lauantai 22. tammikuuta 2011

REVIEW - LittleBigPlanet (2008)

Genre(s): Platform
Released: 2008
Available on: PS3, PSP
Developer(s): Media Molecule
Publisher(s): Sony Computer Entertainment
Players: 1-4

Let's establish some sort of a timeline. 1985: Super Mario Bros. is released, the phenomenon of the 2D platformer is born. 1996: 2D platformer is killed off, first by Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot for the Sony PlayStation. Then, Mario goes all 3D. 1998: Sony caps the deal with the release of Spyro the Dragon. 2D is commercially done. Cult franchises such as Castlevania, Mega Man and Oddworld are the last to uphold the magic of 2D, but the main weight is placed on different elements than basic platforming. 2005: Mark Healey, Alex Evans, Dave Smith and Kareem Ettouney leave Lionhead Studios and create an independent PC game entitled Rag Doll Kung Fu. The game becomes a huge hit on Steam and a reworked version of the game, subtitled Fists of Plastic, is soon in development exclusively for the PlayStation 3. 2006: the four men establish Media Molecule, a company that works on very simple principles - small company, small budget, big profit. They begin work on a game called Craftworld. 2007: Media Molecule announces "The Next Big Thing", previously known as Craftworld, which turns out to be a 2D platformer. In time, the title of the game takes the form of LittleBigPlanet. Following their guideline, the company keeps costs at an absolute minimum and to prolong the game's lifespan, they create an extensive level editor, the kind of which has never seen before. In all of its unique simplicity, LittleBigPlanet arguably becomes Sony's first real flagship title on the PS3, and one of the best games ever made.

The pain of creation

Stephen Fry : Narrator

On LittleBigPlanet, everything is based on the creating and sharing. This planet of endless imagination was created by gifted individuals called Creator Curators. They made everything on it, all the way from the clouds to the trees. The delicate balance of LittleBigPlanet is shaken when a mischeavous outcast Curator calling himself the Collector robs the world's finest of their creations and keeps them all to himself. Without creating and sharing, the world is in chaos. It's up to an adorable adventurer made out of sackcloth to make things right again all around LittleBigPlanet.

I believe it was in October 2008, when I first really paid attention to the development of LittleBigPlanet. I had only heard the name of the game and I thought it was something along the lines of Katamari or a traditional platformer, just one that had Sony backing it up, which would've explained the hype. It was at that time I saw the first trailers and gameplay videos. I was so impressed by the game's visual style that I immediately fell in love with it. I had to know every detail about the game, and I just had to have it. Dead Space had just come out, and when my sister asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I immediately gave her a choice between two games: LittleBigPlanet and Dead Space. As I pretty much imagined, since she is a total naysayer when it comes to even fictional violence, she abandoned the mere thought of buying Dead Space when she saw the box art and bought me the much, much cuter LittleBigPlanet. I must say I'm more than pleased with her decision. Not only since I (much) later bought a brand new copy of Dead Space at the price of €9.90, while LittleBigPlanet was still around €29.90 at the time, but because LittleBigPlanet is simply one of my favourite games in history - and my history with video games is long and fruitful. Why? I'll give you the details in just a moment - but the main thing is, that LittleBigPlanet is a game that never ends. Or at least it was, before its sequel came along - but let me tell you that even the existence of LittleBigPlanet 2 and all of its new possibilities don't erase the appeal of the wacky story mode.

LittleBigPlanet is full of curious beings... curioser,
The graphics of the game are stunning, and what's even more stunning is the very visual style of it. LittleBigPlanet looks like a working combination of cut-out animation, Wallace & Gromit, a Tim Burton flick and a touch of some completely original British surreality. You can customize the playfield and your personal space in your pod just about any way you like, with just about every item you find. You can change in and out of thousands of different costume combinations in the fashion of a dress-up game. You can combine generic stickers to create your own custom symbols, create all kinds of abominations with tools, mechanics and items - there's very little that the game won't allow you to even try to customize the visual side of your gameplay experience.

