When they told me that LittleBigPlanet was making the jump to go-karting, I laughed it off as a reskinned ModNation Racers. The two franchises came into existence around the same time and LittleBigPlanet always seemed to overshadow the off-brand racer from United Front Games. While Media Molecule got fancy websites and multiple versions, propelling Sackboy to mascot status, United Front Games didn’t just get the short end of the stick, they got poked with it. Sticks hurt!
Of course, Sony’s gone and mashed the two together for LittleBigPlanet Karting, developed by United Front Games, no less. Sackboy… Sack.. girl, and… the rest of the Sack gang are now dedicated to high-speeds, wacky weapons, and your imagination. Can dialing back the brand’s scope reinvigorate it or was it a mistake to trust UFG with LBP?
Karting starts much like every other LittleBigPlanet game. What do you imagine when you’re behind the wheel, stuck in traffic? Blasting everyone in your way and burning rubber around turns, of course! From here, players engage in a brief tutorial and race into a campaign that shows them the depth and variation the game’s toolset will allow.
LBP Karting presents tight, balanced karts with highly tuned racing mechanics. Drifting around turns and earning brief boosts in speed feels incredibly satisfying. Changing your tires for a set of hover-jets suitably alters your karts handling.
LBPK mechanically surpasses every ModNation game before it and even harkens back to Mario Kart Double-Dash or (my personal favorite) Mario Kart DS. Weapons fly freely and present danger for the leader on every inch of track. That doesn’t mean you can’t defend your 1st place position by firing weapons backwards at the last second. Players will be notified of the perfect time to defend against an incoming missile by a blue shield just below their kart. While this can be frustrating for players in second, third, or fourth, it helps to balance the front of the pack and refocus the best players on running good lines and exploiting shortcuts.
That’s not to say that the back of the pack doesn’t have firepower to even the score. The most powerful pickups will fast forward you ahead of the pack or give you a ride on a giant punching glove. You’ll find nothing in an item box as iconic as a red shell or lightning bolt, but everything proves to be as effective as those classic weapons.
Versus mode is not as finely tuned or entertaining as LBPK‘s races. That’s not to say that there’s no entertainment within, but the bulk of your gameplay will be spent online racing against friends and strangers. When you drift around a hairpin turn, leap over a chasm, and grapple hook to the other side, all before stealing first place from a player half-way around the world, you’ll know United Front has done their job and done it well.
Of all the differences between LBPK and the genre originator, Mario Kart, I’m most fond of the depth of kart customization. Different suspensions, tires, and bodies allow players to fine tune how their kart handles across different types of terrain. Beyond that, you can dress your Sackboy in as many different options as previous LBP games. I used to always pick Yoshi, but now my driver looks like a a mix between disco and cowboy themes.
That brings us to the “Play, Create, Share” hallmark that’s come to define LBP and its community. The tools will remain familiar and the options as varied and deep as ever. That doesn’t make it any less intimidating. I tooled around in the editor for a few hours and couldn’t stop adding twists, turns, jumps, hidden pathways… my track had it all. You can find tons and tons of junk littering the campaign’s tracks. Who knows if you’ll ever use it all?
You can also create Battle Mode arenas and offer up custom objectives giving players different goals. Waypoint Races, Treasure Hunts, Score Attacks add variation to the types of levels you can Play… Create… and Share. Regardless of your track’s game type, leaderboards will keep people actively competing, much like earlier LBPs.
Despite this, LBP Karting certainly lacks progression for the franchise. LBP2 opened the world of video game development to anyone and everyone, but Karting doesn’t allow for the same type of variation in gameplay. It’s true that you couldn’t achieve the same nuance in tuning or speed without dedicating an entire game to the Kart genre. Regardless, LBPK feels like an expansion, not a brand new LBP.
If you’re a diehard LittleBigPlanet community member with high-rated levels and a sense of self-importance, I’m not about to dissuade you from LBP Karting. Thankfully, I’m not trying to! United Front Games have proven themselves as stewards the brand and the “Play, Create, Share” motto. It’s hard to fault the developer for the genre’s shortcomings, but I commend them for proving LittleBigPlanet doesn’t have to have god-awful floaty controls.