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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Review: Little Big Planet PS Vita

The Playstation Vita is easily Sony's least loved gaming platform. It's weaker than the PS3 or PS4 graphically, but despite that it's got a ton of potential. For instance, it has both front and rear cameras, front and rear touch screens, multi-axis gyrocsopes, twin joysticks, a d-pad, and 6 buttons. Unfortunately, relatively few games make use of all that latent potential. Golden Abyss and Tearaway are the only two that come to mind.

Little Big Planet (PS Vita) promised to also be an implementation of the game that made use of all these elements of the Vita, and by all accounts has the best implementation of Little Big Planet because of the touch screen. Set against that was that it's a platformer, which is my least favorite genre of game. The net result was that I waited until there was a sale on the game and picked it up for $7.20.

Well, it's a great platformer and an amazingly beautiful game. The voice actors were the same as the ones used in Tearaway, so the game gave me warm fuzzies the minute I booted it up and heard Stephen Fry's narration. Then the game walked me through the tutorial levels and I was hooked. Because platformers are such an old genre, the general tendency in platforming games is to set the difficulty such that "Easy" means "Difficult", "Medium" means "Not for anyone over 11", "Hard" means "Even those who are under 11 need to fake a fever to stay home in order to finish this game."  The result is that critically acclaimed games like Spelunky and Guacamelee are pretty much unplayable for me.

I'm happy to say that Little Big Planet was not designed like any of the afore-mentioned games. The difficulty is set low, and for all levels except for the stage-ending boss fights, you have infinite lives. That means even if you can't consistently do a jump or finish a stage, all you have to do is to complete it once (by accident or otherwise), and you won't ever have to do it again. The fact that this is a Vita game makes what's otherwise a frustrating genre much easier: while a PS3 or PS4  game would have to be turned off every so often to watch a video, stream a movie, etc., the Vita game can be suspended indefinitely so you can resume exactly from where you last left off. This game was compelling enough that I kept it on for days at a time, being careful to recharge the Vita in order to preserve my game state.

And yes, the game does make use of both touch screens, and the rear camera, but not the front. The two touch screen techniques in fact foreshadow their use in Tearaway, and are very usable. There's even a touch screen in a boss fight, and it's staged well enough that the fact that sometimes touch screens are finicky don't cause you to lose purely due to a hardware issue. And of course, the touch screen is delightful when it comes to customizing your protagonist hero, sackboy. You can change costumes, put stickers in the game levels, and even take pictures and use them to create your own levels.

The game has an extremely shallow story. This is par for the course for platformers. You don't play them for the story. The final boss was very challenging and required multiple attempts before I succeeded (the bosses always have a life-limit so you don't have infinite restarts), but the game played fair at every stage, requiring repetition but not insane skills.

When you're done with the story, you can turn to creating your own levels, playing contributed levels downloaded from the internet, or side games that were unlocked during your play. The side games are actually pretty fun, and some of them are even two player touch screen games, such as an air hockey simulation which I would have killed for when I was a kid on long car rides with my brothers. The sheer amount of content is incredible, and more than enough to justify the precious storage space the game takes up on the Vita.

In any case, this is definitely a must-buy game if you own a Vita. I'm glad I finally got a chance to play it. Highly recommended.

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