It is a peculiar fact that the third instalment in any trilogy is the most likely to let the series down. The latest scalp claimed by this curse belongs to LittleBigPlanet 3, which stumbles along behind its predecessors like a little brother tripping over his own feet. It’s far from being a complete disaster – in fact, it’s rather good – but a short story campaign and a host of technical problems keep it from reaching the lofty heights it aims for.
The story of LittleBigPlanet 3 plunges your Sackboy – or rather, your Sackperson – into a world called Bunkum. With the Titans who once threatened the world released from their prison, you must set out to reunite the three heroes who first defeated them. It’s a simple story but it’s told with the charm that has become the series’ trademark, and includes full voice acting for the first time. Best of all is Hugh Laurie playing main villain Newton; a nice touch given that his comedy partner Stephen Fry narrates the series.
To find the former heroes, you’ll navigate your way through a variety of side-scrolling levels. As with past games, much of the brilliance come from the sheer ingenuity, which will enchant even the hardest hearted person. The artistic design of the levels is also excellent, created as they are from various bits and bobs, patchwork materials sewn together, and repurposed miscellaneous junk. There is, unfortunately, an element of ‘floatiness’ left in the jumping from previous instalments, despite attempts to sharpen it up and make it more precise, but it doesn’t notice much. Your Sackperson will obtain new and useful power-ups to help him or her out, too, such as the Pumpinator (which blows air so you can move objects from afar) and the Boost Boots (which are jet boots to extend your jump). Unfortunately, you’ll only get to use each tool for one level in the course of the story, and they feel vastly underused given their wonderful inventiveness.
Once found, you gain the ability to play as Bunkum’s old heroes, all of whom play differently to your Sackperson. Oddsock, who resembles a dog, moves quickly and can run up walls. Toggle can change forms, literally “toggling” between a large, heavy version of himself and a small, lighter version. Swoop, in the meantime, is a bird who can fly freely through levels. Playing as these three is a joy, and you might imagine that it would add a lot of variety to the game – but once again, it shoots itself in the foot. In the course of the story, you will only control them for a couple of levels each. As with the limited use of power-ups, this is a real shame and leaves the game short of doing itself justice.
You might also think that the co-op would benefit from the extra characters, given that there are four of them to match the number of players you can have. If this had been well implemented it could have been a real highlight, but it’s never even made use of. Instead, all players get stuck using the same character in each level, thereby limiting the options in co-op mode. It might have been a difficult feature to implement – possibly even requiring a second campaign, as in Portal 2 – but a series which so highly champions creativity should have been able to come up with a solution.
Furthermore, the campaign is fiendishly short. It can be completed in five or six hours, and comes to an end just as you’re starting to enjoy it. There are a lot of good ideas, but they tend to get trotted out once and then discarded. One space-based level sees you solving puzzles in anti-gravity, but once it’s done your feet will be firmly rooted to the ground for the rest of the game. There are a fair few side missions to plunge into as well, but they don’t add a significant amount of time to the game’s longevity. It’s frustrating to see so many good ideas given such little time, and even the endeavours of Messrs Fry and Laurie can’t quite rescue things.
What makes LittleBigPlanet 3 even more frustrating are all the technical issues that plague it. Even with the game heavily patched, the odd problem slips through, and many of them have fatal consequences. One which we encountered, in which a “boost refresher” refused to activate, would have permanently prevented completion of the game; it was circumnavigated entirely by accident, by pulling off a jump which the level attempted to prevent. There are plenty of other bugs that linger throughout LittleBigPlanet 3, too, just waiting to ensnare unwary Sackpersons. Be warned: they could be anywhere.
Worst of all are the insufferably long load times. Relatively small levels take quite a while to load up, so much so that you might want to bring a book along to kill the time. This is particularly annoying when it breaks the flow of the story; Newton does something dastardly, the heroes give chase… and then you have to wait twenty seconds before you can get involved in the action. One of the light-hearted and supposedly humorous messages on the load screens smugly tells you that “Patience is a virtue”. Whether or not that is true, you’re certainly going to need a lot of it to get through this game.
Of course, gameplay is only a part of what the LittleBigPlanet games are about. It’s core to the series that you can create your own levels and share them with other users over the internet, and LittleBigPlanet 3 continues this in marvellous style. All levels made in the first two games can be loaded into it, thereby creating a truly shared universe for the trilogy. Indeed, if you’ve played either of the first two games, your Sackperson and Pod – the hub from which you navigate the world – will automatically load into LittleBigPlanet 3 exactly as you had customised them. The result is that despite the sparse content in the story, there are hundreds of user-created levels to sink your teeth into, and many of them are just as good – if not better – than what the game comes packaged with.
When it comes to creating your own levels, there are new additions to the already well-established formula. First of all, a series of “Popit Puzzles” are levels you can play through that act as tutorials. They can be paced a little slowly, but they provide a nice, easy to follow introduction to building. There are new features that allow for greater depth in level creation, too. Levels can now have sixteen layers, a massive upgrade from LittleBigPlanet 2’s three. You can also create your own power-ups, giving you even more freedom in how you design your creations. There’s no obligation to get building if you don’t want to, but it does substantially increase the time you can spend with the game.
Ultimately, LittleBigPlanet 3 is a pretty decent effort which lamentably hamstrings itself. It’s charming, aesthetically pleasing, and a lot of fun when it works – but various bugs and glitches, long load times, and a lacklustre story mode really drag it down. Fortunately, the level creation and sharing features save it from being mundane, and provide a boatload of additional content to make it worth the money. It might not be as good as the first two games in the series, but LittleBigPlanet 3 still has enough going for it to make it an enjoyable – albeit sometimes shaky – platform game for all ages.