Version tested: PSP
"Play, create, share." That's the official motto - or tagline, depending how cynical you are - of LittleBigPlanet. The idea being you play through a series of platforming levels, create your own (with the option to throw in items collected during the platforming bit), and share them online.
That's the idea, but it doesn't sum up everyone's experience of LittleBigPlanet on PS3. For some of us it was more like, "Play, create, realise game design is quite hard actually, give up." For others, "Play, complain about the controls being too floaty, go back to Resistance." LBP may have earned an impressive set of review scores thanks to the charming central character, uniquely realised artistic vision, impressive level of technical achievement and huge scope for creativity, but some people just want to shoot a monster in the face.
If you fall into that category, the PSP version of LittleBigPlanet won't pull you out. Development duties may have fallen to another studio, SCEE Cambridge, but it's clear the team there has worked hard to stay true to Media Molecule's vision. The result is a game which is just as pretty, inventive and enjoyable as the original, and slightly less floaty. Which is of course good news for those of us who were hooked by LBP first time around.
This is no straight port - LittleBigPlanet PSP has 30 new levels to explore spread across seven different locations. New themes include the Australian outback, the mystical Orient and the non-wartorny bits of the Middle East. Impressively little has been lost in terms of visual quality and fidelity. Environments are packed with detail and painted with a huge palette of colours and textures. As always there are tons of different objects to jump off, ride on, swing from and so on.
Every area is packed with collectables such as objects to place in your own levels and stickers to stamp wherever you please. There are plenty of new items to pick up, but some old favourites have returned (so you can still put on those red polka dot pants, pop on pair of bunny ears and fly about with a jetpack).
And of course, Sackboy (or girl, if you prefer) is back. But now he's teeny-tiny - in fact at first it feels like you're controlling an excitable, well-dressed ant. It doesn't take long to adjust to this, however, and it helps that the controls feel ever so slightly tighter than those in the PS3 game. Sackboy still has the spring in his step which makes his movements a little floaty, but it's just a touch easier to time jumps and direct landings with precision. Plus there are now only two planes of depth to deal with rather than three, which means the auto-correct function is less likely to mess you about.
That's not to say there aren't still moments of frustration. Once you've sailed through the opening levels the difficulty curve ramps up significantly, and there are some set-pieces which will challenge the hardcoriest of hardcore platform fans. Such as the section where you must ascend all the way to the top of a series of spinning cylinders, with much potential for mistiming jumps and having to start all over again from the bottom. Here the controls are exposed as still being just a little too imprecise and inconsistent. It takes a lot of trial and error to work out precisely how far Sackboy can jump and how the flinging physics of the cylinders work.
But then all good platform games have sections which involve multiple attempts and much teeth-grinding before you can complete them. LittleBigPlanet PSP offers enough rewards and surprises along the way to keep you playing even when the going gets tough. It also has plenty of checkpoints, and unlike in the PS3 version there's no limit to the number of times you can respawn at each one. When you die, you lose some points, but even if you get down to zero you're not forced to start the whole level from scratch - which makes the more frustrating sections easier to bear.
In short, the "Play" aspect of LBP PSP is just as good as it is in the PS3 version. In fact it's better in some regards thanks to the tweaked controls, reduction in the number of planes and more lenient checkpoint system. Most importantly, the environments you get to play through are just as beautiful, the puzzles just as ingenious and the difficulty level just as challenging.
So what about the "Create" bit? Well, there's a fully-fledged level editor in the PSP game. You can create a design from scratch or use templates based on the levels you've completed in story mode. The range of materials and items available to play with is huge (wood, metal, cardboard, fabric, flowers, cannons, rickshaws, koalas, lemons... To name but a few). You have total freedom to let your imagination run wild and create whatever you feel like.
The problem is, do you have the skills? And are you willing to put in the time? Creating a level which looks half-decent, let alone one which is fun to play, takes serious commitment. With such a huge number of variables to consider it can feel like hard work. However, the "Create" aspect has also been slightly improved for the PSP. It's now much easier to undo errors and the shortcut system is better. These changes aren't enough to get the truly impatient or unimaginative producing instant masterpieces, but they should enhance the experience for creative types willing to put in the time and effort.
And there are plenty of said types about, it would seem. By August last year more than more than one million levels had been created for the PS3 version of LBP. That doesn't include all the ones which had to be deleted due to copyright infringement or dancing cocks, and that does include a lot of old toss, but as wise reader SeesThroughAll once pointed out - even if 99 per cent of those levels are rubbish, you're still left with 10,000 decent ones.
There's just as much potential to "Share" levels in LittleBigPlanet PSP, happily. You can swap creations with nearby PSP owners on an ad hoc basis, or go online and choose from all the ones users have uploaded. Downloading content is a straightforward and speedy process. The Community Moon is simple to navigate around, and the ratings and heart systems make it easier to gauge what's worth playing.
So from platforming to level creation to sharing content, LittleBigPlanet PSP has just as much to offer as its PS3 counterpart - with one notable omission. There's no multiplayer mode in the PSP game. This is a shame as it was a highlight of the previous title, but according to producer Mark Green, it just wasn't possible to include multiplayer in the PSP game.
"It's a trade-off," he told us earlier this year. "The system is physically capable of doing multiplayer, but perhaps not with the full physics system. On the technical side of things you lose a third of the processing power or a third of the system memory just to do multiplayer at all. With those limitations we couldn't achieve it."
Cynics might say that sounds like an excuse for cutting corners, but cynics ought to play LittleBigPlanet PSP first. Then they might see that this is a game which has been crafted with love, care and meticulous attention to detail. Yes, a multiplayer mode would have been welcome - but multiplayer was not the feature that made LBP a triple-A game.
The point about LittleBigPlanet PS3 was that each element stood up on its own. You could enjoy it as a classic, charming platform game without ever going near the level editor. Or you could focus on LBP as a giant toybox, full of tools and fun stuff for realising your own artistic visions. Either way, you also had access to an endlessly updated stream of free downloadable content, created by some of the greatest amateur game designers in the world.
All of the above applies to the PSP game too, plus there have been some neat improvements. The tweaking has been done with a careful enough hand to ensure everything still looks, feels and plays just as it should. SCEE Cambridge has done Media Molecule proud and fans of the original game won't be disappointed. PSP owners who missed out first time around should be sure to give it a go, as LittleBigPlanet is undoubtedly one of the standout titles for Sony's handheld.
9 / 10