LittleBigPlanet Vita – Review
There should be a terrible disconnect. What place does a game in which a chew toy jumps through shoebox dioramas filled with peeling wallpaper, worn rugs and off-cuts from grandma’s fabric drawer have on some of humankind’s most technologically-advanced entertainment hardware? Sony’s task is usually to cover up the joins in its work, to arrange the plastic, glass and buttons of its products to resemble sleek, black pebbles popped straight from the future’s uterus. It seems curious that a game hand-stitched in Guildford should have come to be poster boy for Sony’s corporate wonder conjuring.
While no game would be better suited to sale on Etsy or on a stall at an artisan fete, Little Big Planet’s handicraft approach runs deeper than mere aesthetic, and it’s here that the secret to the synergy is found. In play you often notice the ropes and pulleys reeling past gaps in the scenery as doors open and bridges lower. The curtain flaps open so you see the sticks on which enemies animate into a scene; the craft behind the magic. You spy the machinations of level design, the digital nuts and bolts that work the level designer’s ideas.
Little Big Planet shows its workings – not least via the powerful level editor with which much of the game’s campaign was constructed – because, at heart, it is a game about the spectacle of ingenuity. I can’t believe they did that, it hopes you’ll say.
So too with with Sony’s Vita, a futuristic miniature supercomputer that, with its surplus of features – Two cameras! Two touch screens! Two analogue sticks! – also longs to impress via the spectacle of ingenuity. I can’t believe they did that, it hopes you’ll say. In particular, the bond between hardware and software is notable in this, the third game in the series, because the Vita’s fat grab of features allows both game and console to amplify one another. Little Big Planet’s new developers – Tarsier Studios, Double Eleven and others – patch new ideas onto Media Molecule’s original template, building worlds around the Vita’s eccentricities. Rarely have game and system complemented one another so well while looking so incongruous.
Which isn’t to say that all of the tools given to Sackboy in this handheld game are novel. Little Big planetary voyagers will be familiar with the angry rockets and grappling hooks that, over the course of the game, are strapped to their shoulders. But in the Vita these utensils have renewed vibrancy and vigor. Rockets can now be guided with the drag of a fingertip, weaved in and around scenery to stab through pink gloop and open up new pathways, or to sneak around the back of a clockwork baddy in order to explode upon its weak spot. The grappling hook – held back till the latter half of the game – is now paired with the Vita’s gyroscopes, allowing you to slide hook points across the screen as you dangle above licking lava, turning rope swings into zip-wires.
The touchscreens offer the most obvious moments of invention. Blocks may be tapped into place – blue ones demanding a prod from the front screen, green from the rear – while there are many cogs that must be pulled into their proper place, or springs that must be coiled and sprung to propel you forward. Not every tactile interaction is necessary to progress. At times these exchanges have a toy-like quality – pianos that can be tinkled (offering with a trophy for tapping out a specific tune), vinyl that can be scratched – a surplus of playfulness.
You can read the rest of this feature over at Eurogamer.