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Hands-on: LittleBigPlanet beta

11:45 AM on 10.05.2008 // Brad Nicholson

It has been a considerably long time since I woke up in the morning with bright-eyed anticipation for a game. In my youth, this would most often happen with the latest RPG. I would spring out of bed at 6 A.M. to play EarthBound or Breath of Fire. The anticipation of a great time and the curiosity as to what could possibly happen next brought me to life each day.

I’m having that exact experience again with LittleBigPlanet. Every morning I wake up with that same silly grin as the game enters into my thoughts. I obsessively think about all the new player-created content pouring out of the game, things that I need to do to improve my own level, and I think about what I can do to help sift the bad levels from the good. More so, I think about experimentation, which I find to be one of the most delightful aspects of the game thus far.

Of course, I can’t just preview the game on the front page. I’ll need to do that one the flipside. Join me.

Upon booting up LittleBigPlanet, players will be greeted with several tutorials on how to run, jump, wave your arms, and mess with objects. These initial tutorials are essential, but not tedious. LBP has a wonderfully skewed narrator who makes the learning process not only helpful, but also short, concise, and delightfully witty. The narrator is like your dad -- except he doesn’t seem like the type that would eternally hate you if you can’t throw a football worth a lick.

But of course, LBP would lose 900% of its charm without the adorable avatar, Sackboy. Sackboy is the player’s conduit to creation and play throughout LBP. He is delightfully cute, animated, and customizable. His animated demeanor is completely controlled by the player. By pushing in different directions on the d-pad players can control if Sackboy looks particularly sad, happy, grim, or even nervous. He can also point and deliver wallops completely within the player’s control. SIXAXIS is also incorporated with Sackboy, as moving the controller around will move his torso, as well as his head. As usual, the SIXAXIS virtual controlling doesn’t translate that well to LBP as of yet, but the beta build that we have is one generation shy of the full game. Insofar as customizing Sackboy, players can apply stickers, items, and different costumes to their Sackboy at any point in the course of the LBP experience.

Single player seems to be the culmination of several themed levels designed to be platform-based treasure hunts. The real goal of the mode is to complete the level with the most points possible, which will then be uploaded onto PSN and compared with everyone else who previously played the level. The other goal is to collect as many items as possible, all of which can be used either to customize your Sackboy or within level creation. The few levels that we were given to run through in the beta have items cleverly hidden throughout. Oftentimes, I found myself running through the levels multiple times in a vain attempt to collect everything possible throughout the level. Some of the items are hidden exceptionally well and take decent intelligent thought to find. It’s very surprising considering the outward appearance of the game.

LBP would be nothing without its customization options, which extend to all the goals of the single player experience. The heart of it is contained within an in-game menu called the Poppit. The Poppit menu controls sticker applications, dragging tools, chat, character customization and all the tools for level creation. Players can create their own stickers with the PlayStation Eye or use one of the many dispensed throughout the single player experience. Goodies (objects and architecture in the game) as well as tools are dispensed upon the completion of objectives as well. Bringing out all this stuff is as easy as bringing up the menu and everything can be resized, shaped, and cropped in any desirable way albeit it occasionally takes a little creative constitution to do so. The Hearted menu allows players to save their favorite objects to be used liberally. So if Chad made an awesome dolphin, he could heart it, and use it to his heart’s desire in his created levels without having to go through several different blades within the Stickers menu.

The experience of going through all the Poppit menu options is numbing, but the tutorials actually help, and completing them gives you rewards in the form of new stickers and objects. Most importantly, experimentation within level creation can really help players to understand everything they have under their control. As for creating levels, it’s easier than what you may think with predefined palettes or blank backdrops as easy starting points.

From there, level creation is a delightful mess of things. Players can build towering objects out of materials that the game automatically gives you (wood, sponge, glass, etc.) or from items out of the Goodies bag. Customization of those objects happens within the tools menu, which allows players to animate, give sound, suspend, tweak, further customize, or make things lethal. Yes -- you can light any object you create in LBP on fire. The options are practically infinite at this point, and I think that the only thing that will stop anyone from creating anything is the limits of his own imagination. It’s hard to believe that so much is available at this stage.

LBP’s structure is based around a fully-customizable cardboard command center called the Pod. The Pod is the portal to all the various destination experiences in LBP, from exploring player-created levels online, entering into the single player campaign, and playing/editing your own created levels.

There are various multiplayer components integrated into LBP. The first of which is simple cooperative play. Up to four players can join into any game in LBP locally. It can be single player, online, or even level creation. It’s of note to mention that things get quite busy fairly quickly with two Sackboys running around, and it can definitely get confusing with more than three. Level creation can be fairly frustrating for the people not in the first-player position. They can’t undo changes and the camera only follows the person in first-player as well. It’s the classical cooperative platformer issue, but LBP handles it well for the most part. The camera can pan out quite extensively, and it pops in players who are lagging behind or are amazed that there are so many buttons on the PS3 controller.

Players can also jump into other player levels and explore what they have created online. Minor edits can be conducted in other’s levels, but otherwise the experience is all about what the level creator wants people to do. For the majority, the user created levels have been pretty fun and span a fairly diverse range of themes. Players can also evaluate other’s levels by applying neat little tags like “Short,” “Awesome," etc. Right now I’m having a hard time seeing how these tags affect the way the levels are presented in the long-term, but it does serve to raise the excellent level above the trashy and standard.

There are a billion things that can be said about the LBP beta. It has a brilliant presentation, wonderfully vibrant visuals, superb texturing, delightful music, great controls, and an intuitive creation system. The game is packed with nuance and I’m guessing that it can be enjoyed for some time. If the beta is any indication of the final product, then LittleBigPlanet has “Game of the Year” stickered all over it.


Brad Nicholson,
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