LittleBigPlanet made a big splash when it launched in 2008, and its influence hasn't weaned in the years since its release. Developer Media Molecule's focus on creating and sharing content went on spawn Sony's PLAY. CREATE. SHARE. series that includes a 2009 LBP release on the PSP, developed in conjunction with Studio Cambridge, and the 2010 release of United Front Games's excellent karter ModNation Racers on the PS3 and PSP. Each release focuses on providing a solid core experience, and then giving players both the robust toolsets to create their own content and a strong delivery platform so that they can share, rate, and promote said content. LittleBigPlanet 2 furthers Media Molecule's all-in creativity cause by introducing even more features, effects, and options, but some lingering control issues remain to keep the series from a wider embrace.
Despite a familiar beginning, things are fairly different this time around for Sackboy and friends. Set after the events in the PS3 original and PSP follow-up, LittleBigPlanet 2 starts out with Sackboy meeting up with Larry Da Vinci, head of the super-secret organization known as The Alliance. The group is embattled against a nasty menace known as The Negativitron, which is sucking up creatures and objects for its own nefarious ends. The single-player portion is much more story driven this time around, with Larry introducing Sackboy to other members of The Alliance as they go about liberating each of their worlds from The Negativitron. In fact, it's so centered on the story that the game can be downright wordy. It also doesn't help that Media Molecule has really beefed up the engine this time around, allowing for numerous game types, such as side-scrolling shooters, Pong, and bumper cars, and new items, including the Grapple Hook, Grabinator gloves, and Creatinator helmet, all of which are explained throughout each world as they are encountered. Most of the time, any increasing impatience is checked by the fact that the story only lasts for a few hours while what's learned will be put into action in the innumerable levels available online; however, it can occasionally break the flow of the action a little too much.
Each of the six worlds is broken down into smaller areas. Similar to the original, areas are filled with orbs that go towards points, with death reducing those points accumulated, as well as the stickers, objects, and customs that go are used in building and adorning levels and characters. The goal is to collect as many items and points as possible, with the items allowing for the creation of more complex levels and stylish characters created and the points so that it's your name at the top left of the screen, where the current point leader's name is displayed for all to see. All of the fire, gas, electricity traps return, with plenty of spikes, slings, and jumping pads dotting the worlds to bring Sackboy—or an enemy—to a colorful, gaseous end. The level design is solid, but the more varied gameplay types might put some purists off for a bit as the game begins to slingshot around between styles about a quarter of the way in. There is still plenty of platforming, but there's also a lot of shooting, sliding, and slinging this time around.
As you go about collecting items, special keys can also be gathered that unlock additional single- and multiplayer challenges. The challenge levels tend to focus on one of the aspects introduced in that world, be it a multiplayer version of Ping-Pong or firing water out of the Creatinator to put out flaming objects before they kill you. The challenge levels unlock additional items as well, and tend to be highly replayable. As with its predecessors, the regular levels also have multiplayer-focused areas, again indicated by a number or Sackboy icon near the area, where players work together to gain additional points and some out-of-the-way items.
Finding someone to play with is a painless process. If you happen to be the only one in your group signed on, no problem, the game indicates if there are other people playing and asks whether or not you want to join them. If you're more of the solo type, then simply select to play alone and tick off the option to make that the default rule for the remainder of the session to be left to your own devices. As some challenge levels and areas require multiple players, there's more than enough awaiting for whenever you're ready to dip your toes into multiplayer.
As great as all of this sounds, and there's more to come, one of the more prominent complaints that I heard about the original has not been addressed, that being that the floaty controls and switching between the foreground and background planes wasn't as spot-on as it should be. While I certainly understood the complaints then and now, I didn't find the controls as significant of a hindrance, despite finding myself frustrated by missed ledges and inadvertent plane jumps. Surprisingly, neither of these issues has been addressed in LittleBigPlanet 2: jumping still feels as if you're in low gravity, and it is just as easy to accidently switch between planes. Even though the toolset has expanded enough for the game to be much more than a standard run-and-jump platformer, its foundation still remains such, so it's odd that the control mechanisms favor floaty sluggishness over tight responsiveness.
If the controls weren't a problem for you, and newcomers shouldn't be put off from trying it because it's far from bad, then you are in for a treat. For those wanting to create, Media Molecule has added a Music Sequencer to add your own effects and soundtracks, a Cut-Scene Maker for movies, as well as new triggers and the ability to link levels together. Non-playable Sackbots can also be programmed and customized, which the creators can manipulate for more involved levels. While some headway has been made into easing players into the creation process, including a lengthy string of focused, cheerful, and insightful tutorials, I'm still terrible at it and prefer to leave the creating up to the pros. Fortunately for me, there are a lot of pros out there. The sharing aspect is just as robust as before, with levels rated, filtered, and able to be favorited for future play. The LBP.me website also offers the ability to check out your stats and browse for levels while away from the PS3, generate QR codes for use with the PlayStation Eye so players can scan and jump right in, and also blogs that display in-game shots. I've noticed that people can be pretty lenient with scoring, largely due to the fact that creating can be a time-consuming process and its natural to go with a 'Eh, I couldn't do better' attitude, but there are still some great, if not amazing, works out there.
I think one of the game's biggest pluses, as well as a huge credit to Media Molecule, is that LittleBigPlanet 2 is backwards compatible with the original. Not only does this maintain community cohesiveness, but it also means that there are dozens of fantastic levels to play through right out of the gate. Unless you've been keeping up with the releases for the past few years, there will be more than enough new content to play through as the gurus get accustomed to all of the second's additions. There is everything from homages to Contra and Zelda to original mini games, such as the simple yet addictive gallery shooter Vietnam: FPS. With Media Molecule wanting players to create not just new levels but new games, and having thus given them the tools to do just that, the future of LittleBigPlanet 2 content is looking very bright.
LittleBigPlanet 2 continues to deliver on and elevate the PLAY. SHARE. CREATE. model, as well as Media Molecule's desire to see gamers turn into creators. For those who went nuts accidently switching planes and missing jumps in the original, the sequel offer more of the same frustration. But for everyone else, and those willing to give the series another try, there awaits a varied and charming story-driven campaign as well as a core design that has been enriched by an expanded toolset that offers innumerable options for those who live to design and tinker and for those who enjoy reveling in the creativity of others.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)