NOT A REVIEW: Little Big Planet
March 03, 2009

Little Big Planet is a fine example of a mere idea resonating beautifully with a vast audience. It's impossible not to be impressed by the scope of LBP's aims, its dedication to dragging community-based gaming and development away from the moddable PC titles and into the realms of the more mainstream PlayStation 3 market. For some, crafting your own levels and sharing them over that wonderful thing we call the Interweb may feel like old news. And, to some, yes, it will be. Valve have led the way in that respect for some time now, and arguably with much stronger games as a starting point.

But accessibility and friendliness are at the core of LBP's appeal. Few will argue that the complexity of Valve's tools allows for greater development expression. But a look at the heaps of extraordinarily similar level packs and mods for Half-Life 2 suggests that something's been missing. Sometimes, all it takes for some people's whimsical ideas to come to life, is a simple chance. That's what LBP offers.

Developers think differently to people who just play games. LBP is a world in which gamers can bring their ideas to life, guided by the fabulous tones of Stephen Fry, with very little taxation. The idea? You unlock new features and artwork as you play through the main game, then 'drag and drop' them into position in your own maps. You can customise your visuals to achieve a particular style. You can cleverly combine existing assets to build something radically new. You can utilise the advanced physics and programming to craft unique experiences, all within this environment. And you don't need to know a single thing about coding, or engines, or animation, or any of the aspects that define usual videogame editing.

The result is a brain-caving number of creative minds leaping at the opportunity to thrust their ideas into a playable experience. The range and diversity of these user-creations is a joy to behold, fabulously uplifting and always inspirational. Of course, there are dud efforts. But LBP allows for this experimentation at little cost. And the friendly nature of the community means there's always support, always encouragement, and always the desire to try new things.

Media Molecule knew what they were doing. LBP isn't their game. It's ours. It's a set of construction tools, and a game-length demonstration of some of the things that are achievable with them. Their solo experience is often inspired and frequently hysterical fun, but there's a modesty to it, despite the creativity. It shows, rather than shows off. For this, Media Molecule can only be commended.

Frustrations come not as a result of level design, but as a result of trying, bravely, to push the limitations of a platformer. It attempts to hark back to the days when 2D platforming was rife, but incorporates a barely functional third axis and a surprisingly adept physics system. Actually controlling the game becomes a little awkward as a result. It's often difficult to get to the position of depth you want to be at, and jumping whilst nudging the left stick ever-so-slightly often positions your character where you don't want him or her to be. Precision jumping is irritating, with the momentum often carrying you further than you wish to end up - and if there's a firey pit or other instant death trap awaiting over the edge of a platform, as is often the case, there's a tendency to feel that perishing is the game's fault, not your own. Elsewhere, the system's used to fantastic effect - swinging from ropes and riding vehicles downhill make up a large portion of the experience, and are excellent features - but the frustration of falling off that ledge may be a step too far for those used to more traditional platforming mechanics.

But what's wonderful about LBP is how easily it becomes your home. Everything is customisable, from levels, to characters, to the 'pod' that functions dually as a 3D menu screen and online social hub. Everything is perfectly nuanced, with tiny, seemingly inconsequential details effortlessly drawing you further and further into the gloriously silly experience. Certain aspects may be rough around the edges, but one gets the intuition that these things were never at the forefront of Media Molecule's mind. LBP was born of a vision - and, judging by the remarkable amount of people engaging perfectly with it, it would appear they've managed to pull it off.

It's flawed and frustrating. But it's nothing short of a mass-market revolution.

Most recent blog posts from Lewis Denby...

Halon Halon - March 03, 2009 (09:27 PM)
I didn't like the game, but what else is new?

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