If you own a Playstation 3 but still haven't picked up a copy of the original LittleBigPlanet, some people would call you utterly mental, myself included. That's because LittleBigPlanet was something rather special, and no PS3 game collection is complete without it. Sure, the story-based content alone was great fun, but it was the community-developed levels that really brought Sackboy's world to life. With more than three million user-created worlds, it was easy to lose an entire evening simply sifting through the best entries and finding some of the most beautiful, the most entertaining and the most downright clever ideas on show.
Of course, as the level editor was built around the idea that users would be creating platforming-based levels, it was somewhat limited - yet plenty of worryingly astute individuals managed to wring every last drop out of the available tools and create the kinds of levels that surely developer Media Molecule itself could not have even imagined. Flash forward to now, and the LittleBigPlanet userbase is still very much alive and well, with plenty of new levels appearing every day - but with the upcoming release of LittleBigPlanet 2 later this year, we have an inkling that these fanatics will be migrating very soon.
Let's back up for a moment and spell out exactly what LittleBigPlanet is for those of you who have been living under a rock. LBP is a single and multiplayer playground that puts gamers in control of Sackboy, a happy little chappy who has a tendency to slap other Sackboys in the face with a frying pan, and who occasionally encounters death by burns, electrocution or crushing. Primarily a physics-based platformer, there are millions of levels available to playthrough thanks to the level editing tools that allow any player to create their own world, then upload it for everyone else to play.
You're not interested in all that gibber-gabber though - you want to know about the new 'create any kind of game you want' level editor. Pitted as "a platform for games", LittleBigPlanet 2 allows players to step outside of the box, and create far more than simply platforming games. I navigated my way through the familiar menus to the Community section, and even with my anticipation levels are an all-time high, I was not prepared for the sheer enormity of what I was about to receive.
My journey began with a seemingly straight-forward platforming level, the type I'd seen hundreds of times before in the original game. Nothing has changed in terms of controls, style, look and feel - Sackboy bounds around in his own unique way, and jumping over obstacles, swapping planes and swinging from grabbable surfaces is all still brilliant fun.
Halfway through the level and I begin to see some rather interesting additions. Full-blown cutscenes are now available to any budding LBPer, giving levels that little extra something. I also encountered a couple of boss battles on my travels, with baddies able to take multiple hits before dying. When I completed a level, it then sent me straight into the next stage in the series, rather than taking me back to the overmap. This particular feature will surely see some fantastic use, as veteran creators put together entire games worth of content.
This is all fine, but I was after something a bit more unique. That's when a level named 'RTS' caught my eye, and provided a great insight into what we can expect in the near future. This particular level presented me with a top-down style map, and allowed me to spawn tanks, then select them and give orders to move anywhere on the map. It was more of a proof of concept if anything, but the idea worked flawlessly. So far so good.
Then a level called 'Pacman' grabbed my attention. It was indeed the classic game, beautifully recreated in the LittleBigPlanet world. My friends were able to control the ghosts while I moved around the maze as the Pac himself, chomping on pills and dodging the ghosts. The big pills even made the ghosts turn blue and allowed me to eat them for a short space of time. It may not sound all that impressive, but when you consider that someone created this game using the in-game editor tools, it makes you start to wonder what else is possible.
Micro Machines, anyone? A couple of users have managed to faithfully recreate the famous breakfast table level from the classic game, with full top-down racing action. How about some side-scrolling Portal, complete with portal gun and fully working portals? Up for a game of multiplayer Frogger? That's there too. Some users have even created full-blown music videos, with dancing Sackboys, flashing lights and techno music - all possible since, this time around, you can compile your own musical arrangements. I was even 'Sackrolled' at one point, with Sackboys wiggling their hips to the familiar Rick Astley meme.
Arcade games are very popular creation choices. I played a variety of multiplayer Pongs, Breakouts and the like, with some users even creating whole arcades to house their minigames. Rather than using cutouts with stickers attached for NPCs as with the first game, LittleBigPlanet 2 allows you to create your own characters by placing down Sackboys as NPCs, then fiddling around with them. This brings so much more personality and life to the game, and essentially allows players to include far more powerful AI in their creations.
By far the most impressive, however, was a first person shooter found on my travels. It was created by fixing a gun to the screen, then replacing Sackboy with a gunsight. Enemies popped up from behind scenery, and I was able to move the sight over them and squeeze the trigger, gunning them all down. It was even possible to reload the gun, with a nifty animation playing out. It was all pretty limited - there's no moving forwards, and instead you strafe sideways along the level - but still, it gives an exciting indication of what is to come.
The level editor itself is very much the same as last time, except with plenty more options to play with. Stephen Fry is back to talk you through the ins and outs, and there are dozens of tutorials explaining every aspect, both old and new. If you spent far too much time creating worlds in the original LittleBigPlanet, prepare to lose your life all over again. While the sheer volume of menus, sliders and buttons is a little overwhelming to begin with, you'll soon be cooking up gaming masterpieces and perhaps building your own series of releases.
Of course, if you've played a fair amount of LittleBigPlanet, you'll know that levels based on real games, films and people have a tendency to disappear rather rapidly, as Media Molecule trys to keep its lawyers happy. Hence, it's probably safe to assume that most of these Portal, Pacman and Micro Machines levels won't be around for long. Fortunately, this will surely force users to think outside the box, and we're bound to see some incredible works popping up soon after the game's release.
Apart from the level content, there are a couple of great changes to the original formula. Players can now write reviews for levels, with a like/don't like option and a space for writing text. The community features have been given a real boost, with plenty of stats for creators to check out and keep tabs on.
In a nutshell, if you were in love with the original game, LittleBigPlanet 2 is going to knock your socks off. Media Molecule has clearly listened to its fanbase, and as a result has developed exactly the sequel we were hoping for. If what we've witnessed up to now if any indication of what we can expect from the future of LBP, we really cannot wait to see what the community comes up with once the game is released.