Little Big Planet Charms Skeptical Gamer

David X. Messer returns to review Little Big Planet, and finds it not quite what he expected.

I'm possibly the worst person to review a platform game. In fact things are so bad one could describe my experience of platformers as being one of immense irritation. When I think of platform games, I imagine a genre full of especially impossible timed jumps that even the bionic man would have trouble making. To add insult to injury it felt like these set pieces would be the ones where it'd taken 45 minutes getting to that point in the game. So when I did fall on my arse and lost all my lives in order to try again I'd have to spend another 45 minutes getting back to that point only to fail miserably again.

However, curiosity got the better of me. I had to know, I had to know what the fuss was about regarding the platform exclusive known as "Little Big Planet". Other than seeing adverts for the game on every flat surface all over every major city for about a year, I had somehow managed to avoid all the reviews and press about the game. Now, admittedly I'm a bit late to the Playstation 3 party, but imagine my immense pleasure at discovering that Little Big Planet was a platformer. Albeit a very cute (where 'cute' is basket of kittens cute) looking kids game which IGN described as being "happy". So not only do I get to spend hours wishing I'd chosen to spend my time pulling out my finger nails with pliers instead, but the game was going to have me believe I was supposed to be happy about spending hours flailing around with the game pad in some sort of cotton candy E number induced coma with a huge grin on my face, but that's OK because all the games characters are so "cute", aw look at their little smiling faces as I fall to my death yet again.

I think you'll agree there's an awful lot there to offend my delicate sensibilities.

My concerns ran a little deeper than just how the game looked and how long I'd spend looking at the level reloading screen while I tried for the Nth time to reach some platform to collect another item I had zero interest in. For this one we need to go back in time. Back to 1985 or so....

Back in the 8-bit era, platform games for the most part like Jet Set Willy, Citadel et-al all had one thing in common. They all had small, coloured sprites set against a black background. If you remember how 8-bit computers worked in those days, we didn't have dedicated monitors. Instead we hooked them out to our televisions, much like the consoles of today but unlike today we had none of that flat screen LCD nonsense. This was the 80s, so it was fuzzy boxy CRT televisions all the way. Let me get to the point, before you accuse me of battering you around the head with nostalgia for no good reason. Small, coloured sprites on a black background didn't show up so well in daylight. So much so that I'd either have to close the curtains or, as I preferred, you'd do most of your gaming at night.

This had a couple of side effects. Being the middle of the night and usually there being no one else around (or everyone else was asleep) you found yourself alone just like the character you were playing in the game. Every creak and strange noise you heard in the house seemed to enforce just how isolated and alone the character was. Also in these games quite often they took every day objects and turned them into something sinister. Remember the pairs of shoes that roamed the halls in Jet Set Willy?

I'm probably alone in harbouring the idea that platform games have some element of the macabre about them, and that was my greatest fear about Little Big Planet. That it'd somehow lose this amazing sense of being immersed in a world that although didn't exist but you were somehow linked to on an emotional level.

Back in 2009 and on booting LBP for the first time I'm greeted by the lovely tones of Stephen Fry. It's like being welcomed by an old friend in surroundings you'd least expect to see them in. Nonetheless Stephen guides you through the basics, and essentially you're guided to death through the mechanics of the game for the first 20 minutes or so before you feel like you've somehow offended him and you're dumped on your first proper level where it's made painfully clear that, yes, this is a platform game and you're expected to make use of those annoying timed maneuvers we all know and love that I touched on earlier. It's at this point where the fact the game looks very childish is just a cover story. Although it's very forgiving and you're given a few extra toys at difficult sections to try and make these sections less annoying, they're still there.

So far, so predictable. The things LBP does to make itself stand out are many. There graphics are unbelievable and very pretty, the characters are very cute, the music is well done, there are stories to explain why on earth you should care about collecting items on levels, the collectibles include costumes you can dress your character up in, you can create your own levels and share them with friends but nneh. It's still a platformer at heart.

Or so I thought.

Pushing on through the levels, I paid good money for the pain and I'm damn well getting a good kicking for it, it happened. I found nirvana. There's a section of the game which the LBP wiki calls "The Wedding". These levels are done up in the style of the Mexican day of the dead. The entire level is done up with lots of skeleton and ghost motifs. There's one section that's lit entirely by candle light (complete with flickering) for example. There's a ghastly bubblegum indie soundtrack in another sub level which sounds like a Spanish version of the Killers but when you look it up the lyrics turn out to not be what you expected at all. The rewards for collecting the collectible items from this level include the Zombie boy/girl outfit, which is basically a skeleton suit. My utter contempt for this costume feature disappears as soon as I realise that the skeleton costume glows in the dark.

Suddenly, I'm five years old and I can't remember what time it is, or when I started playing but now it's midnight, and I remember I've not eaten dinner yet, but I don't care because I'm skipping around levels wearing a skeleton costume that glows in the dark, around levels full of skeletons and ghosts and monsters, and the evening disappears and becomes a happy distant happy memory.

Posted by Drew Shiel at September 24, 2009 2:03 PM

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