LittleBigPlanet Karting came power sliding in at a Sony press event last week. William Ho, design director at United Front Games, said that the development team put their experience in racing games (they also made ModNation Racers) together with their love of Sackboy to make a kart racer that would fit nicely in the LittleBigPlanet universe. And it does. With Karting, LBP's world is in 3D for the first time, and with it comes the open customization and user creation tools that made the previous games so popular.
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LittleBigPlanet Karting (PS3)
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
At its core, LittleBigPlanet Karting is exactly what you'd expect from the name. Exactly. And that's likely a good thing. It's super-approachable kart racing action (Mario Kart fans would be right at home) with the design and user-created content you'd expect from this franchise. This means that you'll be busting off attacks on fellow racers from pick-up weapons while hugging corners in a struggle to stay at the front of the pack. It's fast and really easy to get into.
But Karting goes beyond simple racing with several different game modes. Much like the LBP games, there are worlds to explore, and this opens up greatly with user-created courses. Beyond this, we were told to expect battle modes, waypoint races, treasure hunts, score attacks and more.
Customization in LBP Karting works just as it does in the previous series games, so much so that the Popit interface is exactly the same. Through this your Sackboy racer can be anything you imagine, as always, but now your vehicle can be customized just as easily. I saw karts made out of straws and tape, potted plants, and even cupcakes. I played a few rounds as "breakfast boy," which had hash browns for a body, bacon for a mustache and beard, and an egg shell as a hat. He drove a rusted tin can with tank wheels as a kart. He managed to be both gross and cute.
I tried the standard kart racing in a stage that was inspired by a garden from the first LittleBigPlanet game, and from the looks of it the flat worlds of the series seem to make the transition to full 3D nicely. The kart racing felt decent, though maybe a bit simple. Some vehicles felt a bit lacking in weight and grip, with Sackboy and his ride seeming to move a bit farther off the track than expected. It may just be the Mario Kart fan in me, but I found myself sighing when I lost control of my kart. On the upside, a good drifting mechanic was put into Karting, with long slides building up tire fire to put karts into a boost coming out of a turn. Through this, after getting the hang of it, I was easily able to make my way to the front of the pack without needing to use any powerups.
On my second run through of the same stage I used Karting's "weaponators," which let me pick up weapons to make the race a bit easier. There's the standard seeking shot, but the rest temporarily transform your kart into something a bit more powerful. One transforms your kart into a rocket, letting you blast past the competition. My favorite turned the kart into a huge flying boxing glove, letting me punch other racers out of the way.
LittleBigPlanet Karting's deathmatch battle mode can be played locally or online with up to 8 players. I tried my hand at the circular King's Castle course, whic ended up being a weapon-packed free-for-all. It was so fast that I was barely able to keep track of what I was firing, but I managed to do rather well by randomly lobbing grenades and blasting other racers with area-effecting EMP shots. My second time around I found that I could turn my cart to skid into a near-continuous power slide, snapping up weapons and blasting off quick shots along the way. I can already tell you that this mode is going to be a big hit.
Another standard racing stage called Future Perfect showed off one of Karting's neatest additions to the genre, grappling hooks. It sounds crazy at first, but the grappling worked nicely on this course, with too-long jumps being closed by the well-timed shot of a hook (L1 button) to a sponge, letting the driver pull and fling his way to the desired landing point. Smart hooking and releasing can help uncover alternate paths, and directional control after a hooked jump will let you perform tricks.
While the grappling mechanic is a welcome addition to kart play, the level it was featured in was a bit of a mess. Proper landings felt like luck with all of the confusing, overlapping pathways, and in the same vein, races seemed like a free-for-all, with no optimum pathway to take. Some frustrating, unbalanced course design forced too many racers down some pathways, causing catching on some sidewalls.
With United Front Games at the helm, it's safe to assume that some form of the ModNation Racers engine is under the hood for LittleBigPlanet Karting. That's not a bad thing, mind you. This game seems like the obvious progression, unifying the solid racing action of ModNation and LittleBigPlanet's brand of user-created content. Given their track record, and considering the ties to the LBP franchise, we can be sure it's going to be fun to create in Karting. Let's hope that they can shape up the actual gameplay to match.