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LittleBigPlanet 2

Sack to the future.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

As the name always suggested, LittleBigPlanet was pretty comfortable with its own contradictions. It used complex technology to render a world of needle and thread, tweed and cardboard. It had huge ambitions, but tried its hardest to keep things simple. Most tellingly of all, it was one of the friendliest games ever constructed, and yet it was capable of making some of its players feel very, very stupid.

Even its success has been complicated. It's the unveiling of LittleBigPlanet 2, and Sony is using PowerPoint, that other much loved user-generated content device, to fill us in on the short history of its quirkiest franchise. Plenty of awards get name-checked, plenty of world-beating statistics zip past in cheery flurries of greens and pinks. Among the figures, two really stand out, however: LittleBigPlanet's users have uploaded 2.3 million levels since late 2008, and the game has gone on to sell over three million copies in that same period.

Both of those facts are things Media Molecule can be pretty proud about, but when you put them together there's something troubling to ponder, too. Even if you spread those 2.3 million levels as evenly as possible amongst the three million players, they prove that there are an awful lot of people who bought LittleBigPlanet and didn't bother with the last two entries on its "Play, Create, Share" manifesto.

That's something the developer has noticed, by the looks of it, and it's done its best to fix things this time around. Before you've even opened your new Popit menu or decked your latest Sackboy out in a troublingly fulsome moustache, Media Molecule wants you to know that simply navigating content is going to be easier in the sequel.

Taking a cue - and a queue, actually - from social networks, every player will now have their own activity stream, a Twitter-esque timeline that is constantly being updated with exactly what they, their PSN friends, and any other LBP player whose work they've hearted, have been doing in the game. That should make it much easier to find the content everyone else is talking about, and even the terminally unpopular will get a look in, as the developers themselves will be updating your streams with the best stuff they've found.

Media Molecule couldn't simply reprogram Sackboy's floaty jump, because the developer wants all levels created in the original game to still work when they're brought across. You will have the option to "fix" it for yourself, however, via the Popit menu.

Playlists are also part of the new design, allowing you to surf through levels via online clips (we're shown something that looks like it might be a Firefox plug-in, which lets you to send a level featured in a YouTube video straight to your queue), various undisclosed "mobile apps", and the improved LBP website.

The site's had quite a scrub-up, as it happens, with the addition of LBP.ME, which gives each player their own web-page detailing their activities. It will also allow everybody to search the game's database for levels they might want to play later on. You'll even be able to add levels to your playlist using QR codes, which is what it turns out those weird little pixelated Rorschach Tests that seem to live exclusively on the side of Pepsi cans are called.

But what about the game beyond the improved sharing tools? Well, it appears to be a mixture of the familiar and the daring. Squint at LittleBigPlanet 2 and it looks a lot like the first game. There are new background themes, but the same patchwork art style; there are improved lighting and textures, but the same delight in the handmade and jerry-rigged; and the interface still revolves around your little cardboard spaceship from which you can access the same thickly-knitted globe and scuffed baseball of a moon.

Any levels you might have made in the original will be available and ready to go the minute you put the new disk in, and, although they'll be sharper and shinier, LittleBigPlanet still looks like a game that your nan might have made for you over a few weekends.

But as anyone who's titted about with a Wobble Bolt too many will tell you, even the slightest tweaks in a game like this can have huge repercussions. At the most basic level, take the new in-game items. Just as Metal Gear Solid's Paintinator drastically changed the scope of the kind of things you could make in the first instalment, gadgets like the grapple hook radically alter the feel of any level you drop them into in the sequel.