Review by discoinferno84

Reviewed: 01/24/11 | Updated: 01/25/11

Wake up, kids. We've got the dreamer's disease...

Craftworld is on the brink of ruin. This formerly glorious realm of mankind’s dreams and creativity is under siege by the Negativatron, a gigantic and demonic vacuum cleaner. Its sole purpose is to suck up all the creations in existence. But it’s not satisfied with mindless destruction; it corrupts everything it touches with its dark, soulless magic. It’s ravaged and twisted once-content characters into a hellish army. Whole dreamscapes are burning into oblivion. The very fabric of imagination is rotting away, leaving a wide swath of decay across the cosmos. The few remaining survivors have banded together to form The Alliance, pooling their resources, technology, and insight in hopes of mounting a counteroffensive and saving what’s left of Craftworld. As their latest (and apparently only) recruit, you’ll have to lead them to a hard-fought victory. The dreams and inspiration of humanity rests in your hands.

Don’t drop them.

Such a dramatic reintroduction to the LittleBigPlanet universe demonstrates one of the many ways this game improves upon its predecessor. In the original, you traveled around an imaginary world without any discernible goal or motivation, helping out a handful of NPCs that had little characterization aside from their ethnical backgrounds. Even the main villain of the game seemingly came out of nowhere for the final act. In LittleBigPlanet 2, however, you’re immediately thrust into an epic struggle for existence, complete with a far more developed cast. You’ll be teamed up with Larry Da Vinci, whose curled newspaper beard and John Cleese-esque voice make him stand out. Then there’s Avalon Centrifuge, whose ridiculous ego and cheesy Don LaFontaine impersonation are balanced by his technical genius. The rest of the group is rounded out by a not-quite mad scientist/pastry enthusiast, a perpetually depressed flip-page memo pad, a one-eyed, apple-headed nurse with a thick Hispanic accent, and an inventor who spends the majority of the game stoned out of his mind.

And these are the protagonists.

It’s not about the characters, though. LittleBigPlanet 2 retains the same basic mechanics of the previous game. It’s essentially a side-scrolling platformer, but is by no means typical of its genre. You run, jump over walls, push blocks to create makeshift ledges, and hand onto various items to make it over otherwise impossible gaps. You can even jump into the fore and backgrounds of the stage, thus allowing to get around obstacles, uncover alternate routes, and snag hidden pickups. It’s worth noting that switching between the different planes has been streamlined; getting around requires little more than a tap of a control stick and the jump button. The pressure-based jumping physics are almost completely unaltered, though; depending on how hard you push the button, your avatar will do anything from a quick hop to an all-out leap. It’s not always consistent - be prepared for the occasional cheap death - but the responsiveness and acceleration have undergone some much-needed improvements.

While all this stuff offers an interesting spin on the classic platforming concept, LittleBigPlanet 2 strives to not only improve on them, but provide players with an unparalleled amount of variety and creativity as well. The first few stages feature relatively simple concepts, like jumping on bounce pads (which are thankfully highlighted now), activating switches, and swinging across chasms. But then you’re thrust into a nightmarish conveyor belt, about to crushed by a huge machine. Or you’ll have to lead a small platoon of heroes across a war-torn landscape. Or you’ll dodge the electrical currents coursing through floors. Or outrun a giant mechanical chicken. Or take down a hulking robot a la Shadow of the Colossus. Or save a rainforest from getting roasted (the new flame and smoke graphics are excellent), all while dodging fireflies and jumping into the newly-introduced water. Or wipe out a spaceship-sized behemoth, Ikaragua style. And Yars’ Revenge style, for that matter. It won’t take you long for you to realize that this game is much more than the typical platformer.

If anything, you might see it as a third-person shooter. The game wastes no time in introducing a small but varied assortment of new items and power-ups. In terms of Story Mode levels, you’ll probably get the most mileage out of the Grappling Hook. It lets you grab onto certain unreachable surfaces and enemies and reel yourself to a higher ledge using the motion and acceleration mechanics. It’s not always perfect, though; if there are multiple grapple points on the screen (or if a point is just far enough away), the game will misread the command and screw you over. The Grabinator also plays a vital role by letting you pick up heavy obstacles and use them as projectiles or to throw them to create temporary platforms. It’s fun to use - there’s a whole mini-game devoted to playing basketball with a giant ball of yarn - but the aim and angles of your throws isn’t always perfect. Both weapons are overshadowed by the Creatinator, a gun that lets you shoot anything you can design. No, seriously. It can shoot customized items. Just let that sink in. You want a flamethrower? Water pistol? Laser beam? Cow launcher? It can do it. You’ve just got to design it first.

