It has been a little over six months since the PS Vita launched. In that time, owners of the system have looked for *the reason* to own the system, only to find a series of games that always seemed to justify a “yeah, but.” Rayman: Origins was a very good game, but a port of an existing console game. Gravity Rush was gorgeous and sounded great, but had serious control issues. Uncharted: Golden Abyss was also beautiful but felt overly subservient to the Vita’s touch and accelerometer controls.
It’s here now, though. No “yeah, buts” about it, LittleBigPlanet is the game that Vita owners have been waiting for. It’s the killer AAA title that justifies the system’s reason for being, and will hopefully inject new life into the Vita and the LBP franchise.
LBP for Vita is the closest the system has come thus far to a true console handheld console experience. It looks, sounds, and plays exactly how an LBP game should. The visuals retain the series’ now-trademark “hand-crafted” feel. It’s all fantasy, sure, but the world feels like it should be exactly as it is in the game, as the levels are built in a logical way. For example, there might be two hanging handholds that swing together and apart. Once the player gets past the obstacle and climbs above it, he or she finds that the handholds were attached to a platform which is now the floor on the next level, and the pink goo holding the platform together is the reason for the handholds swinging to and fro. There’s a sense of place that jumps off of the screen while playing LittleBigPlanet that just isn’t there for most platformers. The 6 themed “worlds” are excellent across the board, as well. Each features its own unique style, from the demolition-derby esque “Coaster Valley” to the 80s-TV-styled “Jackpot City.” There’s always something new to see in each level of the Story Mode.
It also feels like there’s always something new to do, as well. There is an absurd amount of variety in LittleBigPlanet Vita. Each level seemingly introduces some new mechanic or gadget, which is fully-fleshed out even in cases where the new mechanic is a one-off (like the awesome Triangle Car). Everything is interesting, and the game doesn’t linger on any one situation. The player is constantly whisked from unique experience to unique experience and the game winds up feeling like a visit to a theme park. There’s a price to be paid for all this variety, however, in that LittleBigPlanet’s Story Mode is short. I completed each of the 6 worlds in times ranging from 30 minutes to an hour, making the full runtime about 4-6 hours for the Story content. The game doesn’t waste the player’s time, though, and the constant influx of new mechanics along with the solid platforming is appreciated.
The Vita’s features are also put to good use in the game. Touching and dragging on the screen can flip switches and move platforms, while the back touch is used to push platforms “out” into the foreground. This makes for some devious puzzle design as players must switch from touch to the button controls in fluid motions during some portions of the game. Most of the bonus levels utilize the portrait view of the Vita, and they range from “whack-a-mole” to a play on “Bubble Bobble.” Unlike some past games in the Vita’s catalog, nothing here feels tacked-on and extraneous, and all of the touch implementation is fun and responsive.
The sound design in LittleBigPlanet has always been exemplary, and the Vita version continues that tradition. The music is whimsical and interesting but never becomes distracting, and the voice acting is good from beginning to end. While the usage of licensed music feels less overt in the Vita iteration of the game (to my dismay), everything here exudes quality.
The game being an exact replica of a LittleBigPlanet console game has some downsides, though. If you had issues with the controls or physics in LBP in the past, those issues persist here. The jumping is typically floaty, and the physics-based puzzles can become somewhat wonky. Additionally, having multiple planes of interaction in a 2D platformer is still confusing sometimes. There aren’t enough distinct visual clues to let a player know that a platform is behind a pink ray of death, and that it’s safe to jump there. This makes some of the platforming more difficult than it needs to be (even though the game is generally not difficult at all).
The final piece of the LBP puzzle is, as usual, the creation and sharing of levels. Even though the guided experience is only 4-6 hours, there is already a wealth of player-created content available, and as long as there are people having fun making levels in LittleBigPlanet, there should be plenty to experience going forward. It might not all be as great as the Story content, but there should be enough serviceable material. The creation tools are aided by the Vita’s touchscreen but the actual process of creating levels is probably above the average consumer’s head. If you have an affinity for learning about level design and programming, LBP will keep you in its grasp for a long time, but the process was too cumbersome for me.
LittleBigPlanet for Vita is the killer app that fans of the system have been waiting for, and it justifies Sony’s insistence on having console-quality experiences be possible on a handheld. It looks, sounds, and plays exactly like its PS3 brethren and delights and amuses with a staggering amount of variety within its levels. However, the variety comes at the cost of length, and the issues from console versions of LBP persist here. Developers Tarsier Studios, Double Eleven Studios have created what might be the best LBP game. That’s no small feat. Let’s hope this game is the signal to other developers that console-quality experiences can be done on the Vita, and owners of the system can have these types of titles become the norm.
A copy of Little Big Planet Vita was provided by Sony for the purposes of this review