LittleBigPlanet for the PS Vita is an entirely new game co-developed by Double Eleven Limited, Tarsier Studios and Sony XDev Europe – it is not a port of any of the previously-released LBP games, though the title may confusingly lead potential buyers to think otherwise. Not including Sackboy’s Prehistoric Movies, LBP Vita is the first title with which series creator Media Molecule is not involved.
I begin my next adventure as Sackboy by meeting Colonel Flounder, a creepy man with an extremely long nose, who explains to me that his home, Carnivalia, has been taken over by the Puppeteer. The Puppeteer has always been a kind of ruler of Carnivalia, but after his adoring crowds booed one of his performances, he went sour and, like everyone who has ever become angry over something trivial, decided to instate himself as a violent, maniacal dictator. It's up to Sackboy to stop him.
Colonel Flounder leads me through the tutorial mode, which runs a bit long compared to previous LBP tutorials. Admittedly, I stop to listen to all the tutorial videos so I understand how the game functions on the Vita. The videos are very helpful, and I feel confident in the controls by the time the first few introductory levels wrap up.
Unlike tutorial-level characters from previous games (such as LBP 2’s newspaper-monster Larry Da Vinci) who adequately straddle the line between too creepy and just creepy enough, Colonel Flounder continually weirds me out. His gruff voice and nose reminiscent of those old phallic masks used in fertility and war rituals is a little upsetting, and he also keeps telling me to "sharpen my thumbs," and sometimes, my "thumbsticks." Maybe his seemingly deliberate creepiness is what the cooperating development studios are going for, though. Knowing the history of bizarre characters in the LBP series, I wouldn't be surprised.
The game's trademark floaty physics are still there, as are your Sackperson's customization options and multiplayer and content creation modes. Character customization is, of course, a staple of the series, and I find myself once again caught up in trying to decide what color my Sackgirl's giant Lady Gaga-esque bow should be. I also thoroughly enjoy the side mission, Bonce Tappin', which is basically whack-a-mole with Sackboys, but about fifty times as fast. I also appreciate the music-inspired levels, where percussion instruments like metallophones play notes as I slide up and down the keys.
New in the Vita version are touch-screen mechanics. I use the front touch screen to move blocks around and push them up or down in the level, and the rear touchpad to push blocks out of the background and into the foreground to use as ledges. These new mechanics are used in easy puzzles early on, but become progressively more challenging as I advance through each level in the first world, La Marionetta.
As much as I enjoy the addition of touch mechanics, I also feel like they remove the hustle I've come to expect from LBP. I enjoy the PS3 titles because they're quick, zany, and hectic. Other than the one timed level I completed in the Vita version, I almost never felt like I could run as quickly as I wanted to through the stages since I needed to stop to use the touch screen. It's not debilitating, and I definitely appreciate the touch mechanic puzzles, but I'm hoping they become faster and less deliberate as the game progresses.
The one thing I’m unsure about is the level design. One reason I love the two PS3 entries so much is that their levels are almost overflowing with things to look at – kooky contraptions spinning in the background, silly characters making offhanded remarks, and all the colors of the rainbow. All seven of the levels I played through in LBP Vita are made up of the same dark, mostly maroon, color scheme. Very few bombastic, goofy distractions litter the stages, and the only crazy character I meet is the phallic Colonel Flounder. I'm holding off on judging the level design until I can play through the entire game, though. LBP has a great track record of brilliantly creative levels (including those made by players, of course), and I'm hoping my experience with the first part of LBP for Vita isn't indicative of the entire title.
Though I find things to nit-pick in LBP Vita, it's clearly still a LittleBigPlanet title. The series hasn't really disappointed yet, and I hope the full Vita game more closely mirrors previous titles in its fluidity and ingenuity.