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300 Word Review – LittleBigPlanet

It seems reasonable to expect that a game which allows users to create their own levels for a 2D platformer should be made by people who can create a pretty good platformer themselves. This is definitely not the case with Media Molecule, the developers of LittleBigPlanet.

The problem stems from a misunderstanding about what makes a good platformer in the first place. Media Molecule seems to believe that the secret is a set of levels with lots of things to do; switches to pull, stuff to knock over, etc. However, a great platformer usually isn’t just in its level design, it’s in the game’s avatar.

In truly great platformers, like Super Mario Bros., or Sonic the Hedgehog, manipulating the player-character is really the main event. The level design is important, of course, but is often there simply to present challenging opportunities for improvisation and experimentation.

Unfortunately Sackboy, the only avatar in LittleBigPlanet, is sluggish and limited. The range of motion offered by the avatar is surprisingly constrained. Even the perennial ‘double-jump’ isn’t available. The physics of LittleBigPlanet also serve to make controlling Sackboy inconsistent. Sometimes you’ll land on a platform and float on the edge. Other times you’ll simply fall to your death.

Combine these factors with the very poor decision to have 3 layers of depth and you have a game where you never feel sure of what your avatar is actually going to do in any given situation.

LittleBigPlanet,¬†of course, is more about making levels than it is about playing them, with the single player game really just meant to spark the imagination of the user. In the end though, as anyone who’s ever designed a platformer can tell you, a level can only ever be as good as the avatar that’s going to be navigating it.

4 Comments

  1. I’m tacking the same issues and coming to the same conclusions as you have in my own LBP review.

    I was confused at first. But then I realized you use the word “avatar” to mean the set of core mechanics.

    Personally, I associate “avatar” with the look of the player character. (and the last air bender. But that’s another story)

    No big deal. Good stuff. Carry on.

    Wednesday, November 5, 2008 at 5:49 am | Permalink
  2. Charles Joseph wrote:

    Yeah, I use ‘avatar’ basically as shorthand for the player. Your definition is probably more accurate in the long run though.

    Looking forward to your review! I feel like this is one of those games that’s going to get a lot of points in the enthusiast press for perceived ‘potential’ rather than its intrinsic qualities.

    Wednesday, November 5, 2008 at 9:23 pm | Permalink
  3. Josh wrote:

    Yup. I agree, Charles.

    I’ve been playing LBP this afternoon. So I don’t have too much to say, yet. Except. That Sackboy is a pain in the ass to control. There’s no feeling of precision. All very gummy. No feeling like I can confidently complete the actions I want to like jumping from platform to platform or avoiding baddies. Those goddamn skateboards, as well, make me want to pull my hair out. I know exactly what I want to do, but I can’t reliably do it.

    And the jump is too slow. And if the “jump” action isn’t done right in a platformer, then no matter how gorgeous and ground-breaking the rest of the game may be: failure.

    I’m going to continue playing through it. But there are probably a dozen playformers from the NES era that are more satisfying than the experience I’ve had so far.

    Monday, November 10, 2008 at 9:55 pm | Permalink
  4. Dan Rutter wrote:

    OK I apoloagise if I offend anyone here but Sackboy is actualy the most expressive character ive seen in a game. You have the ability to change his mood at the push of a button which will effect his posture, expression and his limbs. The reason all of you are having issues with his jumping is that unlike your “traditional” platformers you actually need an element of skill to get the most out of Sackboys jumping skills. As for the double jump check out you tube some one designed a level were its possible. The one and only thing that irritates me is the whole three levels thing when you have 4 players it means that in my biker mice from mars level I can only have three bikes so someone always has to go pillion. LBP is a game for creative people looking for fun and creativity not just running over green fields hitting the x button over and over hoping to get all the gold coins/ kill all mushrooms.

    Play it, make it, love it!

    Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

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