LittleBigWasteOfTime?

The text below was written on 24 September 2008, following the conclusion of the downloadable Public Beta Trial of the PlayStation 3 exclusive title "LittleBigPlanet"

The full commercial release of the title on Blu-ray disc was released in late October & early November to all territories, but I neglected to publish the text anywhere other than the semi-official (& now defunct) PS3 Blog, ThreeSpeech.com.

Now, almost a year later, the "Game of the Year Edition" of "LittleBigPlanet" has already been released in North America & a version for the PlayStation Portable is due to be released in Europe on 20 November 2009.

Additionally, a playable demonstration version of the (original) PS3 title was made available on the PlayStation Network on 10 September 2009.

Perhaps if you are in two minds as to whether "LittleBigPlanet" is going to be a game you will enjoy, after reading the text below perhaps you would like to visit CoolShop.com, or SimplyGames.co.uk, where "LittleBigPlanet" [PS3] is available to purchase for a ridiculously low price of £12.98, or £14.79, respectively. If you favour more mainstream e-tailers, Amazon (UK) lists the title at £14.99.

The PSP title is currently available for pre-order from TheHut.com for £17.79, or from many other online outlets for less than £18.00.

LittleBigSurprise

I am now officially "with the programme" regarding "LittleBigPlanet", and the little Sackboy & Sackgirl population that inhabit it.

I previously avoided the constant references found scattering across my typical online reading sources. I tried to not be caught in the hysteria, ignoring those who wanted to sell a kidney or two to play the title before anybody else. I even tried putting my fingers in my ears & saying "la-la-la" whenever anybody mentioned just the first few syllables "LittleBig... gawd, not that again...", but to no avail.

However, the twenty-fourth day of September will forever be a notable day in my gaming history. No, it was not the day in 2001 when "Ico" was first released to the world (well, North America), nor the anniversary of when a "Metal Gear Solid" conversion for the Microsoft Windows platform could be played. It was the day that an e-mail arrived that offered an "exclusive online trial" to a 'nearly finished' version of the game furthermore requesting my help with "tuning the servers". It would have been rude not to at least download and help out with the "running in real world conditions" as suggested, especially considering that I seemed to have been singled-out amongst the regular patronage to my usual InterWeb forums as nobody else had reported a similar incoming message. However, I was busy that afternoon with arranging my toothpick collection into circumference order, or pairing odd socks from the last ten years, or whatever else I was doing, so I opted to download the 906Mb file from the PlayStation Network mid-afternoon, but installing & viewing would have to wait.

LittleBigGameplay

Five hours passed. Nothing was on the TV (as usual), my Internet Service Provider's promise of a steady throughput of gigawotsits to rival the speed of a lame carrier pigeon had failed again, and my youngest (and, apparently, most bored) offspring was hassling me to play something on my PS3.

OK, I thought... I may as well let the young loin-fruit play the stupid game before I needed to remove it to make room for the next day's PlayStation Store updates and "Davis" upgrade to "Burnout Paradise". I'd been waiting for the "Bikes & Night" pack for a while now, and if I didn't have enough room on my (what originally seemed to be an) oh-so huge 60Gb European release day PS3 console to install it then "LittleBi-la-la-la" would be the item to be deleted, no question. At all. Ever. It would be rubbish anyway. User-defined content to be encouraged? That's just the sign of a lazy development team.

So, after being unconvinced by all the marketing, hype, rumour & speculation for months, all it took was two & a half hours of tag-team offline multi-playing with my 6 year old ("Awww... Sackboy... he's so cute") to understand what the heck everybody else had been telling me all along. OK, to be fair, all it took was two & a half minutes, but you wouldn't believe me if I said that, so we'll stick with the longer than average, but shorter than obsessive trial period.

I tried to keep the game-play to myself for the first twenty minutes of the enthralling introduction/credits/tutorial side-scrolling visual wonderment, but gave in to the seemingly constant interventions by my youngest child's open-mouthed delight, "Did I mention I hadn't had a go yet? That's because I haven't!... When is it my turn?... Come on already, give me the controller" etc.