The music of the game is best described as "catchy elevator music". It's mostly alternative pop, meant to annoy the hell out of people who take things way too seriously, and inject everyone else with a dose of positive energy. The last world's theme is awesome in the core sense of the word; it's notably different from all the others, as it is a very melodic instrumental, decorated with an underlying, heavy guitar riff that is sure to please those into harder stuff. The level editor allows you to totally remix these songs yourself - for example, you can strip the aforementioned tune of everything except the guitar riff and the main melody. The way the game lets you tinker even with the music like this is amazing.

There is no voiceover work - all the "spoken dialogue" is complete gibberish - all communication in the game is text-based. However, there's a narrator guiding you every step of the way, from the story to level editing. In the original British version, it's none other than Stephen "Jeeves" Fry who shows you the ropes. I haven't played the original version; in the Finnish version, Mr. Fry is replaced by a Finnish actor with an equally distinct and pleasant voice (Eero Saarinen). I'm guessing it's the same thing in all countries that have their own audio patch. However, I'm very familiar with Mr. Fry's work and I'm sure he does a fabulous job as the dryish but extremely pleasant narrator and tutor of the game.

To the casual player, LittleBigPlanet is a cute, simplified platformer wholly based on the laws of completely natural physics, in which you gather points and all kinds of stuff ranging from sound clips to tools to stickers to machines to mechanisms needed to work those machines. And of course, clothes for your initially naked little sackperson. Everything imaginable. There are eight different worlds - though I like to call them scenarios - in which there are several different stages. Most of them are normal platforming stages with a beginning and an end, and a few puzzles in between, but finding special keys in these stages unlocks score challenges, in which your aim is - surprise, surprise - to get a high score. There are two kinds of score challenges: races and endless challenges, which will end only in the untimely case of your Sackboy/girl's death.

An angry bride on the loose. On a huge, fiery
What makes LittleBigPlanet as a casual experience special, then? Well, in these times when everything gets more and more complicated, it's always cool when a franchise comes along and strips away all the BS from its genre. First, it was Naughty Dog's action-packed epic Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - very simple controls, very straightforward, BUT an amazing game. Well, there are a total of four (4) buttons you absolutely need to conquer LittleBigPlanet, besides the left analog stick of course, you wise-ass monkey: the X button, square, circle, and the R1 button. It's no surprise that the X is used for jumping, while R1 is used for grabbing. Square and circle are used for opening the Pop-It menu and cancelling actions in and out of it, respectively. That's it, that's all you need - everything else is extra. You can control your character's emotions with the digital pad, from angry to frightened, sad to happy, and make him dance or nod his head with the Sixaxis.

LittleBigPlanet incorporates an undefined physics engine that's basically out of this world when it comes to even any game running on Havok. Every move you make is real, although many people have complained about the jumps in the whole franchise being kinda "floaty". Well, your character is very light, so he's expected to have a ton of hangtime. It's a problem in certain situations, but it's definitely a problem that you can easily cope with. Physical factors such as weight, length and gravity have an effect on everything you do and everything that's going on around you in LittleBigPlanet. The importance of physics allows the inclusion of some fiendish puzzles and simple logic, and parts of levels where more is indeed merrier.

The mere possibility of up to four players being able to play any level together, either online or locally, is a quite unique one. However, every rose has its thorn. Local players all need to be on the same skill level, or else you're doomed. I know you're thinking of how could a simple game like LittleBigPlanet possibly require a skill level, but falling behind of the group results in that player's death, and it's been proven that some people just don't understand physical laws. They keep jumbling, no matter how much you scold them. And the more you scold them, the angrier they get with you and the game, and they start jumbling on purpose or irreverently slapping your character around (yeah, that's possible too). Playing online is pretty much hopeless. The net is full of idiots, and ironically, not one but two of the Trophies require you to go online and beat a level with four players, one with your friends, and one with strangers. The friend thing I could handle, but there's only one guy besides me that really plays LittleBigPlanet (three who own it), so that's a no-go. I tried with strangers, once. We were playing the first stage in the Canyons, in which you have to bust that one guy out of prison and then dig an underground tunnel by using bombs. Everything was going awesomely until we had busted through the tunnel. This one fucking idiot started dropping the same bombs on everyone, and then blew himself up to effectively end the game - we were like five seconds away from the scoreboard and I believe there would've been at least one player besides me who just wanted that damn Bronze trinket to get it out of the way. This was in early 2010, when you really had to go out of your way to find a proper amount of players on the servers anyway.

