Ben Kuchera

Welcome home, Sackboy: LittleBigPlanet is improved by the Vita hardware

Welcome home, Sackboy: LittleBigPlanet is improved by the Vita hardware

I wrote that portable hardware acts as a frame in my 3DS XL review, and that frame provides the context for the software we play. I didn't realize how true that was until I began experimenting with the LittleBIgPlanet beta on the PlayStation Vita. To my surprise, the hardware provides the perfect frame for that particular title. Both the hardware and the software are improved when they fit together this seamlessly, and that relationship becomes clear once you begin experimenting with the content creation tools, using all the advantages of the Vita hardware. LittleBigPlanet has long offered handheld world building, but it has been improved tremendously since the PlayStation Portable version of the game I love the future.

Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, Sackboys gotta sit and wonder why, why, why

LittleBigPlanet was always an attractive game, but the graphics themselves weren’t hardware intensive; you’d be hard-pressed to point out differences between the console LittleBigPlanet titles and this latest portable version. In fact, the Vita LittleBigPlanet features three planes of depth to each level, matching the console versions and improving on the PSP’s two planes. LittleBigPlanet has always enjoyed experimenting with the accessories available for the PlayStation 3. You could take pictures of yourself or real-world objects with the PlayStation Eye camera and use them to create new stickers or decorate your levels, and a level pack added support for the PlayStation Move, but all of these fun distractions required expensive and unevenly supported peripherals. How many LittleBigPlanet fans out there had the Eye and a Move controller? This content would always be an afterthought, as there would only be a slight percentage of players who could take advantage of all these neat additions.The Vita is a self-contained piece of hardware with a wealth of tools: touch, movement, and even camera support are all a given. Better yet, the Vita features both front and rear touchscreens, which conceptually mimic the three-plane design of LittleBigPlanet levels. You touch the rear of the system to move objects towards the camera, you touch the front screen to push objects back, and your Sackboy can manipulate objects in the middle plane. These interactions are a wonderful fusion of game design and hardware capabilities, and they work flawlessly. You know what you have to do without being told, although the Stephen Fry-voiced tutorials in the early levels are helpful. The ability to use pictures you take as textures for stickers and objects is also here, and the front and rear-facing cameras on the Vita make this simple. You needed to get things close to the Eye camera that was attached to your system to take advantage of this feature on the PlayStation 3 LittleBigPlanet titles, and that was hardly optimal. The Vita is a portable system; it’s simple to turn on the front-facing camera, take a quick picture of your own silly face, and use it on a level. If your children are making a level designed to look like your back yard they can take the entire system outside to snap pictures of grass, your house, or even bugs to make the level look authentic. Your Vita is now a portable texture generator. The same holds true for audio; you can use the Vita’s built-in microphone to record your own voice or sound effects to be used during level creation. Touch controls also make the level creation tools easier, although anyone who would like to create anything serious will either need to have learned their skills in previous games or sit through a seemingly never-ending line of tutorials. While the content creation tools in LittleBigPlanet may be simple in that anyone can use them, there is no method for creating levels that is easy. Creating something of worth is always going to take hard work and time, the tools on the Vita will get you to the design stages of content creation relatively quickly. The game may only be in beta, but there is already a wonderful supply of user-created levels and games to experiment with, some of which bend the original platforming action and rules of LittleBigPlanet until they’re unrecognizable. The content creation tools included here don’t just allow you to make new levels, they also allow you to make entirely new games. With a little patience and focus, anyone who is old enough to read the text will be able to get to work creating their own levels to play and share. If you’re an adult and simply want to experiment with game or level design, this is a solid way to start. While accomplishing each individual step may be simple, creating something of real worth is hard, and after the first few hours you’ll gain a new respect for people who do this for a living, and do it well.

The hardware is an extension of the software

None of this is news if you’ve played any of the previous LittleBigPlanet games, but sitting in front of your display with a PlayStation 3 and a controller designing a new level could almost feel like work. The Vita version frees you from that feeling. Being able to take out your Vita on a plane, in a doctor’s office, or on a long bus ride and chip away at your new level is magical. The idea that you can create a new world anywhere in your own world is borderline fantastical, and using the touch screen to edit and add items in your level creates a deeper connection between you and the game. That level of interaction wasn't possible in the PSP version of LittleBigPlanet, as the Vita is packed with tools and hardware that can be used to create instead of just consume, and those abilities fit in perfectly with the whimsical theme of the game. The hardware allows you to feel lyrical, not mechanical. Players no longer have to block out long chunks of time to create a level. Now you can use the Vita as a virtual scratch pad, an object that allows you to be creative wherever you find yourself. The hardware aids the software tools and allows you to create sounds, images, and interactions fluidly. While many Vita games seem to force touch controls on the player just because they can, LittleBigPlanet comes alive on the Vita hardware, and is improved by it. Combined with the already launched Sound Shapes, LittleBigPlanet is proving that a portable game console can aid your creativity in a way that makes sense, and is helped along by its hardware. It’s not often you get to carry a creator of worlds in your pocket. LittleBigPlanet will be released on the PlayStation Vita on September 25.