LittleBigPlanet has both a staggeringly robust level-creation system and all the right online infrastructure in place to facilitate an endless supply of user-generated content. I have incredibly high hopes for this game, and I could barely contain my excitement when I got an e-mail from Sony approving my application for the game’s Japanese beta test. But now that the beta is finished, I have considerably less optimism for the game than I did just last week.
Looking at what said users had generated, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by both the lack of well-designed levels and the popularity of poorly-designed ones. A large portion of the most popular levels were LittleBigPlanet’s equivalent of hastily-assembled licensed products selling on brand name alone. While it was interesting for a couple seconds to see Metal Gear Solid or Shadow of the Colossus reimagined as platformers, the stages themselves weren’t very fun. They felt superficial, intriguing only because of the source material, and not making good use of the actual game mechanics of LittleBigPlanet itself.
This gap between the possibilities of level creation and the realities of the interface for playing those levels creates an enormous challenge for designers to overcome. For example, while the construction system has incredible free-form potential, the player’s avatar is always Sackboy, whose set of movements is quite limited. The restrictions of his abilities should help direct designers as they play with the enormous canvas the game provides; no matter how imaginative, creations in LittleBigPlanet are pointless if Sackboy isn’t able to inhabit them comfortably.
[[image:cg_sackboy.jpg:Don’t forget about me!:center:0]]
With a couple rare exceptions, few levels seemed to acknowledge this reality. Even playing through the better levels often felt slightly off. When both the design and the play control were good, they usually still didn’t go well together, like how it might feel to play through a Sonic game controlling Mario. More than anything, this sense that something was always wrong, that there was no connection between Sackboy’s control scheme and the worlds he inhabited, reminded me of the countless awful NES and SNES platformers I played when I was too young to realize that Bubsy or Aero the Acro-Bat might not actually be worth my time.
I’ll freely admit that I’m probably judging the game too harshly and too hastily. It’s no more fair to blame LittleBigPlanet for issues with user content during its beta test than it would be to declare the entire Internet a failure for being home to so much disturbing Harry Potter fanfiction. This problem is just Sturgeon’s Law in full effect. At the same time, hearing the almost universally positive impressions of the user content in the beta made me wonder if I was even playing the same game as everyone else. For a game with such potential, I feel like expectations are far too low. I want more out of this than Bubsy the Bobcat in HD, and I can’t justify paying anything near the price of a PS3 game to play more of what I’ve experienced so far.
I hope this game is a tremendous success, both financially and in terms of developing a thriving and creative online community. I’m fairly certain that it will work out well on both of these fronts, eventually. However, I’m also fairly sure at this point that I don’t want to be there during LittleBigPlanet’s formative stages. So, for the time being, I’m going to sit on the sidelines and wait patiently while other gamers, more patient and more creative gamers than me, can work out the kinks. Good luck to all of you.