Craftworld is being taken over by the Negativitron and only a superhero can stop it -- this is a case for SACKBOY!
At this point it's an irrefutable galactic truth that Sackboy is really, really damn cute. Lucky for us Media Molecule's lovable mascot is back in Little Big Planet 2 and he's bringing an army of sack-bots and a much evolved suite of game-making tool goodies with him. If you we're a fan of LBP and you're just hoping for more of the same, but bigger and better, then you'll definitely be pleased with this sequel. However, if you're one of the gamers that didn't see the appeal the first time around then there's little chance that anything here will convince you to change your mind.
More With Less
Little Big Planet 2, at its core, is still a 2.5D side scrolling platformer where you and your friends guide up to as many as four Sackboys (or Sackthings) to the end of a level while trying to collect all sorts of goodies scattered throughout. Things get more complicated as you go but by and large the game is much shorter and easier than its predecessor and doesn't have any of those controller-tossing moments that the original had towards the end. The collectibles can be used to decorate virtually everything, or let you switch between outfits, and are a crucial element to your artistic expression should you hope to create your own levels (you gotta fill it with something, right?) Occasionally specific access points in the world can only be opened with stickers you've collected from levels, but this usually requires you play further into the game and come back to those spots later.
LBP 2 makes some significant changes but most of them don't apply to the single player portion of the game. The biggest change in the campaign is Media Molecule's inclusion of a story, which has you battling the evil Negativitron who's attempting to take over Craftworld and everyone in it. The narrative attempt is appreciated, but it definitely wasn't something I was asking for after the first game which managed just fine without one. Usually story is my favorite part of games, but here it isn't that appealing. The characters tend to lack the charm that the rest of the game is known for and I'd go as far as to say a couple of them are downright annoying.
My problems with the single player campaign don't quite end there, unfortunately. The whole first world acts as a refresher tutorial, teaching you one new move per level. Without a choice to skip the tutorial world, veteran players are forced to play a bunch of levels that consist of little more than learning to jump and grab onto things. It's a really poor way to welcome players back into the action and it sets the campaign off on the wrong foot. Even past the first tutorial world the levels Media Molecule have made for the game are maddeningly average until the very last few which turn out great. Given the games promotions for what was possible, I was really expecting to see level after level of different types of genres and games. All you get is a few inspired moments among dozens of rehashed ideas from the previous title.
I don't want to sound too down on LBP2 because the game is still packed full of awesome, and the immensely cute world and characters are just as irresistible as ever. They haven't ruined this formula, and as long as the game is out it only gets better - in theory. Plus, if you have a profile from the first game you can transfer all of your collectibles and downloads into the new game when you first start up. With so much content made for the original (nearly 3.6 million player created levels) there's a wealth of creativity and genius to discover that's already available. Give it another six months, or even a year, and surely the same will be true with this sequel. A smart touch that makes checking those things out smoother is the added ability to queue up a playlist of levels you want to check out. It's a great way to go from level to level and not have to spend your game time sorting though them all.
And on the Seventh Day, Media Molecule Created...
It's fair to say that the Little Big Planet series is only fully enjoyed if you're a creator or if you indulge heavily in user created levels. Media Molecule's greatest additions are what they give players to use to craft their own stellar worlds, like new options to edit together full-motion cut-scenes or record your own audio. In both the campaign and the creation side you'll encounter the Sackbot, who you can manipulate in all sorts of ways to run certain paths as friendly AI to assist you or as an enemy trying to stop you with 'weak points' for you target. You also get to use some fun new tools, like a Bionic Commando type glove that extends out to let you grab stuff or new hats that let you shoot various types of materials like a gun (and sometimes exactly like one).
Those things are kind of neat but the campaign doesn't capitalize on the opportunity these items present, instead presenting them as proofs of concept and nothing more. Players, on the other hand, can take these items and turn them into full-fledged videogame making tools. It would seem anything is possible - in just a short amount of time people have already made sports games, space shooters, kart racers, street-fighter clones, tower defense games, motocross tracks, first-person and isometric shooters. And that's just what I've been able to play myself. I'd say the sky was the limit if users hadn't already built the universe. It makes you wonder why the company making the game couldn't take an extra few months to make equally impressive levels, but then maybe I'm underestimating how complex these tools were to create since they all appear so simple.
How easy is that stuff to use? Veterans will be more at home, obviously, but that doesn't mean you can't learn to master the controls yourself. The game features a very robust tutorial that takes you through 52 specific game mechanics and creation tools that shows you how to use them and why you would want to. There's a freakishly epic amount of depth here but everything is succinctly laid out to make your time efficient and efforts productive. Like anything, it can be intimidating at first, but once you make a couple of levels it stops being a matter of "how do I make" and becomes "what do I want to make".
Pretty Sack Thing, Hopping Down the Street
You already know how adorable LBP's art style is if you've ever seen it and LBP2 retains that bouncy, cloth fabric, aesthetic which is one of the most non-threatening styles ever created in gaming. To counter that, however, Media Molecule has included better lighting tools that allow players to manipulate the atmosphere any way they want. The results are amazing. I've seen genuinely spooky levels, courses where looming threats were obscured just enough to dole out tension consistently. So LBP2 isn't any more technically impressive, but it is more detailed and rich.
Voice acting is more or less a copy-paste from above. More characters are fully voiced between levels or at the start of worlds but, as soon as you enter levels those characters revert back to mute, text based conversationalist. It's a missed opportunity to elevate the production value way beyond what we saw in the last game. The ability to add your own audio is great, too, but the standard soundtrack is also still really stellar so you don't have to worry about adding your own if you don't want to.
The Great Online Debate
Some of the most recent poll numbers I was able to check out from late 2010 shows less than one third of PS3 owners are playing online, something we often forget about when looking at games. That means for every three gamers there are two of them that won't be able to access the best parts of Little Big Planet 2, namely the community creations. So players really need to consider what it is they expect to get out of the game before purchasing it. If you don't see yourself spending the time to create levels, browse user content, or if you don't even have an internet connection then Little Big Planet 2 is a game I wouldn't recommend. The new content is a marginal upgrade that still fails to address problems from the first game while delivering 30 new levels that aren't nearly as good as what you'd find online, including an entire world that teaches you things you can grasp in under fifteen seconds by yourself.
On the one hand it fails to do away with clunky control scheme's and irritating irregularities but on the other it evolves the principles set out in its predecessor, opening up endless possibilities for the creative players around the world. So do we judge it based on what it could be, or what it currently is? Users that wish not to delve online or bother with the tools will find a charming but limited experience. While those people who continue to craft and iterate on the ideas of others will discover a rewarding wealth of tools that are easy, fun to use, feel limitless and inspirational. Appropriately then, its really up to you to decide what's the best fit.
How it Sounds: You can record your own but what's hear is great. 9/10
How it Looks: A style emulated by no one else, iterated to perfection. 10/10
How it Plays: Jumping is sluggish and terrible for a platformer - still. 7/10
How is it Presented: The story is very average, tools are well explained: 8/10
How long it Lasts: The campaign is just a few hours. Online you could play forever.