Sunday, October 12, 2008

Little Big Planet Beta Impressions

First off, kudos to Will for finding and then giving me a Little Big Planet Beta code. I have been playing this game like mad since I got the code and all I can say is... wow.

The beta opens up with a knitted up character named Sackboy appearing out of a chamber. As you move to the right of the screen, you begin to see pictures of the various Little Big Planet developers pop up everywhere. It's cute seeing all of the people who worked on the game as you are running through this very basic jumping platformer level.

The first thing I did was play the Garden level included with the beta. The in-game tutorial within the Garden shows you how to jump, run, grab things and even kill yourself if you get stuck. The controls are all very simple and the menu interface is very easy to navigate. Square opens up a tiny menu where you can customize your Sackboy, put stickers on objects, etc.

There was only a small selection of objects to use for customization when you start; there were a few hats, shirts, and pants to choose from. Throughout the course of the game, you obtain more. I gave my Sackboy a hat with a feather in it, a big mustache and no pants. I dislike pants.

After playing around with the customization tool, my girlfriend woke up from her slumber and decided to play along with me. She grabbed another controller and upon activating the controller, a new Sackboy appeared at the next checkpoint. We immediately learned how to control our facial expressions and our arms, which happens to be one of the highlights of the game.

By holding L2 and R2, the corresponding control sticks then control your arms. You can make your Sackboy do Saturday Night Fever moves if you want but, clearly the most exciting thing was slapping my girlfriend's Sackboy. Actually, she slapped me first, but that's besides the point. The sound of a slap is satisfying and it causes the Sackboy who received the slap to go spiraling into the ground. It's fun; especially when you're waiting for a moving platform or something.

All this and I haven't even talked about the gameplay yet. The Garden levels I mentioned before are pretty simple; by jumping over a series of pits and grabbing onto semi-controllable pendulum objects floating in the sky, you can make your way across the levels.

The graphics look and feel as though you're walking across a scrapbook; different pieces of what seems to be cel-shaded fabric comprise the entire environment of Little Big Planet. The graphics themselves are not cel-shaded, as you can tell by seeing the detail of the stitching in Sackboy but, the same kid-friendly emotions comes through with this game's style.

The Garden levels were simple, but the game really shined when I started playing the user-created levels with my roommate Garrett and my buddy Chris. One of the best levels I can remember was a God of War inspired level where we had to hop over spikes avoid flaming logs and transport a demon skull to a sacrificial chamber. We had to carefully jump and stop on a dime just to make it through all the obstacles.

I then remembered that this level was made by a gamer, not a developer. Every wall, objects and timing of the rolling logs was created by a player. Though it's a cheap to use God of War as a muse, it does take quite creativity to mimic the God of War style and create a challenging level to entertain the player.

Surprisingly, most of the user-created levels were fun to play and it was especially easy to tell which ones were the good levels since you could "heart" the ones you liked and see how many people played on a certain level. I never had to randomly pick and hope that the level was good. In addition, load times were minimal, even though the levels were downloading from the internet.

Not all the levels were platformer based either. I found the famous working "calculator" (shown below) and Garrett and I found a drum machine where you can jump on switches to make the sounds of cymbals, snares, etc. The best one though, was when Garrett and I found a level that just has two rocket-powered cars going full speed on a straightaway, right into a wall. The angle causes you to flip out of the car and into the finish line. At least, that's what happened to Garrett's Sackboy. Mine got crushed between the car and the wall.

A general problem I had with the user-created levels is that during multiplayer, if characters spread too far apart, one of the Sackboys would only have five seconds to get back on camera, or else you die. This is annoying when one of you has made it past a pit and needs to go back just to prevent your partner from dying. I guess on multiplayer you really need to work together to survive, but sometimes, the camera follows the person who is not ahead, making it difficult to figure out what the camera is going to focus on when you do eventually separate.

I did try to make my own levels, but I simply did not have the time to make a long, complete one. The object creator looks like it can really diverse; there's seems to be no limit on what I could create. The nice thing I noticed however is that if you make an object, you can put an item version of that object in your level. This means that if you pick up that item, the game would save that object and you could use that in your own level designs. Some people are already really good at using the editor.

The only problem I had with the level creator is that I did not have complete control over the camera, so it was hard to tell, at points, how wide or thick my objects were. This was only a minor frustration, but I'm sure if I played with the level editor more, I might find a way to work around it.

There's plenty more I could say about this game, but I rather stop here and do a more formal and complete review once the game comes out. After playing the beta however, I am sold on the awesomeness (and potential) of Little Big Planet, and I eagerly wait its release.


Anonymous said...

I'm pretty excited to try it out one day.

I too greatly dislike pants.

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