|System: PS Vita|
|Dev: Tarsier, Double Eleven|
|Release: September 25, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 544p||Comic Mischief, Language|
by Robert VerBruggen
Sony's LittleBigPlanet franchise manages to push all the right buttons at once. Its style conveys a sense of childish wonder, its story mode offers platforming challenges for gamers of all ages, and its level design tools are absolutely unparalleled. With any title in this franchise, you can enjoy a long game made by professionals, try out the creations of other players, and contribute your own designs to a thriving community.
But can its forthcoming Vita incarnation do justice to the series? I can't answer that question definitively, but I went hands-on with much of the game this past week, and what I saw was incredibly impressive. LittleBigPlanet Vita combines top-notch handheld graphics with polished cutscenes, capable storytelling, and well-implemented level design tools. This could be just what the Vita needs.
I began as a complete newcomer to LBP. My first step was a tutorial world that introduces the story, and I was blown away by how deep the gameplay was for what seems like a 2D platformer. The controls manage to capture the ease of 2D jumping along with the depth that comes from three dimensions—when the level design calls for it, you have to walk into the foreground or background, but otherwise the depth of the level never gets in your way.
In addition, you collect stickers that you can use to solve puzzles (or just decorate the level, if you're the artsy type). The levels also feature lots of moving parts, such as trapezes to swing from. It wasn't hard for me to see how LBP became so popular, or how people manage to have so much fun designing their own levels. The word that best describes the LBP world is "charming."
I also encountered numerous features that are new to the Vita. There are spring-loaded platforms you have to pull down by touching the screen, and you occasionally need to use the rear touchpad to push a platform forward. When applying stickers, you can change their size and tilt with the touch screen as well. I didn't find these features to be overly gimmicky, but I do hope they're not overused in the rest of the game. (Unfortunately, the preview build I played cut the story short after the tutorial world.)
And that's not to mention the presentation. The music and visuals have a definite Tim Burton vibe, and the colorful world is presented in crisp HD. LittleBigPlanet has never gone for realism, of course—the main character is named Sackboy, after all—but this title serves as an excellent showcase of the Vita's power. The tutorial also introduced the new bad guy, the Puppeteer, a theatrical lunatic who's a perfect fit for the franchise.
After finishing the tutorial world, I was given access to a new "arcade" mode called Tapling. In this mode, I controlled a character who looked like one of the balls from World of Goo. As the mode's name would imply, I made the gooball move by tapping the screen. The idea was to navigate to the end of each long, winding level without falling victim to the numerous hazards in my path. The art style reminded me of Limbo, which was a nice change of pace, and the last few levels posed quite a challenge. Further, there are hard-to-reach prisoners situated throughout each level, so for an extra challenge you can try to release them all.
Finally, I tried out the new community and level design features. The community aspect of the game works perfectly: You're free to play any user-created level you want, the levels loaded quickly via my wi-fi connection, and for the first time you're able to download your favorites and play them offline. I was playing before release, so there wasn't much of a community yet, but nonetheless I found some clever levels to navigate.