Little Big Planet is back for a third instalment. The second title already raised the question as to whether there was really enough new features to justify a sequel. At the time Media Molecule presented a fine rebuttal, one that no-one could argue with.
Now British developers Sumo Digital (who recently developed the old-gen version of Forza Horizon 2 for Microsoft) are taking care of the game, but in our opinion they haven't really come up with a package that offers up as decent an argument for its existence just yet.
You could argue that the series has a problem. With each new feature that gets thrown into the mix, the degree of complexity increases, and even if we don't have to deal with all the crafting options inside any given level, we will always try as we work in creating our masterpiece. Maybe there's a new, untried function or feature that will make our grand vision easier to implement? Existing players who've grown up with the tools have a decent overview sure, but newcomers might well be deterred by the ever-expanding range of possibilities.
In this third title there are 70 new tools, and that's on top of the 29 improved tools that are being added from Little Big Planet 2, and another ten from the Vita game (also by Sumo Digital). Instead of three levels to build on we have six, which should offer even more freedom and choice for players.
And, of course, there are the new characters, who each have their own differing properties (these can also be assigned to the figures in the editor to, for example, let them fly). There are so many new possibilities, and most of them seem really fun and exciting. But the question is whether they can re-ignite our collective interest in Little Big Planet. After six years maybe the core concept has aged a little, and there's little to surprise us about the franchise anymore.
As you'd expect, the developers are aware of this, but even if they've added solid tutorials that explain every new function, and a good story campaign that'll serve as inspiration for budding creatives, they know that it's simply not enough. Therefore they have come up with the Pop-it-Academy.
Each level is created equipped with an editor function, so we need to finish the level by changing things with the tools at our disposal. The levels themselves are thematically linked to the main functions found therein, so it's relatively clear how to put them together.
This way we learn how everything works and how we can use the tools in the game space. This is actually a pretty clever way of introducing the player to the creative possibilities in Little Big Planet 3. It's probably also the reason why Sumo Digital claims that this is the most accessible game in the series to date.
Among the new game mechanics is the Power-up-Creator, a tool which lets us build individual power-ups. We can make tools that do not belong in the game: we made a flashlight so that we were later able to explore a dark palace. In fact, it turned out to be a really exciting tool, even if we had to invest some time in order to make it work well.
Another new feature are the rails on which we can slide along using a special hook, even across multiple levels. Because this feature can also be made invisible, objects can now move as and where you wish. There are also new goals that require us to change character; a necessary tool that was needed by that most important of changes, the addition of new characters Oddsock, Toggle and Swoop. Within a level we can thus assume the role of any hero to better deal with a particular area. Another new feature: we can now manipulate stickers (previously this was only possible for objects).
So there's plenty of new features coming. And although everything felt surprisingly positive, and even though we know that there are now nearly nine million levels that have been created by players around the world (that will also work in Little Big Planet 3), we're still a bit skeptical. Maybe that's because the split-gen development, with the title being developed for both PS3 and PS4, potentially has limited the possibilities of what could be achieved if this had been created with just the PS4 in mind.
That said, we're still looking forward to this next game in the series. We've seen so many imaginative worlds and creations that never cease to surprise us. Nevertheless, Little Big Planet 3 feels as if Sony followed the motto: "more is more". What Little Big Planet 3 needs after the rise of so many similar creative games, is a new focus. When the game is released next month we'll see if that's something that can be found in amongst all of the new features.