A review of this title based on such a limited time could never do it justice. We only touched the surface of the ‘Planet, and what it will be capable of.

Any review, however, should include just three words... "Just play it".

It IS *that* good.

But those who know me, or have come to ignore me, should realise I do have something further to add.

LittleBigInfluences

Do you remember the feeling you had when you loaded up the first "Crash Bandicoot" title on the original PlayStation when the cheeky marsupial turned to you & raised his eyebrow?

Do you recall the many hours (and coins) spent on "Donkey Kong" as the Jumpman (Mario Mario) Carpenter character seeing how 'High can you go' towards the next 25 metre level only to be thwarted by a barrel that was faster than your little (plumber-like, but not yet) legs could carry you? (It was probably a wise idea to dress in drainpipe trousers that day. Trousers befitting of a master of wood probably meant you 'wooden' go faster when I needed you to).

And think back to the times spent with the same gaming premise but the differing approaches of "Hunchback", "Manic Miner", "Frak!", "Prince of Persia", "Chuckie Egg", "Commander Keen", "Super Mario Bros.", "Sonic The Hedgehog", & "Tomb Raider"?

Well, throw all these happy hours, nay, years of gaming into a bag labelled 'Media Molecule', shake it up, and stick your hand in.

Can you guess what you will find?... Yes, that's right, "CrashKongbackManicPersiaEggCosmicMarioHedgehogRaider"... a very large score at Scrabble, or the PS3's finest offering to date, and more succinctly packaged with a rather more convenient (and memorable) name of "LittleBigPlanet".

It also has elements of the "The Incredible Machine", mixed with the Milton Bradley "Mouse Trap" board game, and glued together with a "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" style voice-over (unsurprisingly given that "The voice of the book", Stephen Fry, is here to narrate, inform, and generally welcome you to the game), and the soundtrack to the introductory levels is taken from the 'The Gallery' theme for BBC TV’s "Vision On" programme (or "Left Bank Two", composed by Wayne Hill, if you prefer).

It is like all previous platform games you have ever played, but unlike any other game you have ever seen. It is familiar but highly original. It is the title that is the current video games console generation's most intriguing, and influential offering to date.

All those involved should be congratulated for their vision, design, execution, and by no means least, their ability to capture exactly what is needed to convince everyone that the PS3 is a more than worthy successor to the previous iterations of the Sony PlayStation brand.

It was just earlier today I was saying at ThreeSpeech.com that the PlayStation 3 "is portrayed as a device for adults, with very few titles for children, or for families".

This title will change everything. This title is The Next Big Thing. This title is the past, the present, and the future all rolled into one.

LittleBigCommunity

Following the release of the full retail edition of the game, more enjoyable & hilarious game-play ensued. I thought back to my original comments, and felt the desire to put finger-to-keyboard again, primarily because every day of that particular week, prior to leaving for the daily commute (or, as I prefer to think of it, "the work I have to do before I get to work to surf the 'net"), I was playing alongside one of my kids [all three of them (ages 6, 7 & 10) play in varying combinations every morning, and evening!] at a few user community defined levels.

The interaction of the in-game characters with the environments was (and remains to be) genuinely laugh out loud funny. Even if you do not like the idea of a platform game, the level of attention to detail with the animation has to be admired.

LittleBigEnjoyment

I could gush on about the game-play, the characters, the costumes, and other inventory items, the in-game world objects, and the excellent focus on the action, but that would be spoiling the joy that anybody else would receive first-hand like we experienced on our first outing, and continue to unearth on each subsequent occasion.

Of course, you may hate it, as everybody's tastes in gaming are different. I am a first person shooter, martial arts, and racing game fan, and "LittleBigPlanet" has none of these elements (well, to a point, but I'll not spoil that either!). My young co-player also commented during the initial gaming session how pleasant it was to find a game where you did not "attack someone"; there is no killing of innocent aliens, no jumping on toadstools until they die, or bricks to headbutt until coins appear. There is, however, an environment where you can trust kids to learn problem solving skills, and adopt team-working strategies, rather than seeing how much blood & gore they can extract from a random character, or how to hot-wire a car.

