The original Little Big Planet on the PlayStation 3 boasted so many novel ideas that even though this new PSP game has made some concessions, it's still a great game. Sony's Cambridge Studio has managed to re-create the gameplay of the Media Molecule-developed original, while crafting its own great Story mode and making some gameplay tweaks as well. Some of the key tenets of the PS3 game have been removed, including multiplayer, the ability to manipulate Sackboy's arms and hips, and some of the more advanced sharing features. Given the limitations of the PSP hardware though, the game does a good job of translating most of the key features of the original and should please fans of the series and newcomers alike.
Little Big Planet is a side-scrolling platformer where you run, jump, and grab hold of objects in order to progress. As Sackboy, you have to leap across gaps, avoid deadly traps, and jump on the heads of enemies--familiar mechanics for anyone who has ever played a platformer. Little Big Planet's twist is its handmade aesthetic--not only in terms of the charming visuals, but also in the "anything goes" level design. One moment you might be chased by an angry dragon, and the next you'll be racing a magic carpet or flying a hot-air balloon. There is a story in each of the seven worlds, with recurring themes and characters, but they exist only to serve the outlandish ideas. Thankfully, the game constantly throws new ideas and situations at you, so you never really know what you're going to be doing next.
It's not just the designers who have been afforded this creativity, either; your enjoyment of the game hinges on your interest in customising every aspect of the world. You can completely redesign Sackboy with new clothes and accessories--and even the material he's made from. The world is also manipulatable; you can place stickers on any physical object, and placing them on special switch triggers allows you to open up new areas and collect more stickers and Sackboy accessories. This self-perpetuation works well, because you find more content as you progress, which in turn allows you to go back to earlier levels and collect even more stuff.
These concepts should be familiar to players of the PS3 game, but even they will be surprised at how close the PSP version is to its PS3 big brother. Both games have similarly epic levels, technically and artistically impressive visuals, and plenty of physics-based puzzles. The 30 levels in the PSP version are all completely new, and while there's nothing within them that's startlingly different, the level design is at least on a par with the original. The PSP game even improves on it in some ways--Sackboy now only moves between foreground and background, which reduces the fiddly nature of the three planes from the PS3 version, but doesn't completely eradicate it. Also, instead of giving you a limited number of lives at each checkpoint, the PSP version simply deducts 100 points from your score when you die, making the game much less frustrating overall.
Sadly, the constraints of the PSP hardware have resulted in some omissions. The most notable is multiplayer--there's no option to play with friends locally or online. This is certainly a disappointment given the fun that could be had playing the original with friends, and its omission is a huge one here. You also can't do as much physically with Sackboy--the D pad is used for facial expressions and gestures while holding the left shoulder button, but you can't swing his arms or shake his hips. Little Big Planet PSP also suffers from the same major problem as the PS3 version: Story mode is an incredibly short experience. There are 30 new levels across seven new locations, making it roughly the same size as the original, but you can blast through them all in a couple of sittings. You can expect your first play-through to take about four to five hours, some of which will be spent waiting on annoying long load times, regardless of whether you choose the UMD or downloaded version.
The original Little Big Planet was based on the tagline "Play, Create, Share," and this version follows the same ethos. There's a powerful level editor that lets you create your own levels from scratch, or you can use themed templates from the worlds you've completed in Story mode. In theory, these tools are powerful enough to allow you to create anything you see from the main game, but it's a fiddly process and definitely not for the fainthearted. The main problem is that there are fewer buttons and one less analog stick on the PSP than on a PS3 controller, making things slightly less intuitive than before. That said, the level creator works well given the limitations of the console interface, and while it's unlikely to become as huge a creator scene on PSP given the fiddlier controls, you're sure to see some interesting creations. One notable difference on the PSP, though, is that you can't edit other people's levels, so if you see something you like elsewhere, you're going to have to re-create it from scratch.
Thankfully, even if you never touch the creation tools, you can still benefit from their inclusion in the game. Creators can share their levels with other users both locally or over the Internet, so if you do have Internet access, you'll be able to extend the life of the game with user creations. Unlike with the PS3 version, you have to download and save each level in order to play them, but they're only 160KB each, so they're quick to download. The online system tracks how many people have played each level, how many have made it a favourite, and each level's overall score, so it's easy to find what you're looking for. The only thing that hasn't transferred from the PS3 is the tagging system, where you could assign descriptive words like "springy" or "long" once you'd finished a player-created level. It's a tried-and-tested system, and while there were only a few levels available online at the time of review, it's easy to filter the best-reviewed levels and the newest levels and even sort them by key words if you're looking for something special.
Little Big Planet is a beautiful-looking game, from both a technical and an artistic perspective. The game has a charming handcrafted look that's highly customisable, the physics system is integral to the gameplay, and there's rarely any slowdown, even during intense action. Slowdown can be a problem in user-generated content, but only when the creator packs a lot into a small space. Stephen Fry returns for voice-over duty, and his playful but eloquent delivery works perfectly. The soundtrack is also impressive, and while the music is less instantly recognisable, it follows the same cheery, upbeat tone as before, to excellent effect.
Little Big Planet brings the core gameplay of the PS3 game to the PSP with a few concessions, most notably multiplayer, but it retains the spirit that made the original so compelling. It also offers its own unique attractions, with a number of small but key improvements to the gameplay that help make up for the lack of multiplayer. The level design deserves particular praise--it's a short adventure, but the imagination and variety of the challenges mean that it's packed with memorable moments. If you're a fan of 2D platformers or like games that are designed around creativity, then Little Big Planet comes highly recommended.