‘LittleBigPlanet’ Vita Review – A Touching Moment With Sackboy

Sackboy has become an unlikely icon in gaming. Introduced in 2008’s “LittleBigPlanet,” our little burlap friend became the face of one of Sony’s most important new franchises as he took players on an inspired journey, and then gave them the tools to create their own worlds. While things could have gone drastically wrong for Sackboy, gamers ate up the opportunity to build their own levels, games, diversions … really whatever they could imagine. Now, four games later, creative minded players can take Sackboy on the road with them again and craft new creations wherever they go in “LittleBigPlanet” for the PlayStation Vita.

The Vita version of “LBP” should feel very similar to the ones that are already on the market, but this time around Sackboy has some new hardware to play with. Franchise creators Media Molecule have relinquished control of the franchise for this release to developers Double Eleven, Tarsier Studios, and Sony XDev Europe, and the result is a game that should give players a new spin on this well-established series. This time around, Sackboy is on a mission to save the fantastical planet of Carnivalia from a mysterious force known as the Puppeteer. An army of evil creatures, referred to as “Hallows,” has invaded the planet, kidnapping its residents and turning them into more Hallows. Sackboy is the only one that can put a stop to it.

The gameplay itself is very much the same from the previous games, except the Vita version does its best to make use of some of the fancy new system’s tech – mainly the touchscreens. While Sackboy is running, jumping, swinging and shooting his way through Carnivalia, certain obstacles will require the player to interact with the touchscreens, and that could mean anything from targeting a rocket on the front, to manipulating a platform from the back. On the front, space management and balance become a little bit of an issue, as players’ hands are likely to block large chunks of the screen to complete certain tasks, but when done correctly, it actually enhances the gameplay. On the back, players need to be weary of navigation and sensitivity since you can’t actually see where your fingers are pressing, and having two hands back there could register some accidental interactions. For better (the front) or worse (the back), these obstacles demonstrate how some of the more creative uses of the Vita’s hardware, and make this iteration of the game actually feel like it is building on the earlier releases, instead of just regurgitating them.

One of the other things that the team of developers have accurately recaptured is the series’ signature physics – whether you like them or not. As players have come to expect, Sackboy floats through the air, swings, and moves like only he can. At this point in the series, players should be accustomed to the franchise’s unique take on gravity, but newcomers may find it a little off-putting and challenging. At the very least, it requires some getting used to if you’ve never experienced it before.

Packed in alongside the story is a host of unlockables. While most of these are the traditional creation toys or decorations, as you complete the different areas of Carnivalia you’re rewarded with “arcade games.” Found in the Arcade section of the planet, this handful of minigames serve as a great diversion from the game itself. While each could be its own, uniquely contained experience, having a variety of different games is great, with their own objectives and achievements is a nice bonus, especially on a portable device.

While there have been some other tweaks to the formula, there is one thing that remains constant in the Vita’s “LBP”; you can still create to you little heart’s content. The community features are all present and accounted for, which means that the game doesn’t end when you’re done with the story. On top of that, the touchscreen interface actually makes level creation easier, allowing designers to “place” their items where they want them to go which is a lot easier than using the analog sticks. Hopefully this should remove some of the intimidation factor around creating levels and open the door to even more “LBP” creators.

It’s undeniable that “LittleBigPlanet” is the quintessential PlayStation 3 game, helping to demonstrate the brand’s “Play. Create. Share.” motto. With the release of ” LittleBigPlanet 2″ Sony proved that they could build on the original and make it feel bigger, even though it was essentially the same game. That same kind of thinking is running in parallel on their handheld devices – “LittleBigPlanet” on the PSP set the stage for the expanded experience that the Vita version now offers. While there are some hiccups in the road (careful of that rear touchscreen) “LBP” fans should be delighted to have another chance to take Sackboy on an all-new collectable filled adventure while exploring all of the same community features that likely initially sold them on the original games.