CES 08: LittleBigPlanet Preview

Perhaps it's fitting that Sony's Preview of Upcoming PlayStation 3 Games event was really only a preview of one game--Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet. For many, the PlayStation 3 exclusive is the one game that could get them to the stores for a Sony system this year.

For my part, no matter how many times I see this game, I can't help but smile.

Senior Sony producer Pete Smith was having fun too. "If we're not together we're all gonna die," he exclaimed as the four participating Sackmen faced a particularly challenging pit of lava. Before he had even finished speaking, half the group was quickly left behind. "Waiittt!"

Yes, the big news today was that LittleBigPlanet now features an in-game death system, clearly an effort to spice up the platforming aspect and give it an element of danger. When a Sackboy hits a fiery chasm, or is crushed under a moving block, he flies off the screen and has to sit out momentarily.

After a matter of seconds, he reappears, crawling through one of many circular respawn portals like a Little Sister. There are always one or two portals on screen, and the camera only ever has to make a minor adjustment to fit the lagging respawner on screen with the rest of his mates.

The new level shown off was Indian-themed, complete with an elephant-headed, four-armed god object, and a pleasant sitar-based background score. Speaking of backgrounds, Sackmen can now move between a few planes of 3D space, moving from foreground to background layers in addition to their usual 2D sidescrolling. The added depth allows for some interesting doodads, including layered mountains and buildings.

The currency of LittleBigPlanet has also been emphasized, with each player receiving a score for the amount of collected Fluff. These bubble-like objects can be gathered up by any member of a multiplayer group, and are scattered about levels--usually just after a particularly dangerous jump. So although the game requires teamwork to progress, the players who stay alive and keep moving will gain the most currency, and thus be able to unlock more objects in the creation mode.

Probably the most marketable aspect of the game is its cast of cutesy Sackmen characters. To that end, new emotes have been added to the game, enabled by using the directional pad. Each of the four D-pad buttons will change your Sackboy's face from neutral to angry, sad, happy, or nervous. Additional presses will increase the strength of that emotion. For instance, after several hits of the "happy" emotion, the Sackboy's tongue lolls out of the corner of its mouth, its eyes wide with pure glee. In this state, pressing the two analog sticks up will illicit a big thumbs-up from the boy, while in a sad mood, it will be a predictable thumbs-down.

After running through wacky platforming demonstrations featuring similar mechanics we've seen in prior videos, the producers on stage went through the process of creating their own level. Most notably, they showed off several of the template backgrounds that will ship with the game, such as a seedy New York alleyway, a rocky desert, a Zen garden, and others. Several background music selections were also played, a surprisingly welcome variety of tunes. One particular track featured a wailing electric guitar playing a mellow melody, a nice diversion from the already-established theme songs of toots and whistles.

The possibilities of level creation still seem wide enough to think that, unlike Media Molecule's first effort Rag Doll Kung Fu, this game will be anything but a fleeting diversion. When trees can be made of blocks in mere seconds, complete with animated birds and hilariously inadequate leaves, the sky seems the only limit--or, more accurately, the background.

But though anticipation remains high, reality can bite hard.

As one Sackboy was dressing himself like Elvis, the other donning a hilariously tiny top-hat and monocle, the worst fears of any game demonstrator came true--LittleBigPlanet abruptly froze.

Smith took the time to remind us that the project has a long way to go, and is currently not even ready for an alpha phase. Accordingly, its release has been pushed back to the fall season. Way to smooth over that disruption, Pete.

Some good news to go with the bad--LittleBigPlanet is still looking fantastic.

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Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet is slated for a global fall release, with the possibility of a downloadable beta in the late spring.