So far, PlayStation Vita has been a console rich in features, but with no game to really make use of them. Uncharted: Golden Abyss demonstrated the handheld’s graphical chops, but wasn’t there something a bit gimmicky about the touch controls? Little Deviants did a great job of exploring the touchscreen, rear touchpad and motion controls, but then it didn’t work so well as a game. Luckily, with LittleBigPlanet PS Vita, everything finally comes together. In a just universe it would do the same thing for PlayStation Vita that Super Mario 3D Land did for the Nintendo 3DS, transforming it from a lame duck into a system with a neon-bright future. Maybe the LittleBigPlanet name isn’t big enough for that, but it definitely shows what Vita can do.
Though developed by a different team (actually two), LittleBigPlanet PS Vita doesn’t feel like a spin-off of the PS3 series but like a legitimate new LBP game. In fact, it looks, feels and plays exactly as a LittleBigPlanet should. It’s all here, from the Stephen Fry narrated introduction at the start, to the customisable pod that acts as the hub for your adventures, to the degree with which you can clothe and customise your Sackboy puppet. LittleBigPlanet PS Vita is still very much a game that someone made for you so that you can make it your own.
From the pod, the game is divided into three separate worlds. The first houses the main story mode, with the series’ hero, Sackboy, pitted against a gang of soul-less puppet Hollows led by a mysterious Puppeteer. This takes Sackboy through five different sections, each with its own 2D platform levels, arcade bonus levels and boss battles, with a sixth section dedicated to a set of specialised Arcade levels. Beyond this, the community and your own world await.
It’s in story mode that you’ll get to grips with LittleBigPlanet PS Vita’s new features. First, we get touch controls, with special blocks and gears that can be dragged from one part of the screen to another. Then we get taps, with smaller blocks that need to be tapped into or out-of the screen using the front and rear touchscreens. Next it’s time for tilt controls, with a whole level built around a rolling craft and you tilting your Vita left and right to keep it moving, plus clever little mechanisms that slide across the screen as you tilt. Each feature is dripped in slowly and gently, and it’s not long before you’re comfortable combining touch and tilt controls with the established running, jumping and grabbing manoeuvres.
It’s not like LittleBigPlanet has ever been your average platformer. With its quirky, pseudo-handcrafted graphics and distinctly British humour, you could never have called it a Mario clone. Yet LittleBigPlanet PS Vita freshens up the formula all over again. In fact, it’s amazing how smart and inventive the level design is, as you move from odd circus-inspired levels to sci-fi bank heists, roller-coaster scrapyards and scary mansions, with each new section having some new concept to grasp or new tool to play with, whether that’s a rocket-launching helmet that fires touch-guided missiles, or a cool grapple gun. And they all have that classic LittleBigPlanet feeling, where you could almost believe that the levels were physical constructions, fashioned from felt, sponge, card and fabric just for you to play around in.
In other games the length of the adventure would be its fatal flaw. With only five sections that you could easily conquer in as many hours, LittleBigPlanet’s story is short. Still, this turns out to be a blip rather than a tragedy. While it would have been great to see more levels, and the different toys and controls explored in even greater depth, there’s still plenty of replay value. As any fan of the series knows, the real point of playing LittleBigPlanet isn’t to crack the game, but to collect all the costumes, objects and materials you can use to create your own LittleBigPlanet levels.
While replaying the game to find them, you’ll find that there’s no shortage of secrets to discover and items to collect, not to mention areas that can only be tackled with two players (like the PS3 versions, LittleBigPlanet PS Vita supports drop-in co-op play). The bonus games extend the lifetime even further, with variations on everything from vintage games to iPhone favourites and whack-a-mole recreated in LittleBigPlanet form. Most importantly, the story is only the beginning – a sort of launchpad into LittleBigPlanet’s creation and community worlds.
You would expect that working on the small Vita screen would make creating anything impossible, but you’d be wrong. With a bit of help from the tutorials and Stephen Fry’s eloquent narration, you’ll soon discover that placing, scaling and rotating objects is even easier than on the PS3, thanks to intuitive tap, drag and pinch controls. New shapes can be cut using freehand drawing tools, and there’s an immediacy to the process that was never quite there in the home console version. Best of all, it’s even easier to add your own material. Sounds can be recorded with the Vita microphone and sampled right into the game, while photos can be snapped with the rear camera and turned directly into stickers, ready for slapping around your levels.
You may or may not be a creative genius, but there’s fun to be had in creating something with LittleBigPlanet even if it’s not much cop. The great thing is that, if the experience on PS3 is anything to go by, you can guarantee a stream of great new levels over the next few years. There are already some brilliant epic platform levels ready to download, showing real imagination, some clever minds for puzzles and a love of games both present and past. I’ve seen LittleBigPlanet takes on Portal, Super Mario Bros and Deadlight, and while there are a lot of basic 'my first' levels and ambitious would-be epics that just don’t work, there are also some real gems. All the usual facilities to try, review and share different levels are provided, along with hotlists for community favourites and levels picked by the LittleBigPlanet team. And what’s really great is that you might find a level, end up joining another player’s game, then following them through a series of levels, never quite sure what you’re going to find next. It’s this sense of shared curiosity and fun-filled exploration that sets LittleBigPlanet PS Vita apart.
With its versatile controls and rich online features, PlayStation Vita has always promised to deliver more than your average handheld games, but until now that promise hasn’t been realised. LittleBigPlanet PS Vita fixes that, with imaginative 2D platform levels, brilliantly implemented touch controls and a whole mass of enjoyable mini-games.
But it’s when you get stuck into the community that the game really comes alive. The excellent creative tools make it easier to produce your own levels, and even if you struggle with creating, you can still enjoy the best (and worst) of the community’s own efforts. This turns LittleBigPlanet PS Vita into something more than a stand-alone game. It’s your passport into a mobile world of genius, madness and fun.