Sumo’s first full LittleBigPlanet is the series’ friendliest addition yet
Even Steven Fry’s comforting voice couldn’t quite take the edge off the daunting task of getting to grips with the original LittleBigPlanet’s editing tools. While comparatively simple next to later instalments, Media Molecule’s game was unlike anything before it, and the tools it handed players set a new standard for console level editors. The game provided a wealth of narrated video tutorials, and softened the fall with the intuitively designed Popit menu, but it was still insufficient to stave off a crippling case of blank-canvas syndrome for many.
With LittleBigPlanet 2, Media Molecule gifted its community with an even deeper, more complex suite of tools capable of making entire games, not just levels. Simplified logic gates and programmable Sackbots made life easier for all those who had once hashed together ad-hoc cutscenes and machines from a befuddling array of switches and sensors, while a music sequencer allowed keen composers to soundtrack their creations, for better or worse. But while the game’s tools evolved, its way of teaching you didn’t.
LittleBigPlanet 3 approaches the problem differently. There are still plenty of tutorial videos, but Sumo has better integrated LBP’s two halves by introducing creation elements to the story mode. Previous entries might have allowed you to vandalise story levels with stickers and decorations, but LBP3’ s Contraption Challenges go much further by requiring that you build a vehicle in order to take part in the event at hand. Your options are limited to only a few select parts, and the vehicles themselves are built on ready-made chassis, but the sense of achievement when you, for example, leap 100m farther after tweaking the design of your long-jump buggy is a real rush. And, like disguising vegetables in a child’s meal, such tasks get players comfortable with the basics of the creation tools without them even noticing.
Anyone bitten by the bug can head to the Popit Academy. Taking place over two terms, each with a handful of levels dedicated to a specific tool or family of contraptions, these stages provide a deeper understanding of LBP3’ s most essential gadgets while couching the whole process in a series of increasingly challenging puzzles. Two of LBP2’ s Creators return as guides, with not even a whisper from Fry, and cover a wide range of techniques from the basics of using pistons and string to more in-depth tasks, such as wiring switches to teleporters or adjusting the properties of materials to make them more slippery.
Although we longed for another term or two, the Popit Academy is a great on-ramp for LBP’s Create mode, providing players with the knowledge – and confidence – to get started immediately after they graduate. Sumo adds yet more padding to each newcomer’s landing by asking whether players would like access to the editor’s advanced controls from the off, or to stick with a pared-down selection while they get settled in. Whichever you choose, additions such as the dynamic thermometer make it easier to create without worrying about limitations or optimising geometry – that’s something you can obsess over later on.
Given the dizzying capabilities of its editor, and the groundbreaking nature of the first game, Media Molecule did an excellent job of condensing that power into the easily understandable Popit menu. And by keeping Sackboy onscreen, the studio ensured that making levels always felt a lot more like play than either coding or sculpting. But Sumo has built on those confident foundations in ways that feel so natural it’s hard to believe they weren’t here from the beginning. Switching studios partway through a series can often be detrimental, but LBP3 feels like an entirely natural addition. And it seems fitting that the injection of fresh blood on the development side looks set to open up the series to a whole generation of players who might otherwise have been put off.