The Little Big Planet 2 closed beta is now underway on the PlayStation 3, giving the community its first chance to experiment with the creation tools and experience several levels from the game's Story mode. There are many new tools for imaginative creators to tinker with, as well as plenty of new mechanics for adventurous Sackboys to enjoy in Media Molecule's own story levels.
On loading the beta, you are first asked if you would like to import a profile from the original Little Big Planet. The profile contains any unlocked content in the first game, including materials and level parts, but it also extends to downloadable content, personal custom levels, and any community content that has been downloaded. This feature will help loyal fans and creators hit the ground running in the full game and start creating straightaway, simply by combining content from the first game with the new tools on offer in My Moon, the level creation hub.
Jumping into the first story level in the beta immediately introduces some of the new platforming mechanics. The first of these involve jump pads, which propel Sackboy to great heights at tremendous speed. Combinations of vertical and horizontal pads create speedy gameplay that wouldn't feel out of place in a 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game. It's a great way for Media Molecule to mix up the pace beyond its slower and more methodical roots, though the floaty jumping will still feel instantly familiar to fans of the original. Combining the jump pads with the new grappling hook item provides even more options when scrambling around Little Big Planet 2's brilliantly designed platform levels. The grapple must be picked up in the level, like the paintinator paintball gun in the first game's Metal Gear Solid DLC. Once collected, it is fired by pressing R1 and can be used to traverse huge gaps or climb to previously unreachable platforms. One particularly awesome sequence in the beta involved grappling to a revolving wheel while hitting a jump pad, causing Sackboy to spin around the wheel at high speed.
Another story level includes arcade machines that can be played within the level without the need for additional loading. These include clones of Breakout, Pong, and a claw crane machine, which when used successfully will reward you with new stickers and objects. There is also a broken arcade machine being repaired by a Sackbot, which can be electrocuted if you try to play the machine while it's repairing it. This level of seamless interactivity is what makes Little Big Planet so special.
The new features within My Moon will allow budding level designers to create entire games or simply re-create their favourite moments from other famous franchises. Some of the user-created highlights from the beta include a brilliant version of Geometry Wars and a racing game based on an all-time classic, Micro Machines. Finding the best content from the community couldn't be easier; Little Big Planet 2's share functionality now allows you to write reviews for levels, as well as rate them. The search options have been vastly improved, too, with simple filters for searching by different categories and tags.
Perhaps the most exciting new creation tools are the Createnator and the music sequencer. The Createnator allows players to fire any object they wish as a weapon, using an emitter that is carried by Sackboy. This can be tweaked to fire at different speeds and accuracies, and it can be combined with any object in your Popit menu. The tutorial (which is wonderfully voiced by the returning Stephen Fry) has you firing cows from your Createnator. The possibilities could be almost limitless when the full game gets into the community's hands. The music sequencer allows players to write their own background music, either for their own levels or to share with other users. There are already user levels in the beta using classic game soundtracks from Mario and Final Fantasy, and there are some users making faithful re-creations of modern hits, such as Lady Gaga's Just Dance. Such are the possibilities of the music sequencer that you can even get Rick-rolled while playing; one user-created level features the 1980's hit Never Gonna Give You Up in all its glory, complete with a giant dancing Rick Astley Sackbot.
Sackbots are another addition to Little Big Planet 2's creation tools. They appear in the gameworld as tiny robotic Sackboys by default, but their properties can be manipulated in many ways to create non-player characters, either friendly or hostile. Friendly Sackbots can be told to follow you, made more or less aware of their surroundings, or given special behavioural properties. These can come in the form of preset variations (such as zombies, because everyone loves making zombie games), or they can be managed individually by the creator. You can even make them afraid of certain types of environments, giving them a phobia of heights or making them more responsive to dangerous objects in your level.
The Little Big Planet 2 closed beta shows great promise at this stage, with enjoyable story levels and some incredible new tools for My Moon. There are already some ingenious concepts being realised, from puzzle games to first-person shooters, and this will only expand once the final game gets into the hands of Media Molecule's community of creators. Little Big Planet 2 will be released on the PlayStation 3 in November 2010.