LittleBigPlanet Vita really brings this innovative and engaging franchise to mobile gaming in fine style. You play as Sackboy, the now-iconic avatar of the game, and face various challenges in pursuit of the Puppeteer, who appears to have taken over Craftworld and filled it with mischievous zombie-type figures. A charming tutorial voiced by Stephen Fry leads to the main story mode, structured along five worlds with primary missions and side quests. The characteristic (and insufferably cute) craft-based art design is as strong as ever and the gameplay offers relatively light puzzle and platforming tasks. It’s a bit hard to see the game’s appeal to all age ranges (it’s likely to garner a strong following among younger players) but it’s still highly playable if you have an open mind.
The single player campaign plays much like its predecessors. The controls are very floaty for a platformer, but once you’ve gotten used to it, it’s quite manageable. Unfortunately most of the game’s challenges rarely get beyond the “flick-switches-in-a-certain-order” variety. It presents you with the same kinds of gadgets you saw in LBP 2. Swinging through levels with the grappling hook is as exhilarating as ever and a strange new three-wheeled car allows a dynamic and exciting new mode of traversal.
…the need to return to earlier levels to collect further items will only appeal to the most hardcore completionists.
A definite drawback is the level of difficulty. Few if any obstacles require more than one attempt to complete and respawn doors are all infinite, significantly reducing the challenge and enjoyment for more advanced players. The fast hand-eye coordination required in the PS3 versions of the game is not called upon much here. Simply put, the story mode is just too easy and the need to return to earlier levels to collect further items will only appeal to the most hardcore completionists. It doesn’t generate replayability itself.
Of course, the main new innovation is the integration of the Vita’s touch controls. These are obviously minimised to avoid the train wreck that could have resulted from overly enthusiastic deployment, but this tentativeness may in fact hint at some of the limitations of the mechanic. Puzzles involving touch controls rarely move beyond shifting platforms (albeit in three dimensions), and when there is potential for combining touch controls with other mechanics, the results are sometimes unpredictable. When touch controls have to be precisely located or timed it can be frustrating. Perhaps with time and proper learning mechanics, this would become less of a problem.
Multiplayer is also strongly supported. Specially designed cooperative puzzles allow you to join forces with a friend to achieve particular goals. Refreshingly, local multiplayer is also permitted in the form of mini games, which allows players in the same room to compete at challenges asynchronously. The game also offers an arcade mode with impressive mini games activated, which showcase the types of projects that are possible with the tools on offer.
As ever in this series, the real appeal is in the highly sophisticated, accessible, and sociable content generation mode. The original LittleBigPlanet was the first mainstream game to make creating levels a core gameplay mechanic in its own right, with the story mode playing like a model of what to aim for in your own levels. The sharing functionality in this version is better than ever and if the community can continue to produce the kind of levels that we’ve seen in other LBP games, this will again add an extra dimension to the experience.
The simple system of creating objects and attaching a wide variety of tools and mechanisms is highly intuitive…
It is these generation tools that will prove the greatest attraction to you if you’re looking to produce content on the move. The simple system of creating objects and attaching a wide variety of tools and mechanisms is highly intuitive and allows for deep game design in perhaps the most accessible format possible. This is a blessing because the tutorial modes are inconsistent and sometime just unworkable (lucky that everyone hates tutorials, then).
You can reproduce or imitate everything you encounter in any mode of the game. Even touch control mechanisms can be developed, which allows for a high degree of customisation. This is already reflected in the diversity of community created levels available. As always with player-generated content, the quality is highly variable, but the best stuff is really good (yet never quite hitting the mark set by the professionals). Nonetheless, there is no doubt that this game is already educating the next generation of designers and programmers, which bodes well for the future.
Ultimately, LittleBigPlanet Vita succeeds in bringing a successful, well-known concept to the new handheld in a way that completely surpasses the PSP version of the game. There is little that is wildly innovative, but with new developers and a new console this is understandable. We can be grateful that nothing has been broken in the process of translation and that the enjoyable gameplay and magnificent content creation system of this franchise is more widely available than ever. So next time you see a kid on the bus playing on a Vita, you might be looking at the next Cliffy B.