It's not often that I can forgive a game for throwing me through the geometry to my doom simply because the game itself is just too damn delightful. I am not the most fast-fingered of platformer players, but when I'm guiding a tiny creature made of wool and stuffing through a maze of fire and spikes, my reaction to failure is more woeful. Little Big Planet 3 made me feel like I was never quite good enough to solve the next puzzle... until I was, thanks to a brand new tool dumped in my lap. And then I soared.
Little Big Planet 3 is another quirky adventure pitting Sackboy against a baddie bent on destroying the balance of Craftworld, a universe pasted together from the bits and bobs in your mother’s craft closet. The game begins with sentient light bulb Newton spiriting Sackboy away to the scrapbooked world of Bunkum. Newton opines that Bunkum needs more creative juice and unlooses three ancient Titans, monstrous inspiration-sucking beasts subdued in the past by three great heroes. After the Titans possess Newton and corrupt his intentions, Sackboy finds and recruits the aforementioned heroes: Oddsock, Toggle, and Swoop. Together, the fluff-stuffed quartet must rescue Newton and defeat the Titans.
Little Big Planet 3’s campaign is divided into four main stages or hubs, one for the prologue and one for each new hero the game introduces. You have to unlock each new character within their specific level to defeat that level's boss, which is reminiscent of how special items work in The Legend of Zelda games' various dungeons. To unlock each character, you need to collect special items and place them in a special shrine. I was at first wary of this over-clichéd fairytale story, but the charm that has come to characterize Little Big Planet makes it palatable. Tarnished marbles are magic artifacts. A side-scrolling mess of grating and rotating platforms made me feel like I was in a paper-and-glue version of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Sackboy must complete the three main levels within each hub to collect magic marbles that awaken the heroes. These levels are scattered, tucked in corners of cardboard and scrap metal. Spreading them far apart encourages you to forgo beelining between them and take exploration time, uncovering secret challenges yielding rare materials and stickers.
Little Big Planet’s new characters are, predictably, endearing and adorable. The dog-like Oddsock is a fast runner that climbs walls and wall-jumps. Toggle can switch between tall and tiny versions, helping him manipulate gravity in water and on bounce pads for higher jump. Swoop flies and can carry objects through the air.
These new heroes can eventually be used within levels, but only within the hub world in which they are unlocked. I’m disappointed that levels limit what character you can use, and most of the time it’s Sackboy. In fact, most of the game must be played as Sackboy, with no option to choose another character. Boss levels, too, can only be completed as a designated character and all players must be the same one. The hub stage itself can be explored as Sackboy or whatever new character it unlocks, leaving out the other two, and there is only one designated spot that allows swapping of characters. You can, however, participate as more than one character in creation mode, but that doesn’t make the campaign’s limitations less saddening.
There are still two-player missions scattered throughout levels and any can be played with friends locally or online, but there are only a tiny number of missions for all four characters to participate. Any level can be completed with one to four players, but all players must be the same hero. Oddsock, Toggle and Swoop are feebly underutilized, which is dispiriting considering they are some of the game’s high points.
Not only is it refreshing to play as someone other than Sackboy when you get the chance, but each character has a different feel to their gameplay. Toggle plods along but rockets through the air and skims across water when he switches between sizes. The physics changes drastically from the slower, more calculated way he must be played to handling Oddsock, who gallops through scenarios requiring sweat-inducing precision leaps. Swoop lets you fly without falling, and while his controls feel a bit too sensitive for an airborne companion, it offers a different way to complete a challenge. It's unfortunate that Little Big Planet 3 offers three new, drastically different gameplay experiences and restricts how and when players can enjoy them.
One of the best new additions is a handful of gadgets granting Sackboy greater freedom of movement and navigation to harder-to-reach spaces. A hairdryer-like item pushes or pulls objects with air, a flashlight illuminates hidden objects, and the Blink Ball shoots spheres into special panels that teleport you to other ledges. The Hook Hat lets you slide along rails and the Boost Boots give an extra airborne double-jump, making wide chasms less of an issue. These items grant more freedom of movement and make Sackboy actually feel powerful and smart. They make problems feel more open-ended and problem-solving more expansive. You can use these items freely at any time and most levels include hidden treats for those who go back to explore with these items.
