LittleBigPlanet Karting PS3 Review
I always found it strange that Sony did not brand Modnation Racers – a kart racer that was thrown into Sony’s “Play Create Share” group of games – with LittleBigPlanet. It essentially did the same thing for the kart racing genre that LittleBigPlanet did for platform games, which was enable a player to create their own content. In Modnation Racers’ case, this was tracks, racers and funky karts to drive. It was a lot of fun, but now, rather than produce a follow-up with the same name, Sony has opted to stick the LittleBigPlanet title on what essentially is a sequel to Modnation Racers, but with Sackboy’s cuteness spread all over it. I guess now, Sony has realised that LittleBigPlanet is a household name, but you do have to feel somewhat sorry for Sony’s original attempt for the kart racer on the PS3, which in some areas it still does better than this game.
Since this is LittleBigPlanet, any fan of that series will feel instantly at home. When you start up the game, you’ll find yourself in the pod with your Sackboy all raring to get driving, while Stephen Fry delivers his unique, comical lines. The layout and menu systems are taken straight out of LittleBigPlanet, including the Popit menu that you can access with the square button. Popit allows you to edit your Sackboy and kart from a predetermined set of items, with most being locked until you start playing the Story Mode portion of the game.
Due to using the LittleBigPlanet’s creation tools, this means users are much more limited in what kind of kart and avatar you can create. Modnation Racers had a vast creation toolset for making race characters, but this is completely gone and somewhat feels like a step back for what is, in some ways, a spiritual successor to Modnation Racers. The tools available still allow you to create a unique Sackboy and bizarre karts, but there is no shape manipulation or anything similar. As long as you go in expecting the same mechanics as LittleBigPlanet, then you won’t feel as disappointed in what is missing.
Even though this is a kart racer, it does follow the staple LittleBigPlanet story mode, where you visit the planets outside of your pod and see the plot unfold after every major race event. The story follows Sackboy after he completed his journey in LittleBigPlanet 2. This time, Craftworld has become invaded by a group of racers called The Hoard, who want to steal all the prizes and “hoard” (get it?) them from the rest of Craftworld’s inhabitants. It is Sackboy’s job to get them all back. As you can expect, the story is nothing more than a lighthearted tale that supplies a few laughs here and there through its use of charming characters and dialogue.
Making your way through the story unlocks an assortment of tracks, gameplay modes and items to customise with. It must be noted that you need to complete the Story Mode to get the most out of the game. This is because the online part of LittleBigPlanet Karting is entwined into the Story Mode, just like the original platforming games are. This is really awkward when you just want to have a race with a group of random people online, as you need to check each race track on the different planets and see how many people are racing on that track at that given time. I don’t understand why they could not implement a Quick Race option or something similar, because it becomes a hassle to find people through the story interface and then begin your race. Once you have a group on a track it is not so bad, as you can then vote for the next track after finishing a race, but the initial start to get to your first race underway is badly handled. It works for a platform game, but not for a kart racing game. At least you can take your local friends online by using the split-screen feature, so you can populate up to half of an online lobby with your own pals.
It is great that United Front Games managed to blend the gameplay concepts from LittleBigPlanet into the racing. On the track you will find score bubbles and prizes that grant more customisable options. Weapon pick-ups are scattered around the track, and touching one equips Sackboy with the Weaponator and a random power-up. The Weaponator is always standard, so to remember what power-up you have means keeping an eye on the weapon slot at the bottom right of the screen. All weapons can be fired backwards to defend yourself from incoming shots – perfect for when you are in first, as you can still fight off incoming homing rockets and other nasty items. The weapons themselves are standard rockets, homing rockets, mines, electric burst and homing boxing glove (autopilot). The game’s most unique power-up is the fast-forward icon, which instantly fast-forwards the player a few positions in front. AI can be annoyingly aggressive (or maybe lucky?) sometimes, but it is far from the soul-destroying computer drivers that appeared in the recent F1 Race Stars.
Tracks are based around themes from past games, like sweets and desserts, beaches, cities and toys, often including remix songs to tap into that memory lane of your old Sackboy adventures. Earlier tracks are simple, but as you progress further you begin to unlock the use of the grappling hook to attach to hanging objects above canyons and other death drops. Track designs are great for the most part, although later on the introduction of clutter that causes instant death (rather than slowing/stopping you) can be irritating at times. Along with normal races, you will also take part in checkpoint racing, first-person driving, top-down views and battle modes, which are all enjoyable. A favourite of mine is when you have to steal an egg and keep it held as long as possible, except the person with the egg is given a disadvantage – they become a giant, making them unable to hide and much easier to hit with weapons.
The feel of the karts is good and controls are simple to grasp, and like any decent racer, there is a way to get around corners fast – by drifting – which also builds up a boost once you end the drift after a certain amount of time. If there is one thing missing it is that there are no stats on your kart or character, so each one is equal. In this game it all comes down to how good you are at driving, what weapons you get and a bit of luck.
Moving on to a rather important part of LittleBigPlanet Karting, the track creator takes the simple approach of sticking down a start flag and then driving a paint roller across the ground to design your track. Once you have decided on your track and its elevations, you need to colour it in, supply a light and design it with the tools available. Everything needs to be placed down, be it power-ups, obstacles or the surrounding environment. There are options aplenty when making your own track, and is one of the customisation features that stays as in-depth as those in Modnation Racers; but unlike that game, there is no auto feature that lets you randomly decorate the environment outside of the track, which translates to spending more time in the creator to make that perfect-looking race track.
If you are like me and do not have a very creative mind, then you can lay back and download some of the other created tracks featured in the community area. You will run into cop cats, such as Moo Moo Farm (with red shells and the like) from Mario Kart 64, or original and wacky tracks, such as Winter Epicness and its crazy snowy jump and flying cows. There are some brilliantly-designed tracks out there, and seeing what people have come up with is one of the most thrilling moments of LittleBigPlanet Karting. You can only access this content if you buy the game new, as it comes with an online pass. Second-hand users will have to fork out £7.99 if you want to go online or share/download content.
Fans of LittleBigPlanet will surely enjoy LittleBigPlanet Karting, as it manages to take the essence of Media Molecule’s platforming joy and translate that into a solid and enjoyable kart racer, with all the charm you would expect. It’s a shame the developers felt that they needed to take every aspect of LittleBigPlanet and use that as a base to create this game, as it has hurt it in some regards and has made the online multiplayer an awkward mode to participate in. I also cannot help but feel this game has taken a step back with its customisation, as Modnation Racers does everything better in that regard – unless you have a undying love of Sackboy. In the end, if you have a PS3, then you will have amusing time with LittleBigPlanet Karting; it’s just not the best in its class, or as good as what came before it from the same studio.