Nobody could accuse of Media Molecule of cynicism. LittleBigPlanet's introduction has the ever-reassuring Stephen Fry refer to Planet Earth as "an orb of dreams", inhabited by creatures boasting "vast imaginations" that are "charged with creative energy". The scriptwriters have obviously never watched Jeremy Kyle or spent an evening down our local Wetherspoons, else they'd be more likely to characterise humanity as being "vastly cretinous" and "charged with GBH".
Still, you can't blame them - such optimism is born of necessity, not choice. The ongoing success of Media Molecule's flagship game relies entirely on the generous industry its players, those who build and share levels with the rest of the community. Without that creative energy, LittleBigPlanet would be a dead planet.
Surveying the servers a few months post-launch, it seems the studio's faith has been well-placed. There are 50 pages stuffed with around 20 user-generated levels each, offering weeks' worth of bonus content to the hungry player. Of course, that's a lot of wheat to sort the chaff from - but we've had a go.
To date, LittleBigPlanet's user-generated content can be divided into four categories. The first encompasses the many levels that parody or mimic existing videogames, films and television. Popular examples include creations based on Metal Gear Solid, Super Mario 3, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Mirror's Edge, Jurassic Park and Takeshi's Castle.
Next there are the levels that use the in-game tools to show off impressive feats of engineering, such as upsiladre's Little Big Computer, an awe-inspiring product of copious free time and dizzying autism, and Physicslike's Automatic Reversi. These fantastic contraptions perform rudimentary tasks (digital calculators and Reversi apps are included on the most basic PCs and mobile phones, after all), but their appeal lies in the fact they rely on in-game ropes and pulleys to function.
Then there are the music player levels - constructions that play popular melodies as the player runs along collecting notes and triggering sounds. Take Radiohead's No Surprises by HappyBivouac and To Zanarkand 1.0 by Kirathian as examples. These aren't levels per se, as there is rarely a problem that needs solving or a challenge to overcome. They are popular, however, and their painstaking execution warrants some applause.
Finally, there are levels are based around neither existing IP nor gimmicks, a purer form of user-generated content that must stand on its own merits of design and execution to win fans. It's this final category we're concerned with today as it's these creations which prove or disprove LittleBigPlanet's cornerstone assumption - that gamers + time + tools = "an abstract plain of beautiful wonderment just waiting to be explored", as Fry's introduction puts it. Here are ten of the best user-created levels, each one bound to win over the most hardened of skeptics.
10. Anti-Color by ZX497
User ZX947 created the black and white, line-rider-esque look for this level by using an exploit he found in the game's renderer. While that sort of art hacking is impressive enough, he's gone on to put the graphical effect to good use as a gameplay mechanism, creating interesting shapes and platforms to provide obstacles and ideas for his race level.
The simplicity of the visuals, which strip away the stitching and homegrown textures that are so associated with the LittleBigPlanet world, somehow has a positive effect. The underlying platform game mechanics are revealed for what they are: smooth, straightforward and pleasingly reliable.
9. UNCLE FRITZ'S FABULOUS FUNHOUSE FRENZY! by thekillermiller
This level was promoted by Media Molecule as a five-star piece of game design only last week. It's got a circus theme, complete with a parade of elephants, fire hoop clowns and, um, pirate ships - all of which makes for compelling playing.
Thekillermiller's inventiveness is as much the attraction here as the theme; each set-piece demonstrates considerable flair and ingenuity. While some of the levels in this list are best enjoyed solo, UNCLE FRITZ'S FABULOUS FUNHOUSE FRENZY!, is just as much fun when played with others.
8. Long Jump by steve big guns
Most level makers opt for orthodox and linear A-to-B journeys, but a few attempt to create the kind of single location mini-games occasionally encountered in the main story mode. steve big guns' Long Jump level is a simple idea but some ingenious execution elevates it above many of its rivals.
Sackboy starts the level next to a fast-turning cog. Clinging on to the cog will spin him around like a sock in a washing machine. The challenge is to let go of the cog at just the right moment in order to fling yourself forward (like the hammer throw in the Olympics).
