LittleBigPlanet has always had a single glaring problem: Its tools are locked behind a game controller. Whether it was the first game’s cumbersome interface, the refinement from the PSP entry, or the significantly rethought PS Move-enabled rendition in LittleBigPlanet 2, Media Molecule’s games have always been limited in their reach as tools for game creation. For a game about transcending boundaries—between video game players and designers especially—the walls of technology have always disturbingly confined it. Though it isn’t perfect, LittleBigPlanet PS Vita is the closest the series has come to overcoming its problem, thanks in no small part to the PS Vita itself.
Taking over for Media Molecule this time out is Tarsier Studios and Double Eleven. It’s Double Eleven’s very first project since opening in 2009, and the game is a hell of a debut. It handled the nuts and bolts coding of LittleBigPlanet PS Vita, and the studio did a yeoman’s job. Everything in the game works. The physicality of running, jumping and swinging feels particularly nice. The series has a reputation for feeling a little squishy thanks to its physics (read: Everything in the world has mass). Even things like pushing around objects in levels using the Vita’s touch screen feels just right and natural rather than tacked on.
The interface is a significant victory, though. All those menus hiding the stickers, blocks, costumes, and other goodies used to build levels and games in LittleBigPlanet are now easy to access and manipulate via the Vita’s touch screen. Want to make a rolling forest with big and little hills? Don’t worry about the imprecision of analog sticks. Just pinch and spread your fingers on the screen to size the world, spin it, and place it where you choose. Want a picture of your dog as the sun in your forest? Just tap the camera icon in your menu, snap a shot of Bonesy, and place him in the sky. No need to worry about hooking up a PlayStation Eye for such things.
It cannot be overstated how ease of use has transformed LittleBigPlanet PS Vita. There’s little else more boring than judging a game by its “mechanics,” but in the case of LittleBigPlanet those tools are the game. Previous games were versatile as palettes for players, but they have never offered anything so accessible and easy to automatically understand. Now all you need to create a great LittleBigPlanet level is a keen creative mind, not a willingness to penetrate its cumbersome utilities.
The quality of Double Eleven’s technical achievements doesn’t overshadow Tarsier’s artistic direction. LBP PSV’s campaign is a substantial meal that entertains at the same time as demonstrating just what you can build if you so choose. It’s a pretty swell little story too, one that embraces the themes of brave creativity at the heart of LBP. The Sackboy or Sackgirl you craft in your image is on a mission to end The Puppeteer’s reign of terror across the land. He used to be one of the greatest entertainers in the world, but he became disillusioned after getting booed by his audience. Now he’s an embittered overlord of the Hollows, creepy faceless inversions of Sackboy that are pulling the world apart. Creating anything is a tender act that leaves you vulnerable. LBP PSV says that the only real danger is giving up if people don’t like what you’ve made.
Sackboy receives careful guidance from the residents of the lands he visits like the circus ringleader of La Marionetta or Marianne Noisette of the Land of Odd, and each land is beautiful and strange in its own right. The junk store aesthetic of Media Molecule’s originals is still present, but LBP PSV also has a lot of the surreal blood from Tarsier’s unfinished The City of Metronome running through its veins. That sense of style elevates the game above being just a portable LittleBigPlanet 2. When coupled with those smooth interface tools, it becomes almost perfect.
Media Molecule conceived its signature series as a work that shattered barriers, dissolving the wall standing between audience and creator. It would be a full game all on its own that people could swing and jump through together as well as a brimming toolbox with which you could create all new games of your own. The LittleBigPlanet has never been the utopia it could be though. It can’t ever be. Until LittleBigPlanet somehow lets you make a game that looks, sounds, and plays like whatever you can imagine, it won’t be the perfectly populist tools it was sold as. It can only be the best version of itself. Tarsier and Double Eleven’s game is awfully close to what Media Molecule was promising when it debuted the first game back at GDC in 2007. Now all the series needs is some people to buy PS Vitas to play it.
Score: 9 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the PS Vita with a copy provided by Sony)