Like its predecessors, LittleBigPlanet 3’s value is hard to quantify. This is less a video game, more a creative suite. Included is a Create Mode featuring an expansive toolset for players to build their wildest playable dreams, an Adventure Mode containing the game’s ‘campaign’ levels, and an enormous selection of community levels created by players in LBP 1, 2 and 3. The twist though is that the Adventure mode was crafted by developers entirely with the toolset provided in Create Mode. It isn’t the central aspect of the game; it’s an example of what can be done with the tools inside.
Narrative has never been of much relevance in LBP, though the story in Sackboy’s latest adventure is pushed to the forefront much more than in the past. Characters (with the exception of those playable) are fully voiced, with new character Newton being voiced by the illustrious Hugh Laurie. There is a level of polish in this story that far surpasses all previous LBP offerings. Characters are enjoyably whimsical and charismatic, though blatantly geared towards a younger audience, and the quest is much more coherent than the arbitrarily linked levels of passed LBP games. Voice performances are excellent, and animations are all fine, but the abundance of cutscenes feels a little unnecessary, especially when loading screens come before and after each one.
What is most relevant though, is the gameplay. Arguably the biggest addition to LBP3 are the three new characters, Oddsock, Toggle, and Swoop. Oddsock runs quickly and has wall jumping capabilities, Toggle can switch between small and large forms, allowing him to fit through gaps and use different weights to his advantage, while swoop can fly. You’d imagine this changes up the formula quite a bit, so why even play as a Sackthing anymore? Well, the little guy/girl has a few new tricks of their own. Climbing, for example, is a perfect addition to Sackboy’s lexicon; it’s hard to believe it wasn’t among his original techniques. There are also a bunch of items that can be used exclusively by the original hero, and these are my favorite new feature for the series.
The Sackpocket lets Sackboy use a range of cool new power-ups when he sees fit. The Pumpinator blows or sucks certain objects around, the Blink Ball lets a Sack Person teleport to the location of a fired projectile, the Hook Hat is a helmet form of BioShock Infinite’s Sky-Hook, and the Boost Boots are cool rocket shoes. These expand gameplay possibilities majorly and even allow some Metroidvania elements through Adventure Mode. While previous LBP games have featured the odd gadget to play around with, there’s never been a selection as interesting as this. Velociporters are another cool toy to play with, adding the gameplay of Portal to LBP in a limited regard, with portals placed throughout levels requiring you to solve simple momentum puzzles to traverse. Considering all of this in addition to each new character, there are considerably more potential interesting, varying platforming scenarios in LBP3 than it’s predecessors. That potential, however, isn’t always met.
Outside of hub levels and two or three extra levels each, the new characters needn’t be used in Adventure Mode. I’m always happier to be left wanting more than to have felt that something was overused, but I found this a bit disappointing. There was no cool teamwork between characters necessary to solve environmental puzzles or utilization of Sackboy’s new toys in conjunction with his new friends. These are changes to the formula that could, and sometimes do, make LBP feel interesting and exciting again, so why weren’t they used more here?
I mentioned hub levels earlier, and these are another awesome step forward. Each “Book” of the story contains a main level with ‘doors’ to other levels inside of it. You’re required to collect certain items from these levels in order to open doors to new ones. It’s a way to make progression less linear, and it’s aided by The Organisertron; a new quest system. Players can track story goals and side-quests, with handy pointers to guide you through the hubs.
Important to the explorative nature of this new level structure is the new size of levels. Where previous LBP games have allowed three layers of depth, LBP3 extends the limit to sixteen. I expected this to take away from the simplicity the series has established, but I was proven sorely mistaken. Jumping, sliding or swinging between the foreground and background make exploration more encouraged, while resulting in more dynamic levels. This also opens up countless possibilities for non-2D-platforming levels, including a cool top-down 3D platforming stage, and a level that sends you flying through space.
So far I’ve discussed Adventure mode, and this really is just the tip of the iceberg. All of this and more is possible for players to create. Learning the tools of LBP’s Create Mode has always been easy to master the basics in, but gets infinitely complex if you have the dedication to learn. This game introduces Poppit Puzzles, something I’ve thought would be a good idea since the first game. These challenges merge Adventure and Create mode, teaching you the basics of creating and requiring you to use them to reach the end of the stage. Disappointingly, these levels failed to get particularly complicated, teaching you the things you could probably figure out on your own while leaving out the stuff you’d probably need help with. I was super glad to see this included, but it almost seemed unfinished given the strange focus of lessons. Other tutorials are available, but without getting you involved they’re much less fun to work through; a problem I’ve encountered with previous LBP games.
If you really want to get the most from LittleBigPlanet 3, you’ll want to play Community Levels. LBP3 can play all user-generated content made in the first two PS3 games as well as those made here – that’s a lot of content. No, seriously; more than eight million different levels. The community is very clever too. Not only will you find platformer stages, but top-down RPGs, shoot-’em-ups, puzzle games, just about anything. If you’re interested in LBP’s “Play. Create. Share” tagline, LBP3 is the best of the franchise to settle into.
Unfortunately, LittleBigPlanet 3 is an unavoidably buggy game. My game has crashed once every few hours, and I’ve lost all of my Adventure Mode progress due to corruption. In playing co-op, I encountered characters falling through the floor and into nothingness a few times, requiring a level quit. There’s a particularly silly oversight with the introduction of deeper levels too. Levels made in LBP 1 and 2 are essentially broken; letting you walk ‘behind’ the stage in the layers that shouldn’t’ be there. I’m sure this will all be dealt with in future patches, but it’s a bit of a mess at launch.
To add insult to injury, the frustratingly long load times of the series are as present as ever. Usually, load screens last 30 seconds or so, but they can take minutes. In one instance I waited 8 minutes for a level; a pretty long time when the screens interrupt the game constantly. Less crucially, character costumes sometimes change randomly mid-cutscene. It’s not quite enough to ruin the game, but it certainly seems there was more work needed before launch on stability, at the very least.
While I’m talking negatives, I was pretty disappointed to see LBP Vita’s iterations on the formula missing entirely. Of course touch screen controls couldn’t have been implemented identically to the handheld version, but the lack of meaningful touchpad controls for the DualShock 4 was a bit of a bummer from this kind of game. Sure, you can do a few things with the touchpad here and there, but only as an alternative to the preferable control schemes. If they can do it with Tearaway, surely they could figure something out here.
I didn’t think I’d care for LittleBigPlanet 3. I’ve enjoyed the series up until now, but I couldn’t see them evolving the franchise enough to keep it interesting. I was wrong. LBP3 is, at the very least, a fun platforming adventure. If you’re inclined to dive into Create Mode and Community Levels though, it can be much, much more. It is unavoidably buggy, but otherwise well put together. It’s a shame certain playable characters and abilities weren’t more present in Adventure Mode, but with over 8 million community levels I’m sure it won’t be long before there’s plenty of alternatives uploaded.
Disclaimer: This review was based on the PS4 version of the game, and was provided to the writer by the publisher for the purpose of review.