have your characters talk in the various gibberish sounds already in the game, or grab a microphone and record directly should you wish.
But, of course, it's not just a karting game.
There are levels we're shown that use the creation tools to make a 2D platformer in classic LBP style. Someone's already turned it into an FPS, much in the same way as LBP 2. There are battle arenas, top-down perspectives, mini-games that have you fighting to change the floor tiles into team colours, karting football, Seek and Destroy-style combat flight levels, and even a memory tile game that has you matching pictures across a hidden tile board. All in a "karting game".
Your move, Mario.