Forbidden LittleBigPlanet: A Review

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I’m almost done with Dead Space, a game that continues to present me with visions of extreme and total wrongness. But I’m taking a break to actually fire up my PS3, which I don’t do too often, and mess around with LittleBigPlanet, a trailer for which is here:

LittleBigPlanet is basically what would happen if Michel Gondry were ever allowed to design a Mario game. And it’s astoundingly beautiful. I just can’t tell if I’m bored to tears by it or not.

In case you haven’t been following the colossal hype around LittleBigPlanet, you play a little dolly named SackBoy who runs through a kind of side-scrolling toyland, jumping over things and collecting bubbles and such. Part of the fun of it is that all the cartoonish stuff you run into is rendered in absolute photorealistic detail. Like if a dude is made of felt, as many dudes are in LittleBigPlanet, you will see the little woolly textures and grains of the felt. And the physics is totally hardcore: everything moves and swings and bounces with total fidelity.

Along the way you are rewarded with little stickers and decorations and clothes for your SackBoy, which would be quite awesome if I were 12 years old and a girl. All of this happens to the soothing sounds of light jazz. The quirky charm here is weapons-grade. (It reminds me a lot of The Neverhood, if you remember that, which you probably don’t.)

That’s one half of the game. The other half is the level creation tool, which I’m told is robust and exciting on a level never before seen in the industry. It inspires in me the special shame I feel every time I’m presented with an opportunity to generate some user-generated content, since I almost never do. I feel like a parasite, a tick on the hairy calf of the whole Web 2.0 economy, who will probably end up giving it Lyme Disease. I’m sorry.

You can see why Sony is so excited about this game. It’s very Nintendo-like in spirit, and it’ll pick up followers beyond the usual hardcore ghetto. It’ll also get people to put their PS3’s online, since much of the value of the game lies in the opportunity to download user-generated levels. It’s by far the most compelling PS3 exclusive Sony has.

And it is mighty compelling. I kind of can’t stop playing LittleBigPlanet, but I also can’t really say why. It’s not adrenalizing, which is mostly what I want out of video games, and there’s no story to speak of. But the level design just keeps getting more and more intricate — the physics model is so precise that the designers are able to build all these Rube Goldberg-type devices, through which SackBoy picks his merry way. I can’t stop side-scrolling along to see what’s coming next.

And bonus, none of these things ever happen to me in LittleBigPlanet:

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