Platform: PS Vita
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
I built a Sausagemobile.
It's a work in progress. As you can see by the screenshot, the tracking is a little off. Aesthetically speaking, Sausagemobile v.0.5 isn't exactly a Pagani Zonda. But halfway through LittleBigPlanet Vita's campaign, I was gripped by the desire to create my own vehicle... so with a little ingenuity, a three way switch, a motorised bolt, some salami and a few basic tutorials, I was able to design a tastier way to travel. Having almost no experience in the editing side of the original LittleBigPlanet or its sequel, I'm actually rather chuffed.
Which is the point, really, and just the tip of the iceberg. LittleBigPlanet's Vita offering provides the same addictive Playing, Creating and Sharing aspects of its predecessors, yet somehow manages to pack even more content onto a handheld platform thanks to the most advanced editing tools in franchise history.
LittleBigPlanet Vita introduces players to the action by way of a breezy story campaign that sees loveable blank canvas Sackboy called into action to save the world of Carnivalia from an evil puppeteer. Omnipresent narration by Steven Fry, a cast of appropriately zany characters and some artistically varied levels provide a colourful excuse for Double Eleven and Tarsier to show off some nifty set pieces. Standard jumping and grabbing platforming fare is punctuated with highlights such as ragging a three-wheeled vehicle around walls and ceilings, blasting goo with guided Odd Rockets and swinging through obstacle courses Tarzan-style. Though the campaign itself is a little on the short side, the quest to unlock as much stuff (stickers, costumes and level design elements) as possible warrants a great deal of replayability, and several addictive minigames are on offer to showcase the range of genres that can be designed with the powerful editor. Several of these games, especially some 'Arcade' apps, wouldn't feel out of place as £1.99 App Store purchases and are worth an hour or more of play by themselves.
Of course, this being a LittleBigPlanet game, you can outfit your Sackboy to suit your mood and splurge stickers around the place. The Vita's camera allows you to create your own stickers - keep it clean please. PS3 owners will be pleased to note that they can import their Sackboy costumes from LittleBigPlanet 2, though sadly that's as far as cross-compatibility goes.
As a first party title, LBP Vita is naturally keen to show off the handheld's unique features to advantage. Touchscreen support allows players to push certain elements back into the screen (thus finally validating the three-plane level structure), or drag around objects into different locations. The campaign doesn't use this feature quite as intelligently as I'd have hoped - sometimes taking the lazy way out by just providing buttons to press or levers to pull rather than puzzles - but it complements the core experience rather nicely. It certainly shows up the rear touch pad, which is used to middling effect to either push blocks out of the screen (reasonable) or control a flying saucer (horrible). It's a neat idea, but operating it never feels intuitive and it's all too easy to idly rest a finger on the pad, thus making the cursor immobile when you need it most.
You'd also rightfully expect a first party title to make the most of the Vita's graphical grunt. LBP Vita looks fantastic; all sharp textures and soft edges, with nary a jaggy in sight. Reflective surfaces and particle effects consistently impress, making this easily one of the most gorgeous games on the platform.
LBP Vita features 'drop in' online multiplayer for up to four players, which works well despite a few lengthy loading screens. Microphone support allows you to work together (or taunt each other mercilessly), and most levels contain cooperative areas brimming with extra goodies for multiple players to access. That said, many of the stages seem to be primarily designed for solo players thanks to incredibly linear routes and little need for active cooperation, often reducing multiplayer into simple sprints for the finish line or scoreboard.
I'm not going to win any friends by writing this, but LittleBigPlanet's platforming mechanics have never excelled - and the Vita version is no exception. Compared to the likes of Rayman, Super Meat Boy and even Mario, Sackboy is floaty and imprecise; frequently catching himself on scenery objects and different planes. Movement is slightly unresponsive, compounded by inconsistent physics and a variable jump that never quite gets you to where you expected to end up. It's just about fit for task, and the numerous gameplay diversions provide a welcome distraction, but I would have been forced to critically savage LittleBigPlanet Vita if it was just a straightforward platformer.
Except, of course, it isn't a straightforward platformer. It's a dev kit.
And what a dev kit it is. Unbelievably, LittleBigPlanet Vita contains the most comprehensive Create Mode to ever grace the franchise. None of the functionality of the PS3 versions has been lost, allowing you to create radical new platforming levels, cutscenes and even entirely new games in multiple genres using advanced logic, sequencers and an enormous library of resources. If that wasn't enough, you're free to dick about with the touchscreen elements, rear touch pad panels and tilt controls to bolster your creations, using new sensors and tweakers to change the way your objects behave. The Vita's camera and microphone provide a simple way of populating your levels with unique sounds and visuals. Given time and practice, you can literally create anything you can imagine, from Machinima films to full-length games - potentially even RPGs. "Incredible" is an understatement.
