As perhaps Sony’s most family friendly mascot, Sackboy has certainly made the rounds in recent years.  With two console versions, a PSP release and upcoming appearances in a racing and fighting title, Sackboy now leaps onto the PlayStation Vita with LittleBigPlanet PS Vita.  In perhaps the franchise’s strongest outing yet, Sackboy’s adventures feel perfectly suited to the small screen.  By smartly implementing touch controls, delivering a varied and fascinating set of levels, developer Tarsier Studios has finally hooked me with a series, begun by Media Molecule, that has often intrigued but never captured my attention.

LittleBigPlanet PS Vita continues Sackboy’s traditional platforming gameplay, leading him and players on a journey to take down the Puppeteer and save Craftworld.  His travels will lead him through a host of worlds brimming with personality.  The story is trying to be lighthearted and amusing, and it works as a nice backdrop to the whimsical locales Tarsier Studios has built.

The level design in this handheld edition caught my attention far more quickly than in previous LittleBigPlanet titles, thanks to the frequent changes and additions to gameplay.  Sackboy’s floaty controls have always felt more imprecise than other platforming characters, but by and large it works well on the handheld.  Though a staple of the franchise, I have never loved the way Sackboy controls but rather become accustomed to it as a fan of dozens of other platformers.  I have been able to move beyond it, but if the adorable protagonist’s feel has proved a deterrent in the past, do not expect a radical shift in this title. Sticking with the controls, however, will reward players, as the game periodically introduces an item or a new exploration tactic that allows for more varied level design.

Sackboy's childlike charm will be even more endearing despite the smaller screen.

Something as simple as the inclusion of underwater sections or a projectile helmet prevents the game from ever feeling monotonous.  Even more frequently, the wise use of touch options allowed for the creation of new obstacles for Sackboy to overcome.  Using both the touch screen and the rear touch pad,  players can clear blocks impeding Sackboy’s path or create new platforms for him to traverse.  Similarly, players can move some objects anywhere they please, which not only serves to push Sackboy further along but also creates some intriguing hiding places for new stickers and costumes.

These frequent changes to the platforming formula kept me invested in discovering new pathways and secret crevices.  Additionally, sections of the level will only be accessible with multiple players, so expect to grab a few friends if you intend to amass all of the title’s collectibles.  However you play, thankfully the handheld offering’s art style should encourage players to continue searching.  I found myself fascinated by the patchwork land of Craftworld and the game looked gorgeous on the Vita’s screen.  Though the worlds all showcased disparate locales they felt like parts of a cohesive whole thanks to the stageshow aesthetic that runs through the entire campaign.  Characters drop in and out of the story with plenty of whimsy, introducing new mechanics and portions of Craftworld that have been overtaken by the Puppeteer’s evil reign.

You'll need a few friends to explore all of Craftworld's secrets.

Narrated once again by Stephen Fry, the franchise captures a storybook sense of wonder and imagination that, in my view of the series, has only now been fully capitalized on with the added story elements.  Even in the tutorial stages, challenges are presented behind a red stage curtain that is pulled back to reveal new obstacles.  Little touches like these pervade the entire game and instill the proceedings with a wonderful sense of discovery.

The main campaign will take you a reasonable amount of time to jump through, but the real appeal to any LittleBigPlanet title is the customization suite, and thanks to one of the greatest advances for the franchise to date, the possibilities of the franchise’s universe have been greatly expanded.

The Memorizer allows players of user-created levels to save their progress, a small but essential idea that should allow for far more expansive creations.  Now, creators can make the entirety of Final Fantasy VII rather than just the cutscenes!  But in all seriousness, this is a tremendous addition that I am eager to see play out with the more dedicated level creators.  Obviously, the online portion has only recently been turned on for the public, but if prior games are any indication, there will be plenty to play long after the campaign is completed.

The delightful aesthetic strings players along a varied and colorful adventure.

Of course, the level creator is still an exhaustive tool, and because of this it can be difficult to dive into for those less inclined to the system.  I’ve dabbled briefly with level creation in previous series entries but always I found it to be more of a struggle than a delight to create.  With the wealth of content available from users in previous games this is obviously not the case for everyone, but seeing from how others and I have responded to the tools, it appears your familiarity with the tools will likely correlate with how much you continue to enjoy them on the Vita.

Despite my inability to create complex offerings, I still can marvel at what players have created, and an inclusion by Tarsier impressed me even more than the Memorizer.  Aside from the main campaign and the expected user-designed platforming levels, the handheld offers creation tools that expand the user interface limitations of console titles.  The full game comes packaged with a few minigames that look and play in unique and differing ways from the campaign.  A touch-controlled minigame in which I led a blob through a dangerous world with the touch of my finger played and felt like an entirely different title, and the opportunities this and the other minigames make up a key portion of one of the most comprehensive LittleBigPlanet experiences.

Despite his undeniable charm, Sackboy and his adventures may not be for everyone.  If the franchise’s control scheme has given you issues in the past or the level creation options proven too dense, LittleBigPlanet PS Vita will likely not change your mind.  But to not forgo these small qualms would be to deny yourself of an expansive and exciting offering, something the Vita could sorely use right now.  Absolutely brimming with imagination, the game in turn inspires creativity and delivers Sackboy at his finest in a title Vita owners would be wise to pick up.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Fantastic level design and smart use of touch controls
+ A cohesive and endearing aesthetic
+ An endless number of possibilities with the creation tools
- But if those tools have been too complex in the past, don’t expect an easier time on the handheld
- Sackboy’s floaty controls still don’t feel great

8 and 8.5 represent a game that is a good experience overall. While there may be some issues that prevent it from being fantastic, these scores are for games that you feel would easily be worth a purchase.

LittleBigPlanet PS Vita was developed by Tarsier Studios and published by Sony Computer Entertainment.  It is available at the MSRP of $39.99 for the PlayStation Vita.  A copy was provided to RipTen for the purposes of review.