LittleBigPlanet 2 Review

By Jake Gaskill - Posted Jan 14, 2011

Media Molecule put itself on the map by unleashing one of the most imaginative and creative playgrounds gaming has ever seen when it released LittleBigPlanet back in 2008. While little has changed to the overall design or aesthetic, LittleBigPlanet 2 includes enough new tools, tweaks, and visual enhancements to wow and delight seasoned vets and newcomers alike for a long, long time.

The Pros
  • Infinite creative possibilities thanks to new creation tools
  • As vibrant, epic, and spectacular as ever
  • An unbelievably skilled and devoted user community
The Cons
  • Looks and feels very similar to the first game
  • Story still feels like series of tutorials

Media Molecule put itself on the map by unleashing one of the most imaginative and creative playgrounds gaming has ever seen when it released LittleBigPlanet back in 2008. While little has changed to the overall design or aesthetic, LittleBigPlanet 2 includes enough new tools, tweaks, and visual enhancements to wow and delight seasoned vets and newcomers alike for a long, long time.

LittleBigPlanet 2

Gather ‘Round Sackchildren!

When a powerful cosmic vacuum cleaner known as the Negativatron threatens the very existence of Craftworld, it is up to Sackboy to, of course, save the day. To do so, he must enlist the help of some of Craftworld’s most colorful characters, each of whom has his/her own planet that Sackboy must traverse in order to rally their creators and lead them on an epic, world-saving adventure. It’s a fair setup, but I was expecting a more cohesive story this time around, especially given the new creation tools, however, similar to LBP, the campaign just ends up feeling like a lengthy series of tutorial levels. Still, Media Molecule demonstrates an unparalleled adeptness for creating wondrous and intricately detailed settings that consistently surprise, amuse, and fascinate in every conceivable way from start to finish, which makes it easier to forgive the game’s disjointed narrative structure.

In addition to the 40+ campaign levels, there are also several unlockable mini-games. There are a few “traditional” games like Pong, Breakout, and pool, while others are wholly LBP, like one that arms players with rocket launching Creatinator, deathmatch style. The variety of game types is just remarkable (side-scrolling arcade shooter, top-down racing game, basketball, etc.) and each one offers a unique and challenging diversion.

The game also includes the 10-level, PlayStation Move supported Sackboy’s Prehistoric Moves. As far as overall gameplay, this actually represents the biggest step forward for the LBP series. The dinosaur-themed levels are played with one player using a standard controller to control Sackboy while the other player uses the Move wand to manipulate objects in the levels (moving platforms to help the other player clear a jump, holding a block over Sackboy’s head to protect him from falling lava rocks as he jumps across platforms, etc.). It’s a shame LBP2 doesn’t include the option to build Move-enabled levels, but I have to believe that the option is in the pipeline.

Have You See This Sackboy?

The fabric-style aesthetic the series is known for returns, aided noticeably by the addition some new visual effects. Enemies and objects can now explode into nicely textured, oozy piles of goop, surfaces simulate rippling water or flowing energy streams, and the new camera and voice controls greatly enhance the overall presentation by creating a much more expressive and thrilling experience. Granted, a lot of the visual tweaks aren’t as drastic as you’d expect from a sequel, but it’s still a great looking game.

The platforming “feel” was easily the biggest sore spot for a lot of LBP players. Sackboy’s weight (or seeming lack thereof) caused a lot of frustration, and was generally criticized for feeling “floaty.” While it seems like some improvements were made to the collision detection of Sackboy’s feet, especially when standing/jumping on corners and edges, the platforming has remained almost entirely unchanged. In other words, if you didn’t enjoy Sackboy’s jumping and swinging adventuring the first time around, chances are you will feel the same way this time. Then again, if you think LBP should be judged solely on its platforming design, you’re entirely missing the point of the game.

Something New, Something Borrow, and Something Sacked

With that said, there have been some welcomed additions that help break up the jump-grab-hop gameplay. The Grabinator lets you pick up large objects (or other Sackpeople you might be playing co-op with) and hurl them around the world; the Createinator, which is a hat that shoots whatever item (water, cupcakes, cows, etc.) is assigned to it; and the grappling hook, which gives Sackboy the ability to latch onto any soft surface and swing to his heart’s content. You don’t have unlimited access to these items in the story levels, but when you do get to use them, they are great fun. The grappling hook can take some getting used to, especially since the left thumbstick controls both the hook's length and Sackboy’s movement, which can make swinging a tad frustrating.

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There are also a number of new vehicles and mounts available to you, like a Segway-ish contraption equipped with a gravity switch, a longhaired rabbit with an energy slam attack, a laser-spitting camel, and a supercharged hamster, to name a few. Silly? Undoubtedly. Fun? You better believe it. And when two or three people are playing along with you, these vehicle portions become a frenzy of absurdity (but in a good way).

Sack-Boy, Oh Boy

Of course, all of this is just a supremely crafted primer to the true stars of LBP2: the creation tools and the community features. The levels that LBP fans are capable of creating are simply mind blowing. It’s no wonder the folks at Media Molecule have actually plucked a number of players to work for them (They’ve already hired five more based on levels created during the game’s beta!). If you were impressed by the millions of user levels from LBP (all of which are playable in LBP2, as is all the LBP DLC, by the way), you won’t believe the stuff people are churning out this time. It’s simply ridiculous.

Thankfully, finding and sharing levels has been streamlined, and Media Molecule has even set up a website that has a page devoted to each uploaded user created level (complete with photos, reviews, and comments). The site lets you search according to what levels are trending, which ones just went live, which ones are most popular, etc. You can also add levels to your PS3 download queue directly from a level’s page. The site is a fantastic addition that removes many of the frustrations found in LBP, and improves the entire community experience exponentially.

The level editor and creation tools interface remains straightforward and slick. There are also plenty more new tools in addition to the ones already mentioned above. The new microchip function lets you assign countless functions to a single, easy to manage chip. You can now record full voiceovers, create entire cutscenes, or movies, using the new camera functions, and you can even assign AI logic to Sackbots, NPCs that can be programmed to follow, flee, attack, or do anything else you’d like them to do. They are also extremely competent, avoiding deadly obstacles, and taking advantage of environmental aids like the new bounce pad, which replace the need to create your own.

You can also tweak the gravity settings, add water, connect various levels together to create one giant seamless game. You can even create your own music with the Music Sequencer, or use the sequencer to trigger events within your levels or trigger entirely new sections of levels to appear at specific times. In short, tutorials are you friend, and the only limitations on what you can create with the tools at your disposal are your own imagination and your patience.

LittleBigPlanet 2

Nothing Little About It

I like to think of the LittleBigPlanet franchise as sort of like a Monte Blanc pen. Finely crafted, expertly detailed, and, on its own, an impressive accomplishment. But it’s what that pen is capable of when it’s put in someone’s hand that makes it so much more than a gorgeous metal tube filled with ink. While the out-of-the-box experience of LBP2 is fantastic, it’s what players will be able to experience once they and other passionate users start exploring the game’s endless creative potential that make the game so much more than an average platformer with a great toolset. Few games can simultaneously promote a philosophy (i.e. the power of imagination and creativity) and live it out across every single pixel, but LittleBigPlanet 2 does it, and with an ease and skill that is just remarkable.