Both traditional and touchscreen controls have been worked into the interface. You can use your sticky fingers to lasso groups of objects, draw out platforms and resize them to your liking. Failing that, you can resort to the thumbsticks for fine manipulation and operate the camera using the rear track pad, which is actually more intuitive than it sounds. Even a hamfisted goon like me was able to assemble a (terrible) sausagemobile... followed by a three-wheeled tank packing an independently controllable turret.
LittleBigPlanet Vita is amazingly powerful, staggeringly versatile and is already resulting in some unique stuff coming out before it's even released [whoever designed the Fruit Ninja-style level, I doff my cap to you. Keep going! - Jon]. As months go by, we'll be able to freely sample the best and worst that the community has to offer, playing a near-limitless number of levels and entirely new games that aren't limited to specific genres. We'll also probably report numerous pictures of willies (cheers, PS Vita camera) and staggeringly detailed 3D simulacra of the male sexual organ, but that's par for the course. LittleBigPlanet Vita has the potential to become the last Vita game you'll ever need and remain a valuable part of your gaming diet throughout the next few years. Objectively, it's an utter triumph.
However, with massive power comes a serious learning curve. You'll need to watch about twenty tutorials just to be in with a chance of designing something that actually works, while you'll have to grind through more than fifty if you want to make something good. Experienced level designers will be in seventh heaven, and mastering the tools is actually a fun and involving metagame in its own right (especially since completing tutorials rewards you with new design elements), but I can't help but feel that LittleBigPlanet Vita missed a golden opportunity to make its editor easier to use. Creating things revolves around selecting from numerous bitty tools and tweaking them in different menus rather than just editing the object itself or selecting from some pre-made templates.
It's like an infinitely vast pile of Meccano without any instructions. Some will absolutely love tinkering with the pieces and finding new ways to fit them together, whereas others will yearn for just a couple of blueprints to get them started before giving up, unable to realise their great ideas.
I'm also not convinced that such an in-depth editor is necessarily a perfect fit for the platform. Creating a level, even a rubbish one, takes ages. Factor in testing and it takes even longer. Time that you'll spend peering into the smeary five inch screen of a device with a 3.5 hour battery life. The Vita's screen isn't big enough to display more than a few icons at once, forcing you to constantly scroll through an enormous swathe of initially-confusing menus, and can quickly become cluttered when trying to manipulate several objects in a small area. Plus, due to the aforementioned battery life issue, you'll probably spend a great deal of time connected to a power point at home... meaning that you could just as easily play LittleBigPlanet 2 on PS3. Which will have a remote play patch soon, interestingly enough.
Upon reflection, though, I'm willing to admit that the last couple of paragraphs come across as more than a little churlish. LittleBigPlanet Vita's editor delivers true depth, the kind of depth we clamour for, that we constantly demand from the medium. Depth that will result in sensational new gameplay experiences and will be handsomely rewarded in the final score. Double Eleven, XDev and Tarsier deserve to be thoroughly congratulated for refusing to dumb down for a handheld format, instead proving that portable games can be bigger, more fully-featured than their home console counterparts. I'm willing to reward excellence, not encourage mediocrity. For those who invest and really take the time to understand the editor, it's a blank canvas for truly wonderful things, and will be a source of untold surprises for everyone else.
On that note, I need to get back to my Sausagemobile... wait. What about a flying sausage controlled by the touchscreen? With a doughnut cockpit? And a dinosaur face?
Excuse me. I have work to do.
- Enjoyable campaign with some fun minigames
- Sensationally powerful and versatile Create Mode editor - best in franchise
- Infinite potential
- Campaign is a little short, floaty mechanics still shown up by other platformers
- Rear touchpad still feels like a bit of a gimmick
- Editor could arguably be more accessible and streamlined
The Short Version: LittleBigPlanet Vita is a triumph of handheld development, an unprecedented creative outlet that will remain relevant, varied and important throughout the console's lifespan. The campaign is great fun while it lasts, and once the community gets into full swing, it could literally become the last Vita game you'll ever need.
As I said before, LittleBigPlanet Vita is like an enormous pile of Meccano; all potential and promise. Don't be afraid. Get involved and play with it.