It was a very refreshing change.

Although not created directly by Sony, Sackboy's dominance of the market in the next few months is in no small ("LittleBig", if you prefer) part due to Sony's intervention.

From my first "review" (of the Public Beta Trial, above) I commented that the game crosses boundaries like no other.

If I had a little(Big) more free time, I would love to devote hours to the level tutorial & the foreseeable trial'n'error antics that would follow. However, from the number of levels that have been captured in video form on various other sites across the InterWeb, I have the impression that the tools that are included must be easy to use as I would not imagine the number of people persevering with the user-defined content would be that great if they were not. And, of course, the game is quoted as one where the user community will dominate level development after the initial commercial release, so you would expect the in-built toolset to be easy to use.

Of course, any title to a point becomes "hyped" out of proportion, only to receive a backlash from the critics & public alike when it doesn't deliver the cure for cancer or solve world poverty.

Perhaps Sony's marketing strategy this time around is to let the title become known by word-of-mouth, rather than promotional buzzword bingo.

There will also be those (not necessarily who favour alternate home video entertainment systems) who condemn the title (even without playing it).

However, now the title is on general release & a downloadable playable demo is available to everybody [almost a year later; it now transpires!]; I would urge anybody to just try it & to make up their own minds.

I’m hoping "LittleBigPlanet" appeals to the masses, and there are not many who will be disappointed, but if they are, that’s cool too. Negative criticism (as long as it is constructive) is just as important, if not more important, than positive praise.

The PS3 console is still very young (albeit that talk of the PS4 [using the same cell processor architecture technology] is currently hitting sites across the globe), and remember that titles such as "God of War II" reached the PS2 catalogue very late on [and, incidentally, is part of the "God of War Collection" seeing a (720p) High Definition PS3 Blu-ray disc-friendly format release (in North America) at the end of 2009, prior to the European release in 2010, and the worldwide release of "God of War III" during the following spring; "March of War"... geddit?]. If "LittleBigPlanet" is the first title to be developed by Media Molecule, I am very curious to see what they can deliver thereafter or, indeed, what influence this title has any anything that follows it.

Never underestimate the power of PlayStation.

LittleBigUpdates

[Note to self: I really must apply for a role in the Sony Press Office :)]

Note to everybody else, if my verbal meanderings are not enough to convince you, may I direct you to the following article at Kikizo.com:

"LittleBigPlanet: The Very Big Interview" (30 September 2008)

Additionally, I would like to add that 12 months on my family's introduction to the game, my (now) 7, 8 & 11 year olds still play "LittleBigPlanet" on a weekly basis. Sometimes they invite their friends 'round to share in their enjoyment of the game levels they have found online made by the active user community, and to test out the multiple levels each three of them have built (individually) themselves.

Over the last year we have been treated to additional downloadable content ranging from single in-game character costumes based on a variety of subject matter including:

* annual festivals (Christmas, Chinese New Year, Groundhog Day [yes, seriously!], Valentine's Day, & St Patrick's Day, amongst others),

* other PlayStation titles ("MotorStorm", "God of War", "Metal Gear Solid", "Heavenly Sword", "LocoRoco", "Patapon", "WipEout", "Ape Escape", "Buzz! Quiz TV", "Street Fighter", "Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic" and, most recently, "Ghostbusters: The Video Game"),

* optional Game Packs that introduce new in-game level creation objects (stickers, backgrounds, & decorations),

* a full Level Kit such as "Metal Gear Solid: Paint of the Patriots", that included an additional in-game weapon, the Paintenator, allowing every player to fire harmless, but colourful paint pellets at every other player or to trigger switches to gain access to other areas of the levels. Combined with the "Metal Gear Solid" Costume Kit, you could play the levels as one of the franchise's characters; Raiden, Screaming Mantis, Meryl Silverburgh, or Solid Snake himself.

Mind you, I still have not found the time to even start the in-game level creation tutorial.Maybe having a portable edition for my PSP console will mean I do not have an excuse any more! :)

BFN,

fp.