LittleBigPlanet PS Vita PS Vita Review

The Vita has struggled to grasp consumers. The sales have been lacking and the games have not exactly been steamrolling towards the system. Sony have picked up their pace with support for the handheld – after the awful E3 showing, where gamers were not impressed with the lack of information for the Vita – and, finally, some interesting games are due in the future. Until those arrive, we have Sony bringing LittleBigPlanet PS Vita (LBP Vita) to us. This little gem of a game is the perfect showcase for the Vita, and in a way, it is Sony displaying to developers that this is what you can do on the handheld when you put your mind to it.

Once again, the cute little star of the LittleBigPlanet games, Sackboy, is the hero of the Vita version. The story takes place in the world of Carnivalia, a visually charming place based around the fun of a travelling fairground. This joyous planet has turned evil, thanks to a twisted entity called The Puppeteer: an entertainer who was once popular, until one day he got booed by the crowd for one of his performances, turning him bitter, and causing him to seek revenge by commanding an army of hollows to remove any fun and life from this carnival planet. It is your job as the player to put a stop to this and return joy to Carnivalia through the game’s 40+ levels.

The basics of the gameplay have not changed much from past LittleBigPlanet titles. Story mode is still used as a way to show what is possible with the game’s creation tools, and takes players through some fantastic level designs, charming characters and smartly implemented gameplay mechanics, which can be played on your own or with two-to-four people over Wi-Fi (online). Most of the levels do not pose much of a challenge, but they never did in the series. Instead, the challenge with LBP Vita is to find all the hidden collectables, such as stickers and new gear for Sackboy, and get that 100%, no-death run on a level – correctly-named ACE. Managing to complete a level like that is just as rewarding and fun as it ever has been; only this time you have more ways to go about doing that.

Gamers will be jumping, running, grabbing and using returning tools, such as the grappling hook, to help Sackboy complete his task, but you will also be using all of the Vita’s control features, which the levels in story mode do a brilliant job showing off. Both the front and back touch inputs are used to manipulate objects – such as pushing them in and out, like the gameplay mechanic in Escape Plan – but some can be moved by dragging them around to make ledges to assist Sackboy in crossing dangerous falls or nasty chemical swamps. After the initial introduction of touch controls, the idea that these are just gimmicky inclusions should leave your mind. These are built into the levels with crafty and amusing designs. One minute you could be pulling back Sackboy on a spring, reminiscent of Casino Night Zone in Sonic The Hedgehog 2, then tapping away blocks to let Sackboy fall down a huge gap before a laser catches up to him and burns him into a pile of charred cotton; or using the back touch pad as a touch point to make a craft fly in that direction. No matter what you are doing with the touch, it works great and never gets in the way of the gameplay.

LittleBigPlanet has always featured a distinctive, floaty, jump mechanic, and this has not changed, but the pacing of the levels work so damn well because the developers have used the low gravity aspect of LittleBigPlanet to mould the controls around it – and the touch controls are proof of this. You never feel that the game is being overcomplicated when you are moving and touching at the same time, and that is what makes playing LBP Vita a pleasure to experience. You are never hindered by the controls; death is 99% your fault (the other 1% is when a friend grapples you with the grappling hook). Other control mechanics don’t feature as heavily as touch, but when used they are often well-implemented. Like the pinball maze, for example, where Sackboy acts as a pinball, and you must tilt the handheld to move him around the maze without bouncing too much off the walls and springs.

Hidden in specific levels are keys that will open up a small mini-game if acquired. These games can either be single-player-, versus- or multiplayer-based, but any that require two or more people can be played one player for practice. Variety is splashed all over these games, as they cover classic ideas such as whack-a-mole, air hockey, tank shooting, and even a Tetris-based block builder, where you must be careful moving blocks with your finger to place them securely with other blocks without knocking them over. These little extras are fun, but will most likely not hold your attention for long.

However, what might attract your attention are the arcade games that unlock as you beat areas in the story mode. Feeling like a collection of small phone games or PS-Minis (even coming with a three-star rating for level completion), these five titles range from the dark and gloomy look of the touch-based jumping puzzler, Tapling, to the old-school of Retro Vector, a top-down space shooter that has a similar-looking style to Geometry Wars – well, the “retro” look by implementing old-school graphics. All these games were made in LBP Vita’s creation tools, and showcases what can be done with the new tool: the memorizer.

For anyone who likes creating levels in LittleBigPlanet, then the memorizer is a beautiful inclusion for you people. This device allows you to create full games; since you are no longer bound to making single stages, your imagination can run wild. Why not make multiple levels in the style of the main game, or think up something new, like a top-down racer with multiple race tracks for a championship. You can even add your own rankings to add replayability. I almost sound like a marketing spokesman, but it really is incredibly deep. You will be amazed with what you can do with the creator in this iteration of LittleBigPlanet. If you are new to the series, then there are 67 tutorials narrated once again by the brilliant Stephen Fry, who will amuse you while you learn and set you on your way to become the next Picasso of LBP Vita. It’s not the best tutorial, as I did get confused from time to time, but if you search Google then you can find some places that have good guides to help you.

If you are like me and just want to play the user-created levels, then you can download them to the Vita to take them on the go when you do not have Internet access. People have already started uploading fantastic levels – some refreshing and new, while others go down the other route and create copycats, such as a LBP Vita version of Slender: The Eight Pages. No matter what you are interested in, you are going to find lots of content from LittleBigPlanet fans that will keep you interested way past the game’s campaign and mini-games.

LBP Vita retains the charm and style from its big brother, only losing a small detail in the graphics department. It is still a lovely looking game, but you can tell that LBP Vita is not as sharp or colourful compared to the PS3 games, due to a strange washed-out look that covers the screen. The soundtrack is pleasing to the ears, as it always has been for the series.

I can honestly say that I was going into LBP Vita with a bit of a downer on the game, as I was expecting LittleBigPlanet 2, but on the Vita. I am glad the developers proved me wrong and that LBP Vita is the next step in the series’ evolution. If you like LittleBigPlanet… actually, scrap that. If you own a Vita, then you should buy LBP Vita. There is no reason not to; the system lacks games, for starters, so unless you have a phobia of all things cute and stuffed or hate the series, then you should be checking the game out. LittleBigPlanet PS Vita is a craftsmanship that promotes the features of the hardware it uses, a selling point for the Vita and what it can do. Now if only more games were doing that on the system.

9 out of 10