Sackboy's triumphant return packs the same engrossing brand of innovation and ingenuity that made the pioneering LittleBigPlanet our PlayStation 3 Game of the Year for 2008. An expanded scale and a whole new treasure chest of tools and toys to conceptualise and create with help LittleBigPlanet 2 transcend the hype with ease.
Remember the breathless thrill of discovering a new playground when you were a little kid? It didn't matter how many slides you'd zipped down or merry-go-rounds you'd dizzied yourself on, because the fresh arrangement of old favourites made every moment new again. LittleBigPlanet 2 could have exploited that phenomenon, and delivered another dose of the family-friendly charm and quirky environmental designs that defined the original and walked away a winner. Luckily for us, though, Sackboy has loftier goals in mind.
If you have even the faintest spark of youthful exuberance lurking in your heart, LittleBigPlanet 2 will fan it back into a roaring blaze. The core pursuits of the main adventure are still dirt simple, of course. Collect prize and score bubbles by running and jumping across layered two-dimensional fields filled with obstacles, switches, bounce pads, and grumpy meanies. LittleBigPlanet's sequel is still a side-scrolling platformer at heart, and your stitched superhero sprints and tumbles through a handful of elaborate levels on each of six themed planets on his quest to confront and defeat the nefarious Negativitron.
Sound like standard console fare? Hold on, because it's actually anything but - and not just because you get to play dress-up dollies with the bits and bobs you collect on your travels. Whether you're playing on your own or online with up to three friends (or strangers), you'll find a lot more than simple jumping puzzles in each inventive level.
It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
The hilariously bizarre nonsense that goes on in LittleBigPlanet 2 reads like a journal from a fevered dream: defeat monsters by tossing exploding pastries and globes filled with jam, defend the interior of a madman's brain with a miniaturized ship, stay one step ahead of a giant robotic guard turkey, and tear down towering boss beasts.
Strange scenarios are just the beginning. Rather than just drag the occasional fuzzy block into place, you'll regularly stumble across all sorts of new power-ups and offbeat assistance. Grabinator mitts let you pick up and throw heavy gear like it's made of styrofoam; the Splashcannon fills water balloons, nurtures plants, and puts out fires; and the Creatinator helmet might fire just about anything. You'll also get to swing from the adjustable line of a grappling hook that takes serious practice to master.
There always seems to be some new upgrade waiting for you down the road, and they all combine to make you feel like a much more powerful little fellow than you were in the first game. But this abundance of toys doesn't come close to marking the limits of LittleBigPlanet 2's imagination. It's hard to argue that multiplayer mini-games like Billiards and Pong are remotely memorable, but just wait until you pilot jump-slamming RoboBun furballs in Avalonia, lead adorable Sackbot automatons through pneumatic tubes and malfunctioning machinery in The Factory of a Better Tomorrow, or blast past a side-scrolling shooter stage or two in The Cosmos. Truly challenging puzzles are disappointingly rare, but not once did that fact pry the silly grin from my face.
The mechanics of LittleBigPlanet 2 never get old because they're constantly changing. Playing with friends is still the most enjoyable way to go, especially since there are a bunch of hidden areas you can only reach with the assistance of friends. But even playing on your own, you can expect the seven hour main campaign to disappear in a blur of variety and blissed-out personality.
You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet
What's truly astonishing about LittleBigPlanet 2, however, is that even after you've completed every story mission without dying, collected every last sticker and decoration, and climbed each level's leaderboards as high as you can, you still can't claim to have even scratched the surface.
While the customisation features of most games begin and end with superficial costume swaps, LittleBigPlanet 2 is also a full-fledged game development platform. What's more, because not one of its many gameplay ideas is ever beaten into the ground, every one also serves as an appetizer of sorts, as though designed solely to lure you into joining the cult of creation and crafting your own new experiences.
When you're ready, you'll find over 50 gentle tutorials, where Stephen Fry's dulcet tones instruct you on how to do everything from creating scenery and animating obstacles to manipulating microchips and writing your own music. What could have been hopelessly dry and tedious classroom sessions are imbued with goofy silliness, from detonating a fuzzy bear helper to arranging for the alien abduction of a spotted cow. Each tutorial also rewards completion with even more collectible goodies, which you might then use to spruce up your custom levels before publishing them for the world to download and enjoy.
While all old LittleBigPlanet objects and the majority of user-created levels will function in the sequel, a raft of original tools unlock all sorts of new potential. The new Controlinator is a particularly powerful, yet remarkably accessible new addition: slap its chip down, then use its circuit board to tie the individual buttons and sticks of the PlayStation 3 controller to in-game actions with remarkable ease. This single tool alone throws the doors wide on a wealth of new possibilities.
Play, Create, Share...
In fact, it would probably be easier to list the things you can't do with LittleBigPlanet 2. The level of ingenuity on display in the limited beta alone was already off the charts: action-RPGs, flight simulators, auto racing, tower defence, sketch comedy, moody adventures; you name it, it's already out there in some form. Some intrepid soul even worked out how to make a primitive first-person shooter.
If these are the things a limited subset of part-time artisans produced before the game was even released, one can only imagine the amazing things amateur creators will unleash upon the world in the weeks, months, and years ahead. Talk about value for your money.
Even if you decide you don't have the time and patience to build a lasting masterpiece - and make no mistake, game development in LittleBigPlanet 2 takes an inordinate amount of both - you could spend weeks just playing, rating, and commenting on the efforts of others. Whether you're looking for a solo diversion or online camaraderie, personal expression or community inclusion, if you own a PlayStation 3 there's no good reason not to dive in and explore the many wild worlds of LittleBigPlanet 2.
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