In many ways, LittleBigPlanet Karting is more than just a game; it’s Sony’s first step into making the lovable platformer Sackboy their very own Mario. The LittleBigPlanet (LBP) franchise has enjoyed major iterations on PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable and PlayStation Vita, becoming one of the key mascots for Sony.
Developed by United Front Games – the folks behind Sleeping Dogs and, more significantly, ModNation Racers; LittleBigPlanet Karting is more of a successor to Media Molecule’s LBP 2 than you might expect. Everything from the menus to the music screams of LBP, which if you have ever played any of the other games in the franchise is a good thing. This is a franchise that oozes charm, so you’ll get the same warm feeling starting up LittleBigPlanet Karting as you inevitably did with previous titles.
This isn’t the spiritual sequel to ModNation Racers you might have expected. Sure, the actual karting uses the same engine as United Front’s 2010 effort, but in terms of presentation there’s very little resemblance. The environments are distinctly themed to the series and they look as stunning as ever. I absolutely adored the game’s joyous colourful graphics and distinct art style, and driving through the tracks and arenas of LittleBigPlanet Karting gave a kind of warmth inside you simply don’t get with current triple-A titles.
With an acclaimed kart racer already under their belt, it should come as no surprise that United Front have crafted an excellent product gameplay-wise. Karting is easy to pick up but drifting around corners perfectly and managing your power-ups to rise to the top requires more skill than you might to expect. While LittleBigPlanet Karting can frustrate at times, it’s as good as any kart racer on the market.
Using power-ups intelligently is the key to success in LittleBigPlanet Karting. Once you’ve got the hang of drifting and boosting the game revolves around using weapons effectively. There’s your standard mix of projectiles, mines and the more LBP themed paintball gun, with the clever twist that everything you collect can be used to block incoming fire. Whilst LittleBigPlanet Karting’s main story mode isn’t hugely difficult, this is a game when you can be hit moments before crossing the line and end up near the bottom of the pack. You often have to think about whether it’s worth using a power-up against your enemies or for your own protection – which leads to an interesting tactical element than in practice works very well.
Then again, anyone that played ModNation Racers would have expected LittleBigPlanet Karting to be a good racer at its core. The game’s problem lies not so much in its gameplay, but in the way it fits into the franchise. Everything you would expect from a release in Sony’s cutesy franchise is here, but some of the best stuff from ModNation has been left behind.
For example, matchmaking is more complicated than it perhaps should be. There’s no option to jump into a race, with problems like long load times and occasionally problematic online play making racing over the internet reasonably difficult. It’s a shame that these problems weren’t fixed, as multiplayer is really important in a game of this nature.
Personally I was also disappointed to see the levelling system that featured in ModNation Racers absent. There’s little motivation to play online other that the satisfaction of beating human competition, which is a shame since that was one of the great successes of United Front’s last karting endeavour.
Aside from standard races, there are special ‘battle modes’ that take place in arenas and throughout the campaign come with their own special objectives. These work particularly well due to the aforementioned power-up system, granting the main story a necessary change of pace.
Naturally, this wouldn’t be a LittleBigPlanet game without the ‘Play, Create, Share’ element that the original LBP proved seminal in developing. Making your own tracks is more complicated that it was in 2010’s ModNation Racers due to the lack of any ‘auto-complete’ feature, but the tools on offer are wonderful for the creatively blessed to tamper with. There’s already been some really interesting ideas coming out of the game’s community and I have no doubt the amount of user-generated content will be as much as previous iterations in the franchise.
All of this leaves LittleBigPlanet Karting in a weird kind of place. Some excellent voice work from an extensively used Stephen Fry adds life to an already vibrant game that delights on several occasions, but inconsistencies throughout tarnish the overall experience. Online features suffer a little and some things don’t fit into the LittleBigPlanet universe as well as fans would have hoped.
In terms of actual kart racing, this is a quality product that will naturally appease fans of the genre. It falls short of the greatness of the more conventional LBP titles, but it is a successful attempt at broadening Sackboy’s potential as a gaming character. With no Mario Kart launching on the Wii U, this provides your karting fix without blowing you away.