With each new item, levels become more difficult. In fact, Little Big Planet 3 can be called the most challenging title in the franchise. Many sequences require nimble fingers, such as speedruns with Oddsock or carefully-timed jumps through teleporters that necessitate hair-trigger reactions. The game forces you to pay attention and learn through trial and error, dangling unlocked characters and new experiences in front of you. The learning curve is proportional to how quickly these new things are mastered. And it’s worth it: guiding Toggle through a complicated puzzle or flying Swoop through an anxiety-inducing maze of electricity is a satisfying payoff.
The physics in Little Big Planet have been notoriously floaty from the get-go and have gotten slightly more delicate in Little Big Planet 3. Learning to time jumps and getting the hang of switching directions in mid-air take time, but once you've mastered controlling the Sackfriends, trickier puzzles no longer seem insurmountable.
While solo play is great for score chasing, bringing a friend or three along can help you reach special multiplayer areas and goodies. I liked playing alone when I wanted to master a level, but it's better together with friends. I ran through a four-character level in which the player controlling Swoop kept picking us up and dropping us from dizzying heights. I played Popit Puzzles with a friend online, spending quality time with someone I rarely see building something amazing together. Little Big Planet 3 is a great distraction for one, but a heartwarming distraction for two, three and four. You'll want to bribe your friends over for this one.
New bits aside, Little Big Planet 3 masterfully builds upon its already well-established world. Beneath a snow-blanketed town is a tunnel of giftboxes, wrapped in sheet music and guarded by dancing Russian dolls. Inside a dilapidated diner floating in a swamp of aquamarine goo, I found myself inside a pinball machine talking to a movie star with a tin can body and hair made of photo negatives. The world is beautifully put together and intimately detailed, down to the feathers on a queen’s robe and the flashing neon signs embedded into the background.
Sprinkled throughout this beautiful world are NPCs that offer minigames and side quests. These characters--all fully voiced, for the first time in the series–-assign tasks allowing weightier interaction with Bunkum. Minigames like tricking drones to shoot enemies in a paper-cloud sky and building go-karts from stickers are cherries on the LBP3 sundae. These challenges offer up some pretty great rewards, including new materials, stickers and in one case a Pug costume for Oddsock. Every empty space needing a sticker, every side character, adds a little more depth to an already oceanic world.
Like its predecessors Little Big Planet 3 features a level creator, but this time around that desire to inspire creativity is taken to new heights with an arsenal of tools that is overwhelming. You can make individual levels or entire maps, customizing spaces with everything from music triggers to poisonous gas and goo to obstacles requiring gadgets.
I have never been interested in (or very good at) level creation, because I'm horrible at interior decoration and could never make my bizarre Lego creations stand for long. I'm intrigued by staircases to nowhere and seemingly hopeless obstacles that require an entire bag of tricks to solve--neither of which I am very good at building, either. I'm not construction-minded and find more enjoyment in playing levels made by other people. But I was most enamored with Popit Puzzles, stages designed to instruct usage of each creation tool. It’s a genius, sneaky way to trick you into using the level editor.
Popit Puzzles take up an entire planet by themselves and feature a very eccentric NPC professor. The professor walks you through each construction tactic, including how to edit corners, rotate and delete objects, and even where and how to place treacherous traps. Each Popit Puzzle plays like a traditional Little Big Planet level and introduces one tool. As players learn how to use the tool, the game throws in more obstacles that can only be solved using that one tool. Some puzzles require more brain power than other, with the answer not so readily apparent.
The Popit Puzzles don't baby you, but they make sure you can use tools effectively. Little Big Planet 3 solves the problem of making creation tools accessible to newbie-creators by weaving tiny tricks like placing electrified blocks and deleting objects into mini-levels that reward you. It’s brilliant.
Little Big Planet 3 has a lot going for it--including another magnificently crafted soundtrack--but is plagued by crippling bugs. I repeatedly fell through set pieces or failed to respawn, and twice respawned into a side-scrolling level behind a boss and had to restart, losing all progress. These bugs hindered progression and made playing through levels requiring more precision a nightmare. They were present at various points throughout my entire playthrough, and while they weren't occurring every other level, they were common enough that I was annoyed.
Little Big Planet 3 is the most difficult game in the series by virtue of its challenges. More complicated problems mean more tools to solve them, giving you a wide berth to choose your own path through Bunkum. The push for creativity is limited in the way you play the campaign, but it’s an overwhelming presence within creation mode, offering boundless ways to leave your own mark on Craftworld.