Last year, United Front Games released ModNation Racers, a PS3 exclusive that featured a heavy focus on customization. Cute characters with oversized heads and hundreds of costumes took to the user-created tracks, and many compared its approach to LittleBigPlanet’s. A year later, the same development team is making that a reality in name as well as concept. LittleBigPlanet Karting expands upon the customization options from ModNation Racers, and features the undeniably cute Sackboys and Sackgirls as its drivers.
I played three tracks at a recent Sony event, and most of the gameplay should feel familiar to kart racer fans. As you race laps around its various tracks, you use drift boosts and weapon pickups in an effort to beat seven other Sackpeople to the finish line. While boosts have a dedicated floating icon (a jetpack), weapons appear as multi-colored versions of the Weaponator, a bazooka that can fire numerous projectiles. Missiles come in several forms, including seekers and straight shots. Other weapons are tossed rather than fired, such as grenades and EMP area attacks. Another weapon turns your kart into a giant boxing glove, which rockets you down the course and knocks opponents out of the way in a manner similar to Mario Kart's Bullet Bill item.
Fans of the LittleBigPlanet brand should appreciate the return of slapping, which can be performed at any time with the L2 and R2 buttons. This won't cause opponents much harm, but the gesture and sound effect are fun ways to taunt them as you pass by.
Many environments are based on previous themes from the platforming entries, such as Garden Grip and King's Castle (based on The Gardens from LittleBigPlanet). The former is a traditional racetrack, but the latter is built around battle mode. This mode follows traditional deathmatch rules rather than the balloon system in Mario Kart. The first player to rack up 10 kills is the winner.
A third track, Future Perfect, is a brand new area suspended in air. Cardboard clouds put forth the illusion of racing through the sky, but a quick glance at the background indicates that it's actually set in a living room. Guardrails made of forks keep you from falling off the suspended track as electrified potato mashers and tin cans make weapons pick-ups a risky endeavor. This track was the only one on display to use grapple sponges, which should be familiar to fans of LittleBigPlanet 2. With the press of the L1 button, players can attach to these and swing over large gaps. Get enough air, and you can perform spin tricks for a speed boost once your wheels are back on the ground.
Considering one of the main selling points of LittleBigPlanet is customization, it's no surprise to see an overwhelming amount of it in LBP Karting. Sackpeople can be dressed up with bacon beards, bee outfits, and hundreds of other options. Similar flexibility is offered for the karts themselves. Numerous elements can be tweaked, including the chassis. Want to drive a dragster made of balloons with saltine cracker tires and a peppermint steering wheel? No problem. Prefer a hovercraft with a wedding ring for a seat and a steering wheel made out of a guitar pick? Just as easy. However, don't expect karts that control differently (á la Diddy Kong Racing). United Front wants to ensure that each vehicle controls similarly, no matter if it's shaped like a monster truck or a hovercraft.
Sharing tracks with the community is just as easy as sharing levels in the platformers, with options to search by rating and popularity. Track creators can tweak virtually anything they desire, from cosmetic objects like guardrails to more advanced options like AI behavior and weapon frequency. In addition, players can create their own weapons from scratch. If you're tired of the built-in missiles, you're free to create a giant flying cow that shoots pumpkins and fireworks out of its mouth (or anything else you can think of).
Most kart racers have a heavy focus on multiplayer, and LittleBigPlanet Karting supports four-player split screen and eight-player online races (which limits local play to two racers). Even if you're playing solo, the sharing options should do a great job at creating a sense of community. LittleBigPlanet Karting may feature many gameplay trademarks of previous kart racers, but the community involvement and customization options may make it more than just another entry in a crowded genre.