A few years ago, LittleBigPlanet captured the hearts and minds of millions of gamers. The game was a solid platformer in its own right, but what really separated LittleBigPlanet from the rest of its competition was the ability to create and share your own levels. Thanks to an intuitive and robust level-building system, there were soon millions of user-created stages that made LittleBigPlanet a new experience virtually every time you turned it on. With a regular dose of downloadable content added frequently, there was a never-ending stream of newly conceived levels that kept the game fresh months after its release. The announcement of LittleBigPlanet 2 made a lot of sense, as the first proved that there was an entire world of would-be game designers out there just waiting for the right tools to bring ideas to life. Though I was a bit skeptical about just how much of the new game would be different from the original, that doubt faded quickly after playing LittleBigPlanet 2. Despite the story mode being a solid, if unspectacular, affair, there are so many improvements and additions made to the core gameplay and creation aspects that LittleBigPlanet 2 feels like more than a sequel; it feels like a brand new experience.
LittleBigPlanet 2’s story takes place in a fantastical world that’s been attacked by a monster called the Negativatron. It’s up to you (and up to three other friends) to save the world, and defeat the Negativatron. There are a handful of zany characters you’ll meet along the way, each with a unique portion of gameplay to guide you through. While the first game did a fantastic job creating challenging level after challenging level of complex platforming puzzles, LittleBigPlanet 2 spends a lot more time showing off new tricks. Fortunately, each of the new tools adds some much needed depth to the game, and helps break up the repetitiveness of merely running and jumping from right to left. Bonus levels scattered throughout the game showcase a variety of familiar, yet new game types such as top-down races, quick-time button event battles, and versus mini-games akin to something from Fuzion Frenzy and Mario Party. Even though LittleBigPlanet is all about creating and sharing your own levels online, the offline portion of the game does offer nearly eight hours of gameplay on your first run. There’s a ton of replayability, either when playing alone or with friends. Of course, LittleBigPlanet 2’s story mode is merely the window-dressing for the larger draw of the game, creating your own levels.
Every level of the game is jammed with unlockable content like stickers, music, props, tools, and textures for you to use when creating your very own level. Even the creation tutorial levels come complete with their own goodies to give away. Part of what makes level creation so much fun in this game is how easy it is to learn to do, and how addictive it can become. Virtually every tool in the first game returns (and any DLC you have will carry over), so those of you familiar with building your own little worlds will feel right at home. What really sets the sequel’s level creation apart from the original’s are some brilliant new additions. As well as adding in a grappling hook, Media Molecule included the Grabinator, which allows you to pick up and throw objects in the world. The Creatinator replaces the paint gun DLC from the first title. With it, you can fire just about any thing you want, including energy, water, cows, and more. Drivable vehicles become possible thanks to the Controllinator, a device you can affix to any object, which then makes it possible to give players freedom of movement in a level. All of those are cool, but the best new feature is the ability to create AI characters to populate your levels with the aid of Sackboys. With programmable attitudes and moves, you can either create a legion of soldiers or lemmings, or even just living NPCs that make any level that much more engaging.
Media Molecule didn’t only improve on the way the game played. Every visual aspect of LittleBigPlanet 2 has been tweaked for the better as well. Lighting is stronger. Textures are more defined. There aren’t many differences in the game’s animations, though. The Sackboys can still emote and swing their arms, but beyond that seemingly no new movements have been included. The story’s cut scenes make use of actual voice acting now, and that’s a huge step forward for the game. Once you’re in a level, all characters revert back to text only dialogue, but getting a chance to put an actual voice to the people you meet in the world is a change for the better. Disappointingly, there’s a huge missed opportunity on Media Molecule’s part in fixing one of the first game’s largest issues, and that’s getting stuck in nooks and crannies of the game world. Exploring every inch of a level to collect new material and items for level creation is part of the allure of the story mode. That carries over to user-created levels as well, though in the past those boards are typically less clever in where the goodies are hidden. When looking around, it’s not uncommon to find your Sackboy trapped in a tiny crease in the world. Since your character can move between three planes of movement, finding that tiny crack to wedge yourself between isn’t that uncommon. There’s a good checkpoint system in place, so opening your pop-it to blow yourself up, and restart at the last checkpoint isn’t that big of a deal, but it’s still a shame this nagging problem still hasn’t been fixed.
As of the time of this review posting, the online servers had not yet been turned on. I was unable to test out the online functionality or any user created levels. Since one of the biggest issues the first game faced was terrible connectivity through the first few months of the game’s release, I was hoping to see if Media Molecule learned from their past troubles. Unfortunately, I could not find out.
LittleBigPlanet 2 is everything I’d hoped it would be. Every new inclusion improves the way the game plays tremendously, and with the ability to create more than just an endless array of side-scrolling levels, there’s more reason than ever to learn the intricacies of level creation. Playing with friends is still a great deal of fun, though the solo game is just as engaging. I can’t wait for the opportunity to try out the user-created boards once the game goes online, but for now I’ll just have to settle for replaying the story with a few other friends. I thought the delays the game faced meant the game was in trouble, but it’s clear after playing that Media Molecule was trying to avoid the early issues that plagued the first title, and get the most complete version of their game on the shelves. LittleBigPlanet 2 gets 2011 off to a great start for gaming, and if the rest of this year’s releases follow suit, we’re all in for one of the best gaming years ever.