The Sackbots are an equally prominent addition. You can design your own army of NPCs specifically tailored to your needs. You’ll be introduced to them early on in the Story Mode; they do nothing follow/avoid you as you try to escort them through levels unscathed. But they are capable of far greater things; you can program them with all kinds of different behaviors. Want to sneak through a level Metal Gear Solid style? Create a Sackbot that has precise movement patterns and an awareness radius. You want to be part of a zombie survival flick? Go for it. You want them immune to fire? Do it. Do you want your Sackbots to be friendly with each other and work as a team, or would you prefer them to play independently? If you’re tired of having a Sackbot follow you around, you can even make it become afraid of heights, then drop down to a far-flung ledge while your creation cowers in fear. The sheer amount of features, options, and potential available for just these NPCs is utterly astounding.

That’s only one aspect of the game’s incredibly deep customization tools. LittleBigPlanet’s biggest claim to fame was that it gave gamers the ability to construct their own levels by using items and stickers collected throughout its story. The sequel outdoes it in every aspect. When you first go into the Level Editor, you won’t be able to do much; you’ll be treated to Stephen Fry’s narration as he bombards you with tutorials. These explanations are not only extensive, but necessary for you to comprehend the myriad of options that come with them. You can tweak every aspect of your level. Not just the placement and sizes of obstacles, the amount of re-spawn points, or bolting objects together. You can determine the placement of camera angles, the way the screen follows you, the various kinds of hazards and gravity, how the different levels are interconnected, and how you can interact with items. You can even design levels around vehicular gameplay; by using the Controlinator feature, you can craft arcade-style shooters, racers, sports, action adventures, RPGs, and whatever else you can possibly dream up. Not to mention how you can design cooperative and competitive versions of everything. While LittleBigPlanet 2 might start out as a platformer, the vastly improved and extensive Level Editor lets you design games of any genre.

That goes for songs, too. There’s a full music sequencer available, and it lets you customize tracks to go along with your levels. There are a wide variety of instruments and sound effects; you could rock out with an acoustic guitar, record a classy piano solo, or bust out some drums. Even if you’re not creative enough to come up with a masterpiece, you can still enjoy the eclectic official soundtrack. You’ll learn the mechanics of the Grappling Hook to ‘A Fifth of Beethoven’, a combination of funk and classical taken straight from Saturday Night Fever. That also goes for ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’, a jazzy rendition of the 2001 theme. Not to mention ‘Disco Divertimento’ and its mix of violins and pulsing beats. Or the old-school soul of ‘I Have Changed’ that blends perfectly with its given stage. Rock fans will probably enjoy ‘Whoever Brings the Night’ and ‘Batteroo’ while others might get more out of ‘Infotain Me’ and ‘Rock Your Body Rock’. There are several more tracks covering a wide variety genres; by the time you reach the ending credits, you’ll probably have a few favorites regardless of your musical tastes.

You won’t realize the potential of it all until you go online. Not only can you publish your levels with full descriptions and titles, but you can play other people’s creations as well. Just one look at the list of popular stages will tell you everything. You can save a group of pandas, explore ancient ruins Uncharted style, indulge in some tower defensive gameplay, explore a sunken shipwreck, and play one of the most epic versions of Asteroids this side of Geometry Wars. That’s not even getting into the millions of other stages out there. Fans will rejoice in knowing that all of their old favorites from the first LittleBigPlanet are available and fully compatible with the newer version. You can drop in and play with random gamers, or you can tackle stages solo. You can even queue different levels to be played at your leisure, thus streamlining the process of searching for new places to enjoy. The ability to rate levels (you can even write entire reviews for them), keep track of player statistics, and view scoreboards just makes the experience that much more awesome.

That’s not even delving into the game’s extra bonuses. Not only are all the levels from the first game are still around, but so are the costumes. You’ve got the Metal Gear Solid, Street Fighter, and Heavy Rain packs. The Marvel, History, and Monster sets. The level and sticker packs. It’s all there. If you shell out the extra cash for LittleBigPlanet 2 Collector’s Edition you’ll be rewarded with extra Animal-themed outfits, as well as free costumes from Toy Story, TRON, The Muppetts, Ratchet & Clank, and Jak & Daxter. There’s also a little Sackboy plushie, and a couple of themed bookends to decorate your shelf and organize your gaming library. Or, in the more likely case, remain forever sealed on the off chance they become valuable. They might not justify the price, but the extra costumes certainly do.

The goal of any sequel is to expand upon what its predecessor established. LittleBigPlanet 2 not only does this, but improves upon it in every possible way. If you have any interest in gaming whatsoever, you need to try this. It begins as a solid platformer, but it becomes so much more. The basic gameplay mechanics have been slightly tweaked and refined, but the slew of new items and features overshadow them. Grappling around obstacles, picking up items, shooting your own customizable ammunition, and fully programming a small army of NPCs is amazingly fun. The sheer amount of options available in the Level Editor is stunning; thanks to the new features, you can control every aspect of the game, right down the individual music tracks. It doesn’t limit you to platforming, either; with some imagination and effort, you can design RPGs, arcade shooters, racers, tower defenses, and all kinds of stuff. Thanks to the revamped online features, sharing your creations with the gaming world has become easier than ever. LittleBigPlanet 2 is what gamers’ dreams are made of.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Product Release: LittleBigPlanet 2 (Collector's Edition) (US, 01/18/11)

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