PS3 Preview – LittleBigPlanet Karting

While PlayStation LifeStyle was busy playing PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale last week, that same press preview event also featured LittleBigPlanet Karting, which was officially announced a few months ago. Now that the game has had some more time to polish, how is it shaping up? Is it little more than ModNation Racers X LittleBigPlanet, or has the team at United Front Games done enough to make this feel like a true extension of the LittleBigPlanet universe? Find out in our hands-on preview.

Before I get started, let me just say that I have been a huge LittleBigPlanet fan since I first witnessed the game in motion. I’ll never forget when I first saw that GDC demo of the first game. I made it my goal to get in the beta as soon as humanly possible, where I then crafted a little skatepark level in about 10 hours of fooling around in the Create mode. From then on, I was constantly amazed at just how creative the community became. So you’d think I went into this preview session a bit biased towards loving an LBP Karting game. You wouldn’t be faulted for thinking that, however, nothing could be further from the truth. I went into this demo with pretty doubtful expectations. Since LittleBigPlanet is very near to this gamer’s heart, seeing the beloved franchise in another developer’s hands is always cause for concern. Plus, how well could LBP work in a karting-only environment? This got me thinking, surely there must be 3D Kart levels in LittleBigPlanet 2 that would satiate my need for Sackboy-flavored speed.

Then I Googled “LittleBigPlanet 2 kart levels,” and I was sorely disappointed. Sure, there are some cute levels, but they are all sidescrolling. Although doing a pseudo-3D level in LBP 2 is possible, it is hardly easy to do, and there is no level that I have found that accurately replicates all the nuances that go into a  decent kart game – no powerups, no weapons, and of course the way that LBP 2 handles players falling behind in a race (it kills you after you’re offscreen for too long) just wouldn’t work here.

Ok. So we’ve established that LBP 2 cannot really be used to make a full-fledged kart simulator. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to hand over the license to the glory of Sackboy to United Front Games. After all, ModNation Racers was a thoroughly enjoyable, customizable kart racer, load times aside. But would this be a simple character swap of placing Sackboy into ModNation Racers? After playing quite a few races and battles, I can safely say that this is a karting game within the LittleBigPlanet universe. The interface is not reminiscent of ModNation Racers whatsoever. You still have a Popit menu, including customizing your Sackperson with new textures, stickers, etc. The same thing also now applies to your cart. You can choose the materials your car is made of, which wouldn’t feel out of place in LBP 2 – cardboard, soda cans, paper clips, and more. You can also decide how your car actually moves, whether that’s regular tires, a hovercraft, a zeppelin, or something else entirely. United Front Games got the whole feel of the LittleBigPlanet world intact. Speaking of which, for those who may not know, Stephen Fry had earlier been confirmed as the narrator for LBP Karting, which was a big relief. We didn’t see how the game handled splitscreen, but I have faith that UFG is more than capable of delivering a smooth experience based on their track record (pun sort-of intended).

So now we’ve come to the most important question – how does the game play? This is where you are reminded that the game is being developed by UFG. It feels basically like ModNation Racers while you drive. The cars are fast, the turning is a little floaty, and the drifting is really easy to keep going. The grappling hook from LBP 2 makes an appearance here – you latch onto the familiar spongy material, and if you time it right you can get to a higher platform of a level, which is usually a shortcut. It adds separate vertical pathways, and is a creative way to incorporate a familiar tool from the previous game.

Taking a cue from Mario Kart, there is a battle mode in LBP Karting. Rather than having a certain set of lives from the start, it’s a race to the top of the scoreboard as you rack up KOs. In the demo’s case, it was first to 10 wins. The AI was really easy, but I was assured that this can be tweaked. All weapons from the race mode are here, picked up by running through what appeared to be the Paintinator. Notable weapons included explosive box mines and bomb lobbers that looked like they were pulled straight from LBP 2. In this battle mode, it’s one hit KOs for everyone, but aside from a lock-on missile the ammo doesn’t tend to be too accurate, so you have to time your shots. Although you’re using some explosive weapons, there’s no real carnage here – you simply vanish with a puff of smoke when you get hit. It’s a mildly entertaining mode, and it’ll be interesting to see what kinds of levels people come up with for this mode.

As the day concluded, I left the demo impressed with just how well UFG got the feel of LBP down pat. The game was fun, but not that ear-to-ear grin I got when I first laid eyes on LittleBigPlanet. Some of that may be because I am now used to seeing Sackboy, or maybe I’m just not that big of a fan of kart games. None of the levels really stood out and impressed me. Granted, I only saw three levels, and mastered them rather quickly, but unlike LittleBigPlanet you can only create one kind of level – a karting level. How far can you stretch that concept? Is a karting game starring Sackboy really necessary? Time and sales will dictate that, but in the meantime I remain cautiously optimistic about LittleBigPlanet Karting.