It's said there is a place where dreams, fantasies and lightly kneaded ideas go when life brings their creators tumbling back to the here and now. It's called LittleBigPlanet, a world that's constructed from watercolors and cardboard, wooden toys and lick-'em stickers.
In this new 30-plus level adventure that bears the number 2, this planet of dreams is being threatened by an evil vacuum cleaner-turned-dragon (called a Negativitron). Tired of dealing with dirty floors, the monster is hoping to suck up everything fun. And, of course, the only hero worthy of defeating it is our very own rough-stitched rag doll Sackboy.
Say Hello to My Little Cakinator
Before Sackboy can save the littlebigday, though, a curly bearded inventor—made out of cardboard and named Larry Da Vinci—takes the customizable Sackboy (who can sport dozens of cute looks ranging from a pompadoured Elvis to a sci-fi gal with a TV head) through his or her paces. Sackboy isn't really a boy, you see.
As in the past, Sackboy (along with up to three other gaming friends) jumps from landing to landing, avoids hazards, hits switches, latches onto and swings from spongy objects, and picks up and tosses everything from cookies to bombs. Some of the new devices he's given here add an additional sprinkle of sugarcoated charm. Literally. The cakinator, for instance, helps him traverse fire pits or clog up gears with super-sticky cake projectiles.
Don't think you'll just be running and cakinating, though. The gameplay is incredibly varied and quickly jumps from splatting bad guys with jelly rolls to riding a bee through mazes to blasting a meanie infection inside another character. And the special keys Sackboy finds along the way open up even more fun. Unlockable minigames can be played alone or as little competitions with pals. They feature pool, basketball, air hockey and even adorable mouse-mounted races.
Make Your Own Sackboy
Those levels of platforming, prize finding and avatar dressing will be plenty enough action for many a young gamer. But, as was the case with the 2008 original, creating your own game world full of challenges is as big a part of the experience as beating the ones already built in. And here's where LittleBigPlanet 2 has truly pulled out all the stops.
Equipped with items that Sackboy has collected in his Story mode journeys—as well as with any items imported from their original LittleBigPlanet play—gamers can create just about any inventive challenge their imagination can imagine. The game supplies numerous easy-to-follow tutorials and a suite of creation tools that can not only help you design and populate your own side-scrolling challenges (with unique dialogue and cutscenes), but potentially create a whole new game genre. And then when it's been tested by friends and family, and polished to perfection, you can upload your creations online for everybody else on our own LittleBigEarth to enjoy.
I went online to see some of the things users have created from scratch, and I found scads of inventive games that ranged from racers to tower-defense actioners to a math-made-fun game to a straight-up shooter. I also saw a quirky looking Sackboy version of Fallout: New Vegas and a playful spoof of Resident Evil.
Not Many Bad Dreams in This Beanbag
It's that online play that sparks my only call for a bit of caution when it comes to the Sackboy universe. Within the console game, things are kept lightheartedly cheerful. The worst language I experienced was a character spouting, "Give 'em heckfire!" And even the occasional skeleton or fire-eyed meanie was as sandbox toy-like as it gets. But the online game world might not always be so inviting.
Creators can incorporate pictures of themselves, their friends and objects of their choosing. And they can, as I've already noted, parody M-rated games. So even though you're warned, "Keep it clean, mind you. No pictures of your bottom, or worse, mine," my online experiences have taught me not to take anything for granted.
Parents, then, have a duty to keep a close watch on the World Wide side of things. But I don't have a similar duty to slam the rest of the game. It's hard to fault a game like this that doesn't just encourage creativity, it demands it. It's a wonderfully presented joyride that just screams cute. And it is indeed a place where your dreams and fantasies and lightly kneaded ideas will feel very much at home.