Alright, he's not a plumber or of Italian descent, and he only wears red pants and a moustache if you want him to. Yet he's managed to charm us without ever saying a word, and he reminds us of a puppy - complete innocence and a constant craving for fun and excitement.
But the Little Big Planet franchise has not just been known for Sackboy's obvious charms. It's also been synonymous with quality. The first PS3 title broke new ground. It was a wonderful platform adventure that came with a brilliant tool designed to unleashed player creativity. The sequel followed along the same tracks, while Little Big Planet Vita made its mark as one of the best games available on the handheld. With Little Big Planet Karting Sackboy treads new ground as he steps into the third dimension while he tries to challenge Mario's place on top of the karting podium.
The developers of Little Big Planet Karting is United Front Games, the studio that gave us Modnation Racers, and the action packed Hong Kong adventure Sleeping Dogs. But that's all in the past now, and one has to ask why Sony chose to go ahead with Modnation Racers instead of developing Little Big Planet Karting straight away. Both games share a common premise, but Modnation Racers lacks the playfulness and charm Sackboy naturally brings. It's a much needed ingredient when taking on Mario Kart, and the anonymous characters of the Modnation games were no match for Mario and his friends.
Little Big Planet Karting does a lot of things right. United Front may not have created a game that visually matches those of Media Molecule's, but the Little Big Planet characteristics are all present and accounted for. Little Big Planet Karting is childish in a good way, with everything made out of paper, cloth, foam and the like. Mostly everything is made out of every day materials, and naturally you can decorate Sackboys and courses as you wish.
The game borrows a lot from the Mario Kart series. Various weapons are spread out over the tracks, and several are very similar to those in Mario Kart. One example is the rocket that flies to the front of the pack and hits whoever holds first position, much like the blue shell in Mario Kart. Another example of this is the item that transforms your kart into a boxing glove on auto-pilot. Sounds an awful lot like Bullet Bill in Mario Kart, doesn't it? But it's still not a case of a carbon copy of Nintendo's iconic franchise.
As Mario Kart has begun to feel a bit unadventurous and old-school, Little Big Planet Karting brings with it a fresh breath of air. The basics may be the same, but United Front have spiced it up a bit, and offer up a varied selection of dishes. Some taste better than those in Mario Kart, while others are a bit too much to stomach. Let's start out with the best.
Most courses in Little Big Planet Karting are traditional races over three laps. Thankfully these are also the strongest element of the game. United Front have analysed the karting landscape and identified the weakest areas. There is a better sense of control than in Mario Kart, and while luck is a factor here, I experienced fewer frustrating end of race incidents - the kind when you're hit with three weapons in a row just inches from the finish line.
This is largely thanks to a great system for defending yourself. Unlike in Mario Kart, all weapons can be used to defend your kart, and a perfectly timed jump also reduces the risk of being blown to bits. Little Big Planet Karting also sports a far greater number of tracks, and these are full of bonus items to collect, much like in the platform games. These items can then be used in the level editor, and they add a nice incentive to go back and replay levels as you strive towards that elusive 100% completion rating.
The elements that made Mario Kart what it is are also present. It's an amazing experience with human opponents, especially when played on the same couch with a group of friends. The colourful world of Little Big Planet isn't a perfect fit for splitscreen action, but after some acclimation the fun shines through.
The remaining levels are referred to as Arena courses, and aren't as good as the pure racing. The objective is to hit your opponents as much as possible within the alotted time, but the weapon systems aren't good enough for this to be very entertaining. While the weapons are great as far as being tools to help you reach the podium in race, it's simply not a lot of fun to drive around in circles and try to find an opponent to shoot. It's just frustrating. Some of the Arena levels are less focused on weapons, but as a whole they never really caught on with me.
All in all Little Big Planet Karting is an entertaining package. It's a refined and modernised edition of the genre Nintendo created, and Sackboy is one of few characters capable of standing next to Mario without being completely overshadowed. However, this is far from a revolution of the genre, and if you haven't enjoyed karting in the past, this is unlikely to change your opinion of the genre. Little Big Planet Karting does have one final ace up its sleeve. The creation tool.
Much like the proceeding games in the franchise Little Big Planet Karting includes an impressive editor for creating and sharing levels. It's a well crafted and powerful tool, that manages to be both intuitive and user friendly in spite of the transition to three dimensions. If you want to create more advanced levels it will take you some time, but simple tracks can be constructed in just a few minutes.
United Front have also included a bunch of optional tutorials to help you understand and make use of the many tools at your disposal. The creation tool grants the game a depth Mario Kart can only dream of, and while karting may not be quite as popular as platforming we still expect tons of great user created tracks to be made available on PSN. The only thing holding you back is your imagination.
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