Racing games are a bit like the ice cream of the games industry. They come in a vast array of flavours, and, for the most part, people find and stick to what they like. There's arcade chocolate, simulation strawberry, and the enjoyable, albeit slightly plain, vanilla in-betweens. There's rocky road, the games that focus on destructible environments and adrenalin-pumping action, and the fun, fruity flavours, like banana, for the kids. But even if you love ice cream, no one wants to eat the same single flavour forever.
Little Big Planet Karting's goal is to provide spoonfuls of all the flavours, and let you decide on what you want and when. By providing variety, the development team at United Front Games hopes to avoid many of the pitfalls that racing games suffer from. Instead of offering a set range of car types and drivers, LBPK gives players a seemingly unlimited identikit and garage, where they can create unique and individual vehicles. ModNation Racers offered digital lead-foots the chance to fiddle with the appearance of their character, as well as to create whole new circuits to share with the PlayStation community. The studio has moved on, to take what it believes are the strongest aspects of MNR and fuse them with Little Big Planet DNA. The result is something halfway between the two franchises that still looks like LBP.
The Little Big Planet pod remains the centre of the experience; it's used to change up the look of your sack people, pimp out your ride, and explore and launch tracks to play on. Costumes for karts and characters come complete and in kit form, so you can either throw on a whole new look or adjust it in specific places, such as steering wheels, seats, and different chassis styles. There are tanks, motorbikes with sidecars, Formula 1-style shapes, and more exotic "found art" looks, such as karts made from drinking straws or terracotta pots.
We zoomed around on a few different models, and found that while their appearance gives an indication of how they handle and accelerate--tanks are slow and heavy, and bikes are more nimble and zippy--there doesn't appear to be any stat indicators when making your selection, as you'd find in other arcade racing games. But while this is missing, influences and features from other games in the arcade racing genre are apparent. Item pick-ups provide a range of offensive and defensive weapons and abilities, such as missiles, giant punching gloves, lightning, and rockets, and can be used to obliterate other drivers and help you close the gap when trailing. The further you lag behind the leader, the better your chances of receiving more powerful items to help you catch up for a podium finish.
One of the features to make a direct move from LBP to LBPK is the grappling hook. One circuit of our demo was set on a giant kitchen table, and it featured large holes in the track to swing across. Tapping and holding the shoulder button makes the hook lash out and cling to hanging foam points, and by riding the arc and releasing at the peak of your swing, you can access alternative paths that act like shortcuts.
Battle mode offers a break from straight lap racing, and lets you maim other sack people by using a range of weapons. The large, square space of King's Castle included scattered power-ups, surfaces to hide behind, and a frantic dash for the limited number of items from the start of the round. Our game crowned the first player to earn 10 kills, but, because of the open, editable nature of the LBP universe, players will also be able to create original battle-game types and settings.
Drifting was our biggest hurdle, and we found it easiest going in early and wiggling the stick through the corner before receiving a speed boost on the exit. It takes a moment to earn, so we don't see snaking as being a huge issue in online matches. The three tracks in our demo all shared similar visual and gameplay traits, but given that LBPK is being built around the same user-generated content systems as LBP, you can expect the really interesting creations to come once the community gets its hands on the tools. Unfortunately, because the two platforms powering the games are so vastly different, fans hoping that their ModNation Racers content would be supported in LBPK will be disappointed to hear that this won't be the case.
Good karting games are tuned to the nth degree. The addition of a diverse customisation suite, like the LBP tools, and the fun of ModNation Racers mean that fans won't be stuck with the usual mirror and reverse versions of the same tracks on disc, but we can't shake the feeling that this still feels like a karting expansion pack that could have been offered for LBP. That said, while the inspirations are obvious, we still had fun searching out the racing line, bumping other drivers, and collecting things to make our opponents explode. Little Big Planet Karting will be zooming onto the PlayStation 3 in 2012.