Series creators Media Molecule have left LittleBigPlanet for greener pastures, leaving Sackboy’s fate in the hands of Sumo Digital, a long-running but somewhat undistinguished studio that has specialized in doing ports of higher-profile games. Viewing this as the beginning of the franchise’s decline is an easy narrative to latch on to, but LittleBigPlanet 3 is a solid, infectious game that delivers the basics along with some new twists.
Naturally, the very existence of Craftworld is threatened, this time by Newton – a neurotic, power-mad, talking lightbulb in a bowler hat. Like any LBP story, it’s a trifle fleshed out by charming dialogue and the series’ giddy, patchwork visual style. The narrative is mainly a device by which we meet the game’s major new feature: three new playable characters.
Each member of the trio has unique abilities. Oddsock, a dog-like creature, is fast and can run up walls. Toggle is able to switch between large and small forms at the press of a shoulder button. Swoop is a bird capable of flight and daring dives. Sackboy also has some new tricks, including the “pumpinator” (a device that can blow and suck air like the accordion in Tearaway), a hat that can grab onto rails, and boost boots. LittleBigPlanet 3 is at its best when it’s playing with these new mechanics and characters, especially in two inventive, multi-level challenges towards the end of the game.
I thoroughly enjoyed all the new characters. In fact, I wish the main story mode didn’t end so soon after I unlocked them all. While you see the credits roll in around six to eight hours, many side-missions and challenges are waiting to be discovered – not to mention the series’ famously comprehensive creation tools. That said, it’s not a flawlessly executed experience. At times, the design feels a bit sloppy – am I really performing well, or am I just lucky? The uneven difficulty curve can also be frustrating; the game is fairly easy until the last fourth of the story mode, which ratchets up the action considerably. For all its inventiveness, LittleBigPlanet has never really delivered memorable boss battles, and that trend continues here.
Of course, if you think you can do better, you have the chance. LittleBigPlanet 3 expands on the already-staggering creation tools of the first two games, which makes it easier to create isometric games, animate and create devices, and more. I’ll be honest: this is the fourth LittleBigPlanet game I’ve reviewed, and I remain completely useless at making levels. If you want a minute-long terrible NES-style platformer with four jumps, I’m your man.
That’s not a knock on the tools; they are easy to grasp – and now taught through a series of well-designed “Popit Puzzle” levels that strike a balance between tutorial and gameplay. Sony let some talented fans in on the game’s beta, and already there are some impressive levels, including one based on EA’s Dead Space, complete with the opening spaceship crash cutscene. People will do great things with these tools – I just won’t be one of them. For the lazy or merely dumb like myself, it guarantees that the game will have legs, with a steady stream of new levels and even new types of user-created games.
LittleBigPlanet 3 is a strong showing for Sackboy and company, but one that points to the fact that – unlike Nintendo’s Mario, who’s been reinvented many times over the years – this series’ future is likely to follow the arc of another Sony platformer, Ratchet & Clank, by settling into a comfortable groove. As a fan of the genre, I’m fine with that – though this one doesn’t make as many waves as the original did back in 2008.
LittleBigPlanet 3 is a solid, infectious game that delivers the basics along with some new twists.