When the original game came out a couple years ago, the novelty of being able to create intricate game levels initially drew the lion's share of attention. That led to something of a letdown when it came time to play them; and their potential fun seemed to get somewhat lost in controls that didn't quite feel right.
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So with LittleBigPlanet 2, I wanted to get in right away and see whether playing could better hold up its end of the bargain. The answer to that question is yes, it does. Sackboy, LittleBigPlanet's highly customizable mascot, still bounces through tipsy, overstuffed levels with the appropriate level of glee. That seeming abandon, though, does not come at the expense of playability.
Sackboy responds directly and predictably to the controls, building a sense of confidence the more I played, which in turn helped bring out some of the best parts in the levels I played. In a sense, it's like playing on a trampoline. LittleBigPlanet was like the first few times which are awkward affairs, flailing around hoping not to hit your head on the frame. Playing LittleBigPlanet 2 is like when you've got it down and every bounce is precise.
In LittleBigPlanet 2, Sackboy shines when it comes to air control. Midair adjustments come naturally, with a smooth response to even subtle moves of the thumbstick. A couple of levels highlighted how refined it's become. One is simply a basketball shooting competition (that can be played competitively by the way). The motion and resulting inertia of Sackboy's jump and the resulting trajectory of the shot was spot on. I knew the moment I let go of a shot if I'd hit the sweet spot or not.
Another level offered a score challenge, with arrangements of point globes to hit between all manner of hazards. The trick wasn't to just barrel through, but to use just the right tempo--controlled mostly while in the air between bounce pads--to hit keep hitting globes fast enough to maintain a combo, and then rack up the points on groups where they were clustered together.
LittleBigPlanet 2's single-player campaign makes a great jumping off point for getting started with the game, but it's the thought of discovering the unexpected community creations in the coming months that really gets me excited. To that end, LittleBigPlanet 2 includes a number of features to help improve sharing levels. Many of these borrow from the current thinking in online social networks. For instance, at the end of every level there's a prompt to leave a comment and when friends make comments they drop into a feed much like twitter or Facebook.
As the population grows with the game's release I'll be watching to see whether the system has been implemented well enough to work as the designers hope. Navigating it all still poses some potential pitfalls. Because the interface is built for a controller, there's a lot of hoping around through menus to get places. Couple that with a few load times here and there and it's easy to see people getting impatient with the whole thing.
The active way the game encourages playing together could help build a stronger sense of community and thereby strengthen players' desire to participate. Anytime you go online and jump into a level populated with other Sackboys/girls from around the globe, LittleBigPlanet 2 asks if you'd like to join them--and defaults to answering, yes. In the freewheeling, light-hearted world of LittleBigPlanet, it will be an interesting experiment to see if this fosters more casual multiplayer.
How well the community and multiplayer features work in the wild, and, of course, the level creation tools have to be considered before giving LittleBigPlanet 2 a final accounting, but that's no reason to wait. LittleBigPlanet 2 sets a great example of a development team partnering with their player community and listening to their feedback. The result is a game well positioned to achieve the massive success that popped into everyone's mind when they first heard about the game where anyone can design their own game.