Sony’s pint sized mascot, and his creators Media Molecule seem to be going from strength to strength since the release of the first Little Big Planet game in 2008.
Sackboy’s latest outing, Little Big Planet Karting, takes the universe created by the team at Media Molecule and cross-breeds it with United Front Games original and somewhat under-rated title, Modnation Racers.
Once again putting you in the role of the mannequin of sackcloth, which you can style and decorate to put on your own personal stamp, you are introduced to what equates to a plot in the LBP world. Taking on the Hoard, a gang of unruly racers who collect the worlds prize bubbles, not to share and create, but to “hoard”. You are given access to a basic kart when one of the horde crashes, allowing you to venture through the previously established worlds reclaiming the bubbles for the inhabitants.
All of this introduction and all of the voice-over work is once again undertaken by the inimitable Stephen Fry with his quintessential aplomb and dry wit which will make those Little Big Planet fans feel right at home.
From the outset those who have had any interaction with Little Big Planet will be familiar with your Pod, a cardboard, customisable environment which is your gateway to the Karting world. From here you can redesign your Sackboy, choose or modify your Kart, connect to the story mode, set up multi-player games, access the community or store, and even jump to your “Moon” which acts as a platform where you can create your own racetracks or arena’s.
Unlike most karting games, there are no immediately accessible cups or leagues, and all levels and planets are unlocked through the “wooly” story mode which alongside the standard circuit races are checkpoint rallies, battle arenas where you face off against multiple opponents and try to get the most kills and points in the arena, top-down RC events in a similar vein to the classic micro machines and even boss battles. Incorporated into this smorgasbord is a full gambit of mini games primed to put your karting skills to the test.
Controls are simple, as expected from a game built to cater to all demographics, and picking up the basics takes mere minutes, but mastering the controls is sufficiently challenging. Drifting has become a staple of the karting genre since made fashionable back on the SNES, but LBP places its own spin on the mechanic. Drifting for an extended period of time ignites your tires and when the drift button is released you are given a burst of acceleration. As the flames grow on your tires so too does the strength of the boost, so the longer you drift the bigger your speed. To counter this, any impact with the environment or other players automatically disables your existing drift, so finding the balance between risk and reward is a must to make the most of the boost system.
Weapons make an appearance with the “Weaponater” power-up scattered throughout the courses, which will issue you with a random weapon that can not only be used for offense, but works equally well in defence. Impacts from incoming fire will either slow you down by knocking you off course, or will despawn your Sackboy completely. As such an indicator will display approaching fire. In the last few seconds, this icon will change to a shield, and firing off your weapon will intercept these attacks.
Regrettably, the requirement to complete each level in single player before you are allowed to undertake that particular course in Multiplayer is a decision that is detrimental to the games strength, which is obviously to play with others. The single player is enjoyable but playing competitively against friends and strangers is the true highlight. To that end, the AI in the single player is deceptively competent, perhaps too much so, as you can find yourself playing a level several times over as the AI will undertake to pummel you into submission on every lap. The reliance on pickups to defend yourself is easily countered by the multiple NPC’s all gunning for you at the same time, and you only able to defend against one at a time. Frustration can boil through and spoil the entertainment to be found in this mode.
Each level is littered with collectables, which will require you to utilise every inch of the course for those of you who enjoy that OCD aspect of games. Prize bubbles collected on each run will unlock new items to use or decorate your POD, character and vehicles just like the other games allowing a level of customisation for which LBP is famed.
The dogma Play, Create, Share is alive and well in this latest outing with a full complement of creation tools available at your disposal. Entering your moon allows you to create a plethora of courses and arena’s to share, and once again the tools made available are more than sufficient to create your perfect race visions. All of the worlds available to unlock in the game are there for you to utilise from the outset. Setting out a basic course, you can modify every part, from the tightness of the corners, to adding multiple routes and varying the height of the course are all easily achieved with a couple of clicks of the button.
Overall, Little Big Planet Karting is an enjoyable romp, but it fails to find the balance required to make this a must have title. As such, fans of Little Big Planet, or those that are looking for an enjoyable, if somewhat frustrating, karting game in the current vacuum could do worse than to pick this game up.
MLG Rating: 7/10 Platform: PS3 Release Date: 7/11/2012
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided with a copy of Little Big Planet Karting for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of 2 weeks on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.