May 17, 2007 - Nothing made a bigger splash at GDC this year than LittleBigPlanet. Developed by Media Molecule, the PlayStation 3's "create your own platformer" took the show by storm and had most gaming critics (this one included) raving about its future potential. Unfortunately for everyone in attendance, the press wasn't given an opportunity to play a single second (we could only watch) and therefore left with high curiosity.
Luckily that wait ended this week when producer Kyle Shubel (who seems to be producing everything these days) allowed us media types to give LittleBigPlanet's GDC level a go. But guess what? It plays nothing like I expected it to...
Now when I say that it played differently than expected, I'm not talking about the fact that we couldn't mess around with the customization or creation features (called "Pop It"); I'm talking about something else. I mean, sure we could tap the square button and get the creation interface to work, but Sony wasn't allowing any experimentation with that menu, so for the purposes of our demo we had to pretend that it wasn't there.
Check out these goofy dudes.
But back on track -- the really surprising part is just how much of a stickler to physics LittleBigPlanet really is. Going in, I expected Sack Boy and his cohorts to leap like frogs and move with a speedy floatiness that we see in most platformers... but its characters are grounded heavily in the rules of the real world. This adherence to Newton's reality means that you can't just leap and bound your way through a stage after you create one and call it a day: you have to use the environment as efficiently as possible.
To be honest, trying to solve the stage alone is pretty difficult. Though it is possible to beat each level independently, it's much easier (and a lot more fun) to when you're teamed up with three friends. In fact, the team element really shines through. In my session, I was book-ended, 1up's Sam Kennedy and X-Play's Adam Sessler while Kyle walked us through it. What made the whole thing interesting was that each one of us was doing our own thing while we did the same thing -- that is, while Adam seemed to go straight ahead solve the puzzles in a straightforward manner, Sam appeared to take his time and test out the physics of all the objects. As for me, I just got a kick out of smacking things and doing goofy dances. But the important thing is that we could do what we wanted without holding other people back; that's pretty neat.
We won't get to try the "Pop It" system out until July.
One aspect of the gameplay I really enjoyed was the freedom that your characters have. Holding L2 or R2 while using the analog sticks provides sovereign control of Sack Boy's arms, while the Sixaxis tilt function controls the head. Hold R1 and you'll grab something, tap the d-pad in a specific direction and you'll emote with different faces that, by the way, are contextual and change based on your character's current emotional level (happy, sad, angry... whatever). In other words, you can do a lot with your happy little guy even if you're not building an outfit or a world around him.
Having already watched the stage get solved at GDC, we tore through the level in less than 10 minutes so the demo wasn't exactly epic. Even so, it did show off that even when playing through something we had seen before, LittleBigPlanet is still fun and easy to get into. I'm just curious how easy the creation menu is actually going to be in practice rather than seeing it as a spectator. According to Sony, we'll find out at E3.