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LittleBigPlanet 2 promises to be all things to all men. Or women. Or Sack people. I found that in looking for it to realise my creativity I nearly missed the multiplayer fun it had to offer.
Reviewing LittleBigPlanet 2 is almost like reviewing two different games. On the one hand I discovered a lively, sociable and thoroughly entertaining multiplayer platform game. On the other I was provided with a toybox full of bits and bobs which promised to be quite capable of reproducing all of the in-game content I had seen as well as providing me with the means to create my own levels. It seemed I would be limited only by my own imagination.
I used to be something of a machinima auteur, creating short animated films using Lionhead Studios' The Movies which featured an excellent animation and editing system. Once I saw LittleBigPlanet 2's capacity for object, level and scripting construction, I was immediately hooked by the promise of being able to flesh out the game designs which sit in my mind, previously incarcerated by my lack of, a: game design experience, b: a development team and c: a console development environment.
The game creation tools are not at all easy to master. To provide the highest level of flexibility, the game tools have been reduced to the most basic components; what this means for the end user is that it may require a little lateral thinking to figure out how to achieve your dream game design with the parts provided.
Despite some commentators suggesting that any game idea could be created using LittleBigPlanet 2 there are certain game styles (albeit not very many) which I suspect would be impossible to achieve. For example, it would certainly be possible to create a scrolling shooter, rhythm-action game or top-down football SIM, but I doubt that one could create an open-world adventure or flight simulator. And, because of the aesthetics of the basic materials used to construct in-game objects there are few community levels which I have seen which look like anything other than something which is clearly a LittleBigPlanet 2 level.
Boisterous, pneumatic and lively adventure for four players.
Creating content within a community brings with it a strong draw. With the powerful tools LittleBigPlanet 2 places in the hands of the everyday gamer, it appeals to that part of us that desires stardom and wants to see our names in lights (or in this case, see our names in little pieces of coloured cardboard). However, for every X-Factor finalist there are tens of thousands of people who attended the X-Factor Auditions. In the same way, while you may even come to mastery of LittleBigPlanet 2's creation tools and build a masterpiece, you may actually find that finding an audience for your creation and feeling a part of the community is a much harder prospect. Very few user-created levels find any visibility.
I can say with some pride that I managed, while preparing this review, to create and publish my own level, Rescue Mission!. I managed to express some of my vision for that level, although I had to make a number of compromises to accommodate the way LittleBigPlanet 2's system appears to work. At the time of writing, Rescue Mission! has gathered a massive 0 players.
LittleBigPlanet 2's community lobby is designed around finding the top of the pops: I found myself either directed to the ten levels with the most ratings or the 120-odd levels which Media Molecule's own staff had picked out as outstanding. The problem for most budding designers is going to be visibility.
Like The Movies before it, I suspect that most will find that a great deal of their time is spent posting adverts for the level on game forums or begging friends and contacts to play it and rate it. Some people will doubtless enjoy that aspect of the game, but for many of us we just want to feel that our fledgling attempts at game or story creation have reached some kind of an audience. It would be nice for the less extraverted player of LittleBigPlanet 2 if the lobby offered a way for levels which have yet to receive a single play to be grouped together for the more adventurous player to find.
But much of this is to overlook what LittleBigPlanet 2 does best, which is to provide an boisterous, pneumatic and lively adventure for four players in a seamless mix of online and offline multiplayer. As a platform game it successfully delivers thrills in the same way that Super Mario Galaxy excels: by continually drip-feeding new ideas into the levels and keeping the action fresh. I found there to be a slapstick comedy vibe to the action that really appealed to me; it's nice to be aware that I am grinning while playing a game.
The game also makes playing an online multi-player game very easy.
Owing to the fairly short single player campaign, some may compare this game unfavourably to Mario. The main story relies on players returning to find 100% of the items or returning with a second, third or fourth player to reach the areas inaccessible during solo play. However, what balances the lack of official levels is the wealth of content created by other LBP2 users, which means that there are nearly always more to play -- I suspect no one human being could ever now play the entire collection of levels available to LittleBigPlanet 2 online. Obviously the quality of user-created levels is rarely even close to the precisely honed constructions of Media Molecule's staff, but many still provide a worthy distraction and serve to set the imagination aflame with what else can be achieved using the tools.
The game also makes playing an online multi-player game very easy. I found that as long as I was connected to the Internet and signed in to the Playstation Network, every time I selected a new level, the game asked me if I wanted to join in with other people playing the same map.
It has to be said that playing with random people from the Internet will not be to everybody's taste. LBP2 makes a distinction between co-operative and competitive levels, but sadly there are many gamers who do not.
On one occasion I welcomed an individual onto my game which I had started, only to find that this person treated every level like a race and took every opportunity available to pick up my character and throw them into the nearest hazard. If I'd joined someone else's game I would have shrugged and thought "their house, their rules!" but since this person had joined my game I felt more aggrieved. It felt as I'd planned an quiet evening watching a movie by myself, only to invite an impromptu guest over who proceeded to blindfold me, switch the channel and then eat all of my cake.
One of a small number of games to offer enjoyable local four player mayhem on the Playstation 3y.
Still if you're happy to grin and bear the abuses of blindfolding and cake-stealing, LittleBigPlanet 2 offers one of the most diverse and sociable experiences you will find online. Additionally, it is one of a small number of games to offer enjoyable local four player mayhem on the Playstation 3 and I recommend it highly for that reason. For gaming with friends it requires little explanation and provides instant fun; for younger players the lack of distasteful or violent content combines with simple and expressive game-play to make LittleBigPlanet 2 ideal for families who enjoy gaming together.
[Chris Jarvis writes the Novel Gamer column where you can read his LittleBigPlanet 2 fiction.]
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