The Sack is back, and this time he's got the power of the PlayStation 4 behind him in LittleBigPlanet 3. That means more creation options, glossier graphics, and even new playable characters – but sadly, this sequel also brings more bugs and issues.
As the first numbered entry not overseen by series creator Media Molecule, LittleBigPlanet 3 largely does an admirable job of maintaining what's so alluringly charming about the adorable platform-action series. However, it also stumbles amidst those glitches, other design annoyances, and unfavorable comparisons to past entries.
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Much of the experience will feel very familiar to series fans: you'll primarily take the role of Sackboy, a wildly customizable little burlap-covered hero who leaps and bounds through stages comprised of various odds and ends. His jumping feels a bit less "floaty" than before, but otherwise, you'll still spend most of your time dodging hazards and collecting little item bubbles.
But Sackboy isn't alone out there. For the first time, the campaign introduces three additional playable characters, each with a very distinctive feel. OddSock runs around on all fours, and his levels are built for speed; Toggle can alternate between his hulking, heavy form and a tiny, light variation to solve environmental puzzles; and Swoop is a plush bird, so he spends his missions airborne.
Each adds a fun twist to the formula, and OddSock's stages in particular are a blast. And even Sackboy has some new tricks to keep up with them, thanks to an array of power-up items. Now he can use an air gun to interact with the world, use rocket boots to get around, and glide along zip lines, among other additions. It makes for a less "pure and simple" platforming experience, but not in a bad way.
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Quick and dirty
Despite all of those extra gameplay possibilities to explore, LittleBigPlanet 3's campaign is curiously very short and limited in scope. You'll zip through it in about five hours, and the vast majority of that time is still spent as Sackboy, with the other characters taking the spotlight only for brief interludes here and there.
Even so, the levels are often mesmerising and beautifully designed – and particularly crisp on PlayStation 4 – and there are very fun moments. But the classic cinema-themed worlds aren't quite as memorable as those of past games, the story lacks the punch of the hilarious LittleBigPlanet 2, and it feels very narrow and straightforward. I wanted more content, but also breadth.
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More after the break...
Make it yourself
Of course, a big part of LittleBigPlanet's appeal has been its creation tools, which are largely similar here but very much expanded: for example, you can place items on 16 different layers now, whereas the last game had three. Yes, that's an amazing leap. Getting into the in-depth, nitty-gritty stuff – like scripting characters and creating games outside the traditional 2D mold – requires a big chunk of time, but the tools are there if you want them.
And if not, at least you can still reap the benefits. LittleBigPlanet 3 supports all of the user-created levels designed for previous entries, so you immediately have access to more than 9 million stages. Crazy, right? Not all of those are winners, obviously, but there's a veritable lifetime of good, weird, wonderful stuff to sort through, and it's all totally free. And with the new tools, the levels to come will be even more fabulous.
To its credit, new developer Sumo Digital included a series of Popit Academy levels that help impart Creation mode fundamentals. Those alone won't have you building complex, worthwhile experiences right away, but it's a welcome and appreciated nudge to help get you started.
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Unfortunately, the better parts of LittleBigPlanet 3 are soured by serious bugs. Despite doing the 'mandatory updates' prescribed as part of the review process, on multiple occasions I've found myself stuck behind an object in the world and unable to progress; I also fell through the world once and had a random full crash to the PlayStation 4 dashboard – the first time I've seen a PS4 game do that.
Additionally, most of my attempts to connect to other users for online co-op were irritatingly thwarted by "timed out" issues. After Driveclub's bumbled launch, it's sad to see another big PS4 game debut with serious issues still intact.
Those bugs may well be squashed before long, but there are also design frustrations – such as having to rewatch the cinematic from the end of the previous chapter if you pick back up on a saved game at the start of the next one. Or how lengthy, multi-character levels should've been split into shorter, individual ones, since losing all your lives deep into an attempt means replaying the entire thing.
Co-op play also comes up a little short, which is really surprising. LittleBigPlanet 3 was advertised as offering a unique, distinctive co-op experience due to the four different characters, but most of the levels force all players to use the same hero. Not only is that underwhelming, considering the possibilities on tap, but it reveals other design flaws: such as in a level as Swoop, how the same button used for both swooping and grabbing objects meant a couple of us kept accidentally holding onto each other and dying during a frantic chase sequence. Very frustrating.
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LittleBigPlanet 3 verdict
There's a lot to like about LittleBigPlanet 3, and even a bit to love; series devotees will want to dive back into this imaginative world, especially on PlayStation 4.
But its predecessors felt livelier, funnier, and more vital, not to mention better crafted – and the issues here are both on the surface and found deep within its DNA.
That doesn't make it a must-skip by any stretch of the imagination, but it lacks the essential spark of its wondrous predecessors - and that's a great shame.
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Sackboy's new-gen debut is prettier and more expansive (in some ways), but also less refined and focused