14 chutes are laid out in front of the cog, each one worth a different number of points, increasing in value the further the distance from the cog. You have three attempts to jump as far as possible before collecting your reward. Simple but effective.
7. EarthMusic&rust by EarthMusic
This dark, spotlight-filled factory is so detailed and consistently designed that you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a Media Molecule creation. The challenge is to escape the foreboding environment by moving objects, flicking switches and turning on lights.
EarthMusic&rust is one of the toughest levels on this list and it will take both time and concentration to solve. However, the payoff and satisfaction for doing so makes it well worth the effort.
6. Illumina Garden 2 by ShadowFlareX
This sequel to one of the game's most popular user-created stages is, like its forerunner, almost completely veiled in darkness. Your path through the blackness is lit by neon lights, which trail you as you progress.
At one point your character is completely silhouetted against a blue, purple then green background, giving the game a striking Patapon-feel. Later still a blue equaliser matches the pulsing soundtrack, a mesmerizing light show.
In terms of raw puzzles this might not be the most complex of creations, but it's certainly one of the most arresting.
5. The Azure Palace by gevurah22
Employing a similar colour scheme and aesthetic to Lara Croft's latest adventure, The Azure Palace is a sprawling underwater temple, designed with thoughtful precision. Seaweed flaps in the currents while barnacles lend the environment an ancient feel. The jetpacks littered about create the illusion of swimming through an underwater ruin.
For much of the level you'll be carrying a glowing key around with you, used for unlocking doors and progressing from area to area. The level's high point, a chase scene where you must escape a furious sea monster, key in tow, is an impressive set piece. The Azure Palace demonstrates how raw ambition can be successfully realised with talent and diligence.
4. Gnome Liberation Front by CandyJunky
While the level design is all CandyJunky's own work, the concept mirrors that of the infamous Half-Life 2: Episode 2 achievement, in which players were asked to carry a garden gnome with them throughout the entirety of the game.
Gnome Liberation Front has a more laid back, Nintendo-style approach to level design than Valve's work, with an emphasis on humour and gentle enjoyment over infuriating challenge. The use of colour in the designing stage is wonderful, the clear blue skies and deep green hills as inviting and joyful as anything Media Molecule came up with for the main game.
3. Libidius.jp by RRR30000
Probably the most famous user-created level comes from Japanese player RRR30000. It's the first truly successful attempt at creating a side-scrolling shoot 'em up.
Libidius.jp, with its delightful pixel art ship and inspired firing mechanism, proves that LittleBigPlanet's tight rule-set does allow for some interesting cross-genre interpretation. The influence of Konami's Gradius is obvious but the restrictions of the engine and tools available give the level its own unique feel.
Once you've played it through to completion (which will take a little time thanks to the one-hit kills), it's well worth taking a look at this 'making of' video for an enlightening glimpse behind the creative curtain.
2. World of Color by geosautus
World of Color is a few months old but it remains one of the most professionally designed levels available. The striking, clean colour scheme (the level is set in a snowy landscape that's contrasted by the CMYK colours used for the objects) ingeniously signposts what you must do next, communicating tasks in clear and understandable terms.
The level provides replay value by offering points of interest and reward off the main path through its obstacles, traits that have helped establish geosautus as one of the community's brightest and best designers. See another sterling example of his work here.
1. Huge Pinball Machine JPN by KB-Fran7
This Wild West-themed giant pinball machine is an extraordinary feat of both conception and execution. The in-game instructions are all in Japanese but it's not difficult to get a handle on what's required of you. Manoeuvre your Sackboy into the chute and hit the R1 button to fire him up and up and up a ball chute. Then he'll explode out into a giant pinball machine and a playground of levers, bouncy balls and tunnels.
You only have minimal control over your character once he's bounced to and fro, but the eye-popping joy of being flung around the environment at high speeds is enough. Like the best pinball machines this one's stuffed with secret areas and bonus points, and as such enjoys the best replay value of all of the levels listed here.