I'm also annoyed by the different, optional parts of standard levels that need two to four players to be conquered. Locally, it's a shoutfest. Someone doesn't understand - and don't get me wrong, I myself might not understand what I'm supposed to do or how things work from a physical point of view - and your friend, who thinks the answer is so God damn obvious, berates you and questions your intelligence whenever you don't do everything EXACTLY like he says, or if you jumble the smallest thing up by complete accident. Playing online, it's pretty much impossible to do the parts that are actually puzzles instead of something simple like "here are four buttons, you have four players, so...?", if you don't have someone in your group that can quickly and easily explain the puzzle to others by using the text chat.

Men at work. They come from the land down
If you're wondering what's left after you've conquered the story, take a look at the community from the main menu and you'll find thousands if not hundreds of thousands, of different levels created by users, with the very same items found scattered all around the story. These levels are exactly why people like me keep proclaiming that LittleBigPlanet is a game that never ends. Yeah, I do concur that a lot of the stuff available in the LBP community is total crap. There are empty levels exclusively meant to tally up your "Share" count - which means you'll get a Gold Trophy by beating a set amount of community levels. There's a simple, ugly level called "SPIKES :)"with the entrance, one small stretch of spikes, the scoreboard and a piece of dialogue saying "I know this level sucked, but would you still heart me, plz?! H4H! Heart for heart!" More like fart for fart. Once again, Trophy Whores in action. But, there are those with skill, with so much skill and dedication to their user-generated content, that they could easily work for Media Molecule. There's a wide array of options and you can easily mark (heart) these users as your favourites, then keep playing whatever kind of awesome levels they come up with and forget about everyone else making levels just for the sake of gaining Trophies. They don't even have to be that complicated or fancy: props to user "AlastorsFury" and his awesome Super Happy Sunshine Land, which is the first community level I ever played and still one of the best - it sure as hell ain't fancy, but it is funny in a very dark way, I love it!

The level editor sure ain't for the meek. It's simple and the basic stuff is very easy to learn, but it is difficult and very time consuming to get everything to work and look just the way you want it to - there's so much to take into account when you're building even a simple obstacle of your own. Many different tools can be used for similar purposes, which is why I don't understand why Media Molecule had to clutter up the already too long and complicated list of tools and items with stuff that no user has had any use for to this date.

A screenshot from the Pirates of the Caribbean
DLC, which apparently sold quite poorly
despite its great quality and additional
The story is a (exceptionally entertaining) tutorial on how things work on LittleBigPlanet, and there so that you can have a good time in a very basic platformer, and collect items for yourself to use in the level editor at the same time. It's not that hard - although some levels in the later worlds will most likely have many players pulling their teeth out. The real challenge is in entertaining the rest of the LittleBigPlanet community and building yourself a decent reputation among it with levels of your own, be they any sort of levels. LittleBigPlanet's Trophies, however, are very challenging. If you want to plat the game, you need to forget your fears about online playing and co-op in general, and of course, make good levels - no one wants to heart a Whore, except another one, of course. In addition, you need to survive every level in the game without dying and find each and every prize bubble to plat LittleBigPlanet. With all of its better community levels and Media Molecule's unique style present in the story, and of course the essential DLC that has introduced additional features such as real water (Pirates of the Caribbean Level Kit) and the paint gun (Metal Gear Solid Level Kit), LittleBigPlanet is a game that was built to last.

LittleBigPlanet 2 might've come along to bring even more depth into every aspect of the LittleBigPlanet brand, but the first game is still very entertaining and one of the best games on the PlayStation 3. If you own the black stallion and are yet to experience the unique magic of perhaps its greatest exclusive title, I suggest you get off your ass to the nearest retailer and get the game - it's very cheap nowadays.

Graphics : 9.6
Sound : 8.7
Playability : 9.5
Challenge : 9.0
Overall : 9.4


GameRankings: 94.67% (PS3), 94.57% (PS3 [GOTY]), 87.55% (PSP)

The Game of the Year Edition of LittleBigPlanet was released in September, 2009. This version includes a great deal of previously released downloadable content (including the Metal Gear Solid Level Kit), as well as 18 exclusive levels made by players - handpicked by Media Molecule.

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