As groundbreaking as the LittleBigPlanet series was, it never quite managed to elevate Sackboy to Sonic, Mario or even Crash levels of mascot status.
The friendly, fancy dress-loving hessian chap has made his way into plenty of PlayStation games over the years, but it’s always felt like he needed a game that was truly his.
That game, as you’ve probably guessed by now, is Sackboy: A Big Adventure, a 3D platformer launching alongside the PlayStation 5.
Gone are the creation tools and 2.5D levels that the LBP games are known for. This is very much a traditional platform game that Sony hopes will be talked about in the same breath as the plumber’s recent outings and those of a resurgent bandicoot.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure, as you’d expect, is rich in narrative and lore. The setup is this: Sackboy’s peaceful home of Craftworld has been invaded by the wicked Vex, a sort of evil jester who kidnaps and enslaves the simple sackfolk, forcing them to help build a device that will transform Craftworld from a place of happy dreams and imagination into a barren wasteland of nightmares. Not great, then.
Luckily, Sackboy manages to evade capture and soon learns of a prophecy that tells of a Knitted Knight who will save the world from such nefarious schemes. Convinced by friends he meets along the way that this is in fact his destiny, Sackboy is tasked with chasing Vex through five different worlds and ultimately putting an end to his villainy.
It’s not a tale to put you on the edge of your seat, but A Big Adventure feels like a proper, surprisingly big-budget exclusive, with a host of entertaining characters brought to life by the likes of a fully invested Dawn French and Richard E. Grant.
It’s definitely aimed at a younger audience, but there’s plenty for adults to enjoy too. If nothing else, you have to applaud developer Sumo Digital for some of the names it’s managed to come up with. Our favourite? A Shepherd who goes by the name of Gerald Strudleguff.
Sack 'em up
Sackboy: A Big Adventure doesn’t try to break the 3D platformer mould. You move from level to level in an overworld, collecting orbs to unlock secret levels and mini-games as you go. There’s a boss battle at the end of each world, which grants you space travel to the next. Each world has a theme, from snow-capped mountains, to jungles and underwater settlements, and all appear to have been made from a combination of creatively folded cardboard and household junk. And toilet roll - loads of that about.
The platforming is extremely gentle at the beginning of the game, which makes total sense given the wide-ranging age demographic of gamers it wants to appeal to, but it might cause older players to bounce off. They shouldn’t, as the game gets a lot more interesting as you progress, introducing optional time trials that’ll give your thumbs more of a workout, as well gravity-shifting levels and fun items like a boomerang that jazz up the fairly basic melee combat. Sackboy is as happy to partake in extreme violence as any family-friendly video game mascot.
A Big Adventure also does some pretty amazing things with music. The soundtrack is a mixture of original stuff and licensed tunes, many of which are instantly recognisable, and cleverly edited to play in sync with where you are in a level, an idea that anyone who played the masterful Rayman Legends will be familiar with. Most are too good to be spoiled, but let’s just say that few things have made us grin this year like leaping between platforms to the beat of ‘Jungle Boogie’ while being julibantly encouraged by dancing cardboard monkeys. If most of Sackboy: A Big Adventure is pretty standard kid-friendly fare, the ingenious musical levels elevate it to near unmissable status.
And getting from A to B is only half the job. As you’d expect from a game born out of LittleBigPlanet, each level is loaded with collectibles and glowing orbs for completionists to chase. Hunting down all blue orbs hidden within a level gains you a sticker for your scrap book - a nice touch. Naturally - this being a game starring Sackboy - there are also countless costumes to find or purchase using in-game credit. Within the first few hours I was dressed as both a ninja and Elvis tribute act, before settling on a wrestler in a tiger costume somewhere along the way. There’s an infectious sense of fun to just about everything this game is doing, which means it doesn’t really matter that little of it feels particularly original.
You can launch local co-op whenever you want, and this really is a game that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Online multiplayer will be patched in at a later date.
The PS5 factor
Sackboy: A Big Adventure is launching on both the PS5 and the console it succeeds, and while we haven’t tried the PS4 version, it’s pretty clear that the next-gen version is superior. The overarching arts and craft theme has been done to death in platform games, but none of them have looked as good as this one.
Just the material that Sackboy himself is made of looks so sharp in 4K that you’ll frequently find yourself zooming in on the detail as he poses for the camera, while the various furry foes you come up against are almost distractingly pretty to look at. The contrasting but all equally vibrant colour schemes of each world you visit give your TV an opportunity to show off its HDR capabilities, and the game runs at a rock solid 60fps throughout. It might not be as visually arresting as the likes of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales or Demon’s Souls, but this is a very good-looking game.
And it’s not just the visuals that benefit from the PS5. The game also makes good use of the DualSense’s haptics and speaker. You’ll feel Sackboy’s tapping feet and all manner of different vibrations in your hands as you traverse the levels, while the pad rings with the sound of fireworks at the end of a level and, somewhat disturbingly, the echo of Sackboy’s panicked wailing when you accidentally walk him off a cliff.
Some levels also make use of the DualSense’s motion controls and touch pad, and although there’s nothing quite as inventive as Astro’s Playroom, A Big Adventure is a good showcase for Sony’s amazing new pad.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure verdict
Sackboy: A Big Adventure isn’t the headline-grabbing title in the PS5’s launch lineup, and it’s not going to be remembered like the best 3D Mario games. But few games are, and that doesn’t mean it’s not well worth your time.
There are more challenging platformers out there, but get through the fairly sedate opening levels and A Big Adventure opens up into a varied and consistently entertaining romp. We just wish we could have a whole game made up of those music-driven levels.
The PS5 is commendably not short of family-friendly games to play over the festive period, and if that’s what you’re looking for, Sackboy: A Big Adventure ticks nearly all the boxes.