User created content is probably the driving force behind most of the popular websites people visit today; whether it comes in the form of home videos of people getting hit in the crotch on Youtube or attention whoring, self-pity posts on Facebook, or the socially acceptable stalking of Twitter, the most popular websites right now all revolve around one key concept: people want an outlet to express themselves, even if their manner of expression is best left… well, unexpressed.
This concept isn’t entirely foreign to games either. Fan created levels and modifications have been popular on the PC ever since the days of Doom, and have grown in popularity to the point where mods, such as Counter-Strike and Defense of the Ancients, are arguably more popular than the games they were spawned from.
But while the mod community has flourished on the PC, consoles have more or less remained the last bastion of purely professional created and funded content. Of course, this has changed in recent years with the advent of indie games appearing on services like XBLA, PSN, and WiiWare, but for the most part the 3 major consoles have, by nature of their secure platforms and proprietary hardware, been devoid of user created content.
Sony tried to change this in 2008 with the release of the original LittleBigPlanet, which was arguably the first console game in which user created content wasn’t relegated to some extremely limited customization options or a half-assed level editor, but was instead the main focus of the game– While the game was a competent, well-made platformer in it’s own right, its biggest selling point was in it’s level creation tools, which gave users an unprecedented amount of freedom in which to create their own levels and mods. The original LittleBigPlanet was an excellent game that fostered a healthy, thriving community of creative people who managed to create some genuinely great levels on par with anything produced professionally.
Now Sony has sought to build upon that success with LittleBigPlanet 2, which not only offers a new campaign to play through, but an even more powerful set of creation tools that allow users to build not just new platforming levels, but entirely brand new games, ranging in genres as diverse as shooters and RPG’s. But while Sony and the developers at Media Molecule have managed to build upon the strengths of the original game, they’ve seemingly ignored all the criticisms levied against the original as well, as all of the flaws of LittleBigPlanet 1 have been carried over into its sequel.
Most noticeably are the game’s controls, which have the same weird quirks that the original game had. The physics engine that powers the game allows for some clever puzzles, yes, but it also leaves the core mechanic of jumping with a feeling of floatiness and unpredictability that somehow just inexplicably feels off. In addition to that, due again to quirks within the game’s physics, characters still have a habit of getting snagged on objects they should be able to easily clear, leading you to many frustrating deaths as a result of your character suddenly not jumping as high as he normally does, or getting blocked by some random object he should’ve easily jumped over. It’s not enough to ruin the game, but in the end, it just somehow feels wrong, and I never felt the same polish and level of control that I’ve enjoyed in other dedicated platformers.
The game also retains the two-plane based levels of the original, where levels are divided into 2 areas: foreground and background, and require the player to switch between the two by tapping up or down on the analog stick. As with the first game, this leads to some frustrating moments where it’s difficult to discern whether an enemy or obstacle is in the front plane or the back one, which invariably leads to a few deaths where the players weren’t at fault.
But despite these issues that would admittedly kill a lesser game, LittleBigPlanet 2 manages to remain an entirely entertaining experience, thanks in part to it’s wonderfully clever single player campaign. While short, the single player campaign in LBP2 is filled with all sorts of clever, memorable moments, ranging from several surprisingly fun arcade style SHMUP segments to a very cool level involving a gravity reversing gimmick lifted straight from NES classic Metal Storm. The single player campaign does a great job of showing off what the more powerful LBP2 engine is capable of, and while it sticks to it’s platformer roots most of the time, it does provide enough variety and surprises to motivate you to keep on playing until the very end.
Of course, the end of the single player campaign will probably just be the beginning of your LBP2 experience, as the main attraction of the game is, of course, the level creator and the user created content that comes as a result of it. Even now, just weeks after the game’s release, there’s tons of new levels available online, and while (as with anything else,) most of the user created content isn’t particularly memorable, the developers of the game do a good job of promoting and directing you towards the best and the newest user created levels, so finding new, competently made levels is always just a few clicks away.
The toolset provided within LBP2 is even more fully-featured than its predecessor, but that comes at a price: Just as with LBP1, there’s definitely a steep learning curve when using these tools, and creating a well-made level will require you to spend hours watching tutorial videos as well as learning the ins-and-outs of the level creator yourself, so don’t expect to just jump into the game and start churning out masterpieces within your first day. Creating attractive scenery within the game is almost as much of a time sink as using actual 3D rendering software, but provided you have the talent and patience to stick with it, LittleBigPlanet 2’s incredibly versatile software genuinely gives you all the tools you need to create whatever kind of game you want.
Out of the box, LittleBigPlanet 2 isn’t a perfect game. The single player campaign is fun and is filled with memorable moments, but the controls still feel… off, by just enough of a margin that it blemishes an otherwise great experience. Likewise, the level editor is powerful enough to let you create whatever you want… provided you don’t mind spending dozens upon dozens of hours trying to figure out how to do it. Still, despite those niggles, LBP2 is a wholly enjoyable and worthwhile experience, especially if you’re a creative type looking to express yourself or if you simply want to see what other creative people are capable of.
Final Score: 8/10