We can hardly believe that it's only been a year since LittleBigPlanet for PlayStation 3 hit our store shelves. At the time, we lauded the game for being a brilliantly original and charming adventure that served as a fantastic creative outlet for gamers everywhere. Being original in the games industry, however, inevitably means that there will be a franchise, and the second product of this franchise is LittleBigPlanet on PSP. Not exactly a direct port of the original game by any standard, LittleBigPlanet has a new story, new levels and more importantly new dialogue by Stephen Fry. This all sounds like a winning combination, so does the fun translate onto a portable console?
Like the original, you're introduced to the world of LittleBigPlanet, a world formed by the imagination and ideas of everyone on Earth, through the dulcet and distinctly British tones of Stephen Fry. You once again take the form of a little sack person, nicknamed 'Sackboy'. Your objective in the game is to essentially do whatever you like, but before you can start you're taken through a series of tutorials, including humorous videos depicted in a blueprint-style. They're very charming, especially with Fry's narration, but there is a lot to learn and it takes a while to wade through all the content.
Ostensibly, LittleBigPlanet is a 2D-platformer, with an extremely unique graphical style, with a world that looks like it's been cut out of cardboard, paper-craft, wood and felt in someone's backyard. The game has a story mode, which sees Sackboy given a mission by the narrator to seek out all the 'Creator Curators' in LittleBigPlanet and gather them for a special carnival. Of course, each Curator has a problem that's preventing him or her from attending, so it's up to Sackboy to solve these problems in various levels around LittleBigPlanet to win them over.
There are over thirty story levels to play through, all of which are new and exclusive to this iteration of LittleBigPlanet, and all of which take you around the world to LittleBigPlanet's versions of countries like China and Egypt. You even start off the game in a Dreamtime-inspired Australia section. All of these locations are wonderfully vibrant and colourful, and have a wealth of cool puzzles and characters, although they only communicate via static word bubbles. Just as in LittleBigPlanet on PS3, Sackboy can run through these levels on several planes, switching between them as he runs along. This plane switching between the foreground and background often happens automatically, but sometimes you'll have to manually move him to access secret areas. Some of these levels seemed rather long, some even longer than levels present on the PS3 version, which is cool in the way that you're getting a lot of gameplay for your money, but makes it less of a game that you can just pick up and play in bite-sized chunks while you're on the move.
Despite the game largely being a 2D platformer, all of Sackboy's movements are controlled via the analogue nub. As many who have used the PSP know, the nub is no substitute for the DualShock controller's analogue sticks on PS3, and as a result Sackboy doesn't feel quite as responsive. It's a somewhat subtle difference, but it's noticeable. The d-pad is used exclusively for controlling Sackboy's emotions, making him happy, sad, scared or mad, which is very cute but kind of useless considering that there's no multiplayer present in the game, and therefore nobody to communicate your emotions to. Sackboy can grab objects with the R trigger and jump with the X button, although this latter action does sometimes get very frustrating, as the height of the jump is determined by how hard you press the button, and the PSP just doesn't seem sensitive enough. Maybe we're just a soft touch, but this lead to many frustrating situations where Sackboy wouldn't jump high enough to advance, which was confusing because this sometimes indicated that we were on the wrong track in a level, but at other times meant that we really were just not hammering down on the button hard enough or long enough to make him reach where he needed to go. A plus is that you have infinite lives in this version, so after falling in a fire pit for the tenth time you're still ready for more.
As mentioned, there's no multiplayer in the game, which is fair enough considering the realistic physics engine, as well as the host of other activity happening. Despite this exclusion, the level creator function of the original game is present and accounted for, as well as all the Sackboy customisation options. You can create your own level from a wealth of materials ranging from good ol' cardboard, to metal and wood, as well as objects you find scattered about the story levels, and then upload it to be enjoyed by the rest of the world. The uploading and downloading of these levels is very streamlined, especially for a handheld, and you can easily search for the most recent or most highly rated levels. From what we found online at the time of writing, there were some pretty fun levels up to download that weren't just copies of Mario or other popular game franchises, but fun and original in their own right.
The level creator function of the game operates much the same as the one on PlayStation 3. Using your Popit, a pop up menu, you can change Sackboy's appearance, stamp Stickers on whatever you so choose, and create all manner of objects, enemies and characters for your own levels. Of course, just as it was in the first game, it's easy to make a very basic level which tests an idea you may have, or a scenario you want to make, but it's a lot more difficult to construct a complex level which resembles a proper game. If you're willing to put in the time and effort, you can create essentially anything you have your heart set on, which is a staggering feat for any game, let alone a PSP title. The only small gripe we have is that you pretty much have to play through the story mode of the game as much as possible if you want to unlock all of the content and objects to use in the level creator, but if you're a fan of the gameplay then this will be no trial at all.
LittleBigPlanet retains the extraordinarily warm, vibrant, odd and utterly unique visual style of its predecessor, despite the translation to a technically-inferior handheld platform. Obviously, the game is a little bit more aliased, textures are simpler, characters appear a little less detailed, and the nice lighting and special effects of the PS3 version are toned down or left out, but it still comes through as one of the coolest looking PSP games out there. Sackboy in particular survives the transition very well, and the fact that you can still outfit him however you like means you'll get quite attached to the little fella when he's wearing the red chicken hat you picked out for him. The physics in the game, as mentioned, are very realistic, and everything has a proper feeling of weight, except perhaps for Sackboy himself, who can sometimes be a little floaty. Finally, the audio of the game is fantastic, with a bunch of happy tunes and location-specific music, as well as addictive item pick-up noises (your ears will crave the bubble pop sound). And did we mention it has Stephen Fry?
There seems to be a lot of games getting ported to the PSP these days, but LittleBigPlanet rises above all of these to become something special. By offering the same opportunity to create and share basically any kind of game level your imagination can come up with, on a handheld no less, it's a very cool game to check out. Fans of the PlayStation 3 version should find plenty to do here with the new story levels, and may even find themselves re-inspired to try their hand at creating some more levels, and those who did not have the chance to play the original should definitely check this out, provided they don't have a PS3. In truth, the PS3 version is unsurprisingly superior, as the experience sometimes seems much better suited to a home console, and some control issues annoy in this version. That said, taking the game on its own in the PSP library, it's one of the best platformers on the system, and a heap of fun for anyone looking for a little charm, magic and inspiration on the go.