Sackboy’s got a license to drive.
Given the fact that the adventures of Sackboy in Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet was a deciding factor when I originally picked up the PS3, I have a lot of love for the hessian hero. The LittleBigPlanet games have been hugely entertaining across all of the formats that they have appeared on, and the “Play, Create, Share” philosophy of the games has ensured that they have remained entertaining for much longer than most games.
But for the first time ever, Sackboy is the star in a different type of game, one that has nothing to do with the usual platforming gameplay that we all know and love. This time around everything that we recognise as being “LittleBigPlanet” has been injected into a kart racing game by United Front Games. Instead of leaping their way through bizarre levels, the player will now race opponents around tracks set in bizarre levels.
Kart racing games are essentially all the same – the player races around a track, quite often with the ability to drift around corners, picking up power-ups that can be used to slow your opponents, whilst trying to avoid those very same power-ups being used against you. Eventually, after a few laps, you hopefully win and move to the next circuit. It’s all fairly simple stuff and a lot of fun.
If you have played any of the many Kart racing games before, and you probably have, then you will know what to expect here. You will still have to listen to the whimsical voice of Stephen Fry explaining the basics, which button to press to drift and the like, but that’s okay, you can never have too much Stephen Fry. Then you will be launched into Sackboy’s Pod, which returns from the main LittleBigPlanet games, and acts as a hub for the game. So off you go onto knitted planets littered with badges that represent the tracks. Completing each track will find the player unlocking the next track, along with a collection of spin off events that are totally optional.
Many of the power-ups will also feel familiar to veteran kart racers. Missiles that bounce off the barriers, lock on to the racer in front or even target the current leader, have all been seen before, as has the boxing glove that takes the player at high speed around the track until it runs out of steam. Interestingly though, and very helpfully, power-ups can be fired backwards and, if fired backwards at exactly the right time, can actually defend the player against attacks. This is very handy, but doesn’t help much if you are attacked without a power-up to hand and are instantly bounced from first to last. Still, that level of frustration is commonplace in karting games.
A new addition to the core mechanics is the grappling hook. This handy tool can be used to attach the player to thoughtfully placed sponges, allowing the player to swing across gaps or hazards that would otherwise slow the player down. It would have been better if no-one had told the opponents about the grappling hook, but never mind.
The tracks included in the game are varied and very imaginative, but seem to lack the thrill found in other kart racing games. They are enjoyable to race around, with some very nice corners for drifting and good use of the grappling hook, but they just feel too slow, or too flat. However, the game doesn’t rely on racing alone and has thrown in some more “battle-like” events to spice things up. These type of events have been seen before, but can prove to be the most entertaining part of the core game. Whether the player is simply trying to grab power-ups and destroy opponents in the arena, or driving around with a giant egg, trying not to get blasted, the karts handle well and they are generally a lot of fun.
If the racing and the battles were all that LittleBigPlanet Karting had to offer, I would say that the game is competent, if a little uninspiring. But, true to form, LBP Karting has one big ace up its sleeve in the form of “Play, Create, Share”. Besides the ability to customise your Sackboy, and their kart, in a multitude of ways, the game includes a full editor allowing enterprising players to not only build their own tracks, or whatever they choose, but to share them with the rest of the world.
Y’see, the editor is incredibly powerful. Almost anyone will be able to grab the basics and simply roll out a track. But the LBP community is home to some pretty creative chaps and chapettes who can use this editor to make all manner of wonderful mini games. Even before launch, I managed to find what was essentially a simple version of Peggle to download. Imagine how much content will be created and offered to players over the next few months!
This ability to download and play new tracks or games is LBP Karting’s saving grace. It infinitely extends the games longevity whilst adding variety enough to keep players coming back just to find out what else has been added. Karting games have a tendency to be short-lived fun, but LBP Karting has the potential to keep growing.
The core of LBP Karting is imaginative, but simply lacks the excitement to keep players entertained for long. However, the powerful editor will ensure that more and more content will be added, in one form or another, meaning there will always be something new to do in Sackboy’s driving adventure. Like a good wine, LittleBigPlanet Karting will undoubtedly get better with time.