It’s no secret that the Vita has struggled since launch, with Sony itself admitting that it is having a hard time finding third-party developers willing to produce titles for the troubled handheld. There are many reasons for the Vita’s nightmare start, but a big one is certainly the system’s paucity of compelling games.
Enter LittleBigPlanet Vita.
Centering on the Eastern-European circus-influenced world of Carnivalia, LBP Vita finds Sackboy tasked with thwarting that land’s overlord, the demented Puppeteer.
LittleBigPlanet’s formula is well-established by now and appears to be firmly adhered to here: a campaign lavishes all manner of imaginative and colourful levels on the player, and a comprehensive level creator will give patient tinkerers a large set of building tools and options to fiddle with that are unrivalled in their flexibility—on console, at least.
The great news is that unlike its cousin on the PSP, LBP Vita is on par with its bigger brother on the PS3 — nothing here has been scaled back from that console’s resplendent LBP2. That means that on its bright OLED screen, the Vita version is gorgeous, and the sound design — including the sumptuous Stephen Fry narration — is absolutely top-notch.
Encouragingly, the six campaign levels and two side-missions available in the preview build show that the imaginations of developers Double Eleven and Tarsier Studios are far from spent. Sackboy’s guide — the wacky Colonel Flounder — is another memorable LBP character, and each level has its own gameplay highlights and creative flourishes.
Further, the Vita’s touch functionality has been well integrated, allowing objects to be dragged around, or poked into the background and back into the foreground — the latter using the rear touch pad. This works remarkably well, and allows for an impromptu set of stairs to be assembled from background objects, scaled, and then moved back out of the way, for example. All other game mechanics from LBP2 appear preserved, with Sackboy platforming, swinging, and collecting his way to victory. The only difference here is that the series’ notoriously floaty controls seem a good deal tighter. As with the PS3’s LBP2, up to four players may team up online, something sorely missing from the PSP’s iteration.
The arcade room is a new addition to LBP, and is essentially a collection of non-platforming mini-games made using the game’s level creation tools. Only one game was available in the preview build; Tapling, a touch-only challenge that involves guiding a leaping ball past a number of obstacles, which places a premium on timing and trajectory. Akin to a mobile game in complexity and lifespan, it nonetheless ably demonstrates what is possible with the LBP Vita’s creation tools.
Speaking of which, over in create mode the touch functions are an absolute godsend, allowing for quick and intuitive object selection, resizing, rotating, and placement. After playing around here, returning to the PS3 to edit feels like a backwards step. All of the functionality of that console’s LBP editor is present too, making for a very long but extremely comprehensive tutorial on level design that covers everything from object customisation to basic logic programming.
The Vita even does a couple of things a stock PS3 cannot: its microphone adds the ability to include user sound effects and voiceovers to levels, and pictures from its cameras can be easily made into stickers and plastered around levels too, both nifty features.
There have been a staggering seven million levels made across all PS3 and PSP iterations of LittleBigPlanet to date, but none of these are accessible, at least currently, via the Vita. However, a small contingent of quality maps have already appeared online. Existing costume purchases from PS3 LBP games may be transferred to the Vita.
LittleBigPlanet Vita is shaping up extremely well, both in the gameplay and editing departments. Sony may be struggling to sign third-party developers up for Vita games, but this title is an encouraging sign that its handheld isn’t totally done for just yet.
LittleBigPlanet Vita is due for release on September 25.