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Platform gaming's renaissance men become the installed orthodoxy in LittleBigPlanet 2...
Over the last couple of years, we’ve made no secret of our fandom towards some of the quite sublime platform games that have emerged and successfully reinvigorated the genre. The likes of Super Meat Boy and Limbo comprise many of our most cherished memories of 2010, and it’s worth remembering that this platforming renaissance was originally propelled by LittleBigPlanet and Braid et al. all the way back in 2008. These were titles that added novel twists to the 2D platform gaming of old - such as physics-based platforming and in-depth level creation with LittleBigPlanet, or complex puzzle solving and arty presentation with Braid - to effectively bring back a fast dying genre. Inevitably, though, one member of this luminary group had to succumb to sequelitis and all of its creativity-sapping perils at some point, and Media Molecule had to be odds-on favourites from the outset given its backing from Sony.
But the developer is onto a good thing with its level creator – it can simply rely on you, the gamer, to make LittleBigPlanet 2 fresh and invigorating. And it’s done precisely that so far, because the most exciting things we’ve seen from the game (and by quite some margin too, we might add) have come from the private beta last year where hardcore fanatics got to grips with Media Molecule’s new tool-set. Using LittleBigPlanet 2.0 (as the game will henceforth be known for the purposes of this review) a number of players have been re-creating classic gaming titles, with a few stand-out examples so far including remakes of Peggle, Flower, and Micro Machines. And these aren't just whimsical recreations that bear a slight resemblance at best – they're freakishly convincing replicas at times.
As you can imagine, this is quite a step forward for a creator that merely enabled you to create imaginative platforming levels in its first iteration. Other inspired creations from the beta include a concept for a turn-based RPG (albeit a simplistic one) and, one of our personal favourites, a platforming interpretation of Valve's Portal - such is the potential behind LittleBigPlanet 2.0's new 'Creatinator' tool, it seems you can even manipulate extra-dimensional space for crying out loud! A quick sweep through the copious list of user-friendly tutorials reveals just how much new stuff is on offer: there are tools that can be used directly by Sackboy himself, such as the Grappling Hook, Grabinator, and Creatinator; users can now film and edit their own cut-scenes (you can actually place multiple cameras on a 'set'); and custom-created music is well dealt for with a purpose-built sequencer. In terms of pure gameplay, gamers can now branch out into the likes of puzzle, racing, shooting, and rhythm gaming should they feel so inclined, while the new AI Sackbots even open up the possibility of a stealth game of sorts with their impressive levels of tweakability.
It really does blow the doors off what was possible with the first LittleBigPlanet and is probably the closest thing you'll ever get to a professional development suite without requiring any specialist knowledge to use the software. As ever though, to really get the best out of the creator you'll have to invest a lot of time and patience. It's true that most people could drop into the editor and create a very basic platforming level without too many sleepless nights. However, in order to create something truly special, you'll have to be prepared to spend a lot of time mastering the likes of logic gates and sensors at the top end of LBP 2's difficulty curve. If you're not a dab hand at this sort of thing though, then you can always just sit back and wait for other people to create these masterpieces and simply download them from the LittleBigPlanet mother ship online. The fact that LBP 2 is partially backwards compatible with the original game means that you can access most of the existing database of over 2 million user-created levels as well, making for theoretically the most jam-packed amount of content (including both potential and recycled levels) that's ever shipped with a videogame.
This is the exciting end of LBP 2 though, because we couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed by Media Molecule's own story mode. While it’s true that the story's main aim is to introduce the basics of what's possible with LBP 2's new editing features – a showcase of sorts – you do get the sense that Media Molecule could’ve pushed its own software quite a bit further here. It often feels like the developer has been overly cautious not to stray too far away from what people already know and understand of LittleBigPlanet – for the most part, LBP 2 sticks pretty closely to the platforming action of the original. Some shoot ‘em up action and vehicular combat does spice things up a bit in the final few hours, while new features such as Sackbots and the Creatinator are used throughout, but it all just feels like an unadventurous display of what's basically available with the new tools. Media Molecule takes its headlining new concepts for a spin around the block more than it unleashes them out onto the open road which, it's got to be said, isn't the most inspiring showcase for the game as a whole.
It's a point that's drummed home by the non-compulsory side levels of the story, which actually end up being the most entertaining part of it by far. Among other things, Media Molecule unleashes some nifty puzzle themes (there's even a mild reference to Limbo in there) and throwbacks to gaming classics through these side levels, not to mention some of the light-hearted stuff such as playing Sackboy basketball. Perhaps it's a little much to expect these multitude of genres to have played a leading role in the story, and if they had then maybe the campaign wouldn't have hung well together as a cohesive whole. One thing's for sure though: the campaign could have gone a lot further than it does and should probably have strived to be much bolder than it is. Because it doesn't, you're left with a centrepiece to the game that lacks ambition and tastes a little stale.
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