With three core games and as many spin-offs, the LittleBigPlanet series is carving quite a niche as Sony’s cutesy platform flagship. Yet whilst Sackboy may not have the cultural recognition of Mario or Sonic, the cloth-eared protagonist can certainly take solace from the high-production and quality of games he has fronted so far. LittleBigPlanet 3 does little to buck this trend, ushering in a wealth of new characters and abilities whilst maintaining the series’ overarching ethos; Play, Create, Share.
Stephen Fry returns as the narrator and is joined by his old comrade, Hugh Laurie, playing the game’s well-meaning villain, Newton. As single-player campaigns go, LBP3’s is slight to say the least, mainlining in just around five hours. Side missions may extend this by the same amount again but in effect this is an all-singing, all-dancing tutorial masquerading as a campaign. Yet it’s no bad thing either, with each new character’s ability doled out, used and then effectively disposed of once you’ve got the run of it. Developers who grind out ideas half as good as LBP’s new character Toggle could certainly take note.
Along with Oddsock and Swoop, Toggle makes up the trio of new controllable characters, elevating the series’ platforming nous a good deal. There is perhaps a lack of levels that utilise more than one character, the game preferring to give each its own truncated path, but it’s a potent stab at addressing past criticisms of the series' core gameplay. Sackboy himself is able to learn a few new tricks too, from boost boots to teleporters, ensuring that however brief, LBP3’s core campaign is the best yet.
Regular players will know however that the real story begins when the final credits have rolled. Developers Sumo Digital, taking the baton from creators Media Molecule, have not approached the original game’s ground-breaking level editor with too much awe. In fact, this is a deeper yet streamlined toolset with untold capabilities for would-be game designers. Customisable creation has also been integrated into the main game, though approaching it remains your choice, with Sumo clearly hoping to entice those put off by previous instalments.
It’s worth it as ever, and though Sumo have increased the playing field from three planes to sixteen, the handholding that eases you into the fold is as meticulous as you’d expect. Experienced designers will no doubt be further delighted that LBP3 incorporates all player-made worlds from the previous two games meaning there are literally millions of levels to jump into from day one. It may be an issue of quantity over quality of course, but keep in mind the keen player of the first game whose work landed him a design job on the sequel.
Despite the silky smooth appearance, there are some loose threads along LBP3’s cloth. Laborious loading times for a game of its nature become grating and more than a few times you’ll be hit with a second load screen after a brief few seconds of story. There’s also a bit of clipping and pop-up, whilst cutscenes, seemingly pre-rendered, have a nasty habit of blanking out on fairly regular occasions. However, none of this is game-breaking and we’d wager that, as a review build, a woolly patch or two is being sewn on as we write.
As with previous instalments, LBP3 can be seen as a game of two halves; the standard platform fare and the online community building. The former is certainly the series’ best yet although if that’s all you come for you’ll probably feel short-changed in gaming time. The latter is as forward-thinking and inventive as ever and fans will relish the new features. LittleBigPlanet 3 isn’t a major leap forward, but considering the change of developer and the progress made to a game already adored by many, it seems the series is as durable as Sackboy himself.