Starting off the year with a bang, Media Molecule has taken everything that made LittleBigPlanet fun and charming and brings it to an entirely new plane of creativity in LittleBigPlanet 2. It also introduces a brand new single-player campaign, which, unlike the first game, has our Sack Thing journey through a story to save Craftworld from a horrible fate. While the game's core controls still suffer from the same issues as the first, LittleBigPlanet 2 is a whirlpool of creativity that should not be missed.
As mentioned above, LittleBigPlanet 2's single-player mode now provides us with a narrative to play through. The realm, in which the world's imagination collects, Craftworld, is under attack by the evil Negativitron and it's up to Sack Thing and his new allies to save it. While the concept of the story isn't entirely original, it is the way in which it is portrayed and the characters that are involved that make it charming. The story is kept light-hearted and the characters are funny and a pleasure to watch. Narration of these story elements is now spread across gameplay and cutscenes as well. What's more, story mode also introduces voiceovers for its new characters, though such features are limited to cutscenes as the rest of the dialogues return in its familiar text bubbles and character mumblings. The voiceovers do add much to the charm of the characters and plot, but it would have been more so had the voices carried over into the rest of the campaign. It is a bit disjointing at first though it hardly detracts from the overall experience.
Story mode is also a great place to start for those who are either unfamiliar with LittleBigPlanet or simply wish to jump right in to play. There are over 30 levels and mini-games showcasing what players can do with the game's creation tools and it also displays a good variety of genres ranging from the standard platforming to 2D shooters, side and vertical-scrolling shooters (one of which is in 8-bit style!), racers and even sports games.
LittleBigPlanet 2 also introduces several new gadgets and contraptions that add to the fun and creativity, such as the Grappling Hook, the Power Glove, and the Creatinator. These new features add a new level of depth to LBP's platforming, opening new ways for players to interact with Craftworld, the online community's creations and the players' own productions. The Bounce Pad is especially fun as, when applied appropriately, it can make for a very addicting and enjoyable experience. The controls for these are simple and intuitive; and, they are also tighter in terms of responsiveness when compared to the core controls of the game. These new features work great and function naturally as how you would expect them to.
There is one exception that stands out though. At one point in the game the player will get to pilot some animal "armaments", these are basically animal creations that the player gets to navigate throughout several stages. They consist of rabbits, hamsters, bees, and a few other friendly critters. While they generally control suitably, the rabbit was the most loosely controlled among them. It's probably one of the most annoying parts of the game due to how unpredictable its movement can be. Another thing is that for those who are veterans of LittleBigPlanet, before sinking your teeth into the new gadgets and contraptions, you'll have to put up with a few tutorial stages covering the basic controls again. While these stages aren't too dragged out, it would have been nice had the game offered the players an option to skip through them.
With the wealth of creativity that is shining through in the story stages and the online community, the platforming controls for LittleBigPlanet 2 remain largely the same as the first. Much like its predecessor, players will traverse through a "2.5D" world, at least when it comes to platforming worlds. It is still often cumbersome to transition from the frontal and rear planes, though it is slightly more responsive than the first. Additionally, the physics from the first game is retained and momentum plays a very important role in LittleBigPlanet 2's gameplay. Sack Thing will not jump very far or high if it is doing so from a stationary position, but having a running start will make a whole world of difference. Inertia will also lead to Sack Thing stumbling forward after landing from jumps, making timing and precision a factor to remember. Players, who are used to platformers like Super Mario Bros., where platforming is really responsive and tight, ought to be aware that there will be some getting used to with LittleBigPlanet 2's looser platforming. Still, this isn't always the case, as the game's physics really shine when it comes to sections that use the Grappling Hook and the Bounce Pads. Swinging from sponge to sponge and making use of the momentum gained adds a certain pleasure to platforming; and, watching Sack Thing bounce from platform to platform is simply adorable. As mentioned before, the controls for these features work very naturally.
And of course, what would LittleBigPlanet be without its community? Story and the online community modes can be played together locally, with friends online, with complete strangers or a combination of all up to 4 players. Joining up online is simple and you'll be prompted whenever you start a level if you'd like to play by yourself or with others. You can also choose to save your preferred mode of playing. Community created levels, once played through, can be tagged with predefined descriptions, reviewed, and "heart"-ed. The millions of levels that were created in the first LittleBigPlanet also see a return as well as any DLC costume you may have purchased, meaning you won't be missing out on any of your old favourites!
Unfortunately, load times can take very long and sometimes even go on perpetually. New to the mix are the Versus stages that are included in Story mode where players are pit against each other to get the highest score (in basketball, racing, a game of pool, etc.). Community levels, for the most part, are also incredibly designed and a blast to play through. Obviously, to get the best experience, playing with friends or people you know locally or online is the way to go. Playing with complete strangers can sometimes be frustrating as some simply want to rush through the level without communicating in some form, be it waiting for players or taking the time to message each other.
Media Molecule has also set up a community website, LBP.me, where players can sync their PSN accounts and check out their statistics, find new community levels and even add them to a queue for when they return online to play. They can also keep up with friends and see what they've liked and enjoyed. It all works very smoothly and the layout of the site is well designed and makes searching for things very easy.
For players who wish to jump right in and start creating, Create mode in LittleBigPlanet 2 is a lot more user-friendly too. Tutorials on how to go about creating your own monstrosities and nefarious levels are now on one long list for your easy navigation. A new tool for creation has also been included: the "Controllinator". This tool enables players to assign specific functions, like button presses, to any aspect of their level design. In addition, the switches and modifiers now have large cones to connect them so as to make them easier to see where they actually go. Camera and animation control also allows players to create full on cutscenes like in Story mode. Accompanied by this is the ability to record your own music and sounds or use any of the original and licensed music within the game. AI creation has also been improved with the introduction of Sackbots. These little guys are controlled by the level creator and follow whatever they're programmed to do. Ultimately though, the biggest feature is that players can use these tools to essentially create any kind of genre of games that they can think of.
The overall experience of LittleBigPlanet 2 is pretty overwhelming and exciting, especially since its concept means you'll never finish the game as there are new levels being created everyday. LittleBigPlanet 2 has definitely managed to hold on to its charm while bringing a whole slew of new features and creativity to the table. In terms of graphics, the game still looks amazing, though it's not notably better than the first. And while suffering from the same issues as the first game in terms of its controls, LittleBigPlanet 2 is still an amazing game where players can journey through a charming narrative and the countless community levels that illustrate how creative people can be. It is, as Media Molecule have stated, a platform for games, not a platforming game.