LittleBigPlanet PS Vita: Sony’s Answer to Super Mario Maker, Before Super Mario Maker

LittleBigPlanet PS Vita is a 2D Platformer / Level Editor developed by Double Eleven and Tarsier Studios with the help of Sony’s internal developers. It was published by Sony for the PlayStation Vita in 2012.

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about the PlayStation Vita… let’s fix that!

If you’ve owned a Sony console over the last 10 years, then you’ve probably seen Sackboy, the brown sock puppet with a goofy smile. His game, LittleBigPlanet, made its debut on the PlayStation 3 and the series has had at least one installment on every Sony console ever since. Half of the game is a traditional 2D platformer, and the other half is a level editor that allows you to create your own levels, share them online, and play other peoples’ creations. It’s Sony’s Super Mario Maker, before Nintendo ever attempted the idea. For once, Sony showed up with something innovative that Nintendo would later copy!

Let’s talk about the first half… first. LittleBigPlanet has an on-the-nose message of celebrating imagination, to the point where the story mode feels almost like a glorified ad for the level editor. An evil mastermind called The Puppeteer has taken over the planet by making uninspired copies of puppets instead of true characters that feel and think on their own. It’s up to Sackboy to save the planet and its denizens. If you’re me, then you’d interpret the story as an allegorical critique on the gaming industry as a whole, where callous businessmen order out lifeless products for the masses. And in this case, Sackboy would be… game developer unions? I’m not sure. I’ll have to get back to you on that part.

Sackboy himself has a barebones control scheme. The game doesn’t so much emphasize a moveset as it does level mechanics. You won’t be pulling off any cool flips or wall jumps without a bit of environmental help. For example, one world consists of a series of grappling hook challenges, while another focuses on touch panels (that you literally touch to move). Like Tearaway, LittleBigPlanet utilizes a lot of the Vita’s touch and gyro controls. You’ll likely be using the face buttons to actually jump about half of the time. These gimmicks would be frustrating… but thankfully Sackboy’s simple controls make them inoffensive.

The levels themselves have great ideas that develop and conclude at a satisfying pace. It was during the last few worlds, where several ideas combined together, that I felt like the game truly shone on its own as a Platformer. And the themes are all incredibly charming. One world embraces a puppet show circa 1910, while another takes you through an electronic gadget boutique from the 1980s. Scattered throughout the levels are “game assets,” in other words, things that you can unlock for the level editor. These collectibles, more than anything else, felt like not-so-subtle nudges towards the level editor menu.

Eventually, I gave into the level designers’ peer pressure and opened up the level editor. This second half to LittleBigPlanet is what truly made the series unique. Before Minecraft, before Super Mario Maker, before Dreams, novice designers across the world first made their own games thanks to this series. I liked a lot of things about the editor. You can make highly detailed and unique creations in both the foreground and the background. I can make environments in this game that I could never get with Super Mario Maker. The problem is that these levels take a lot more time to develop and test. I haven’t felt the compelling need to make my own worlds and games like I did with Mario.

The best part of the level editor, though, is being able to play other peoples’ creations. There is still a healthy creator community surrounding the game, even though it’s been several years since its release. Well… there was a really healthy community. The servers were shut down in June and they might not come back up. So unfortunately, a big feature of the game is now missing.

I’m thankful I got to play several levels while I could, but I can’t help but wonder: how in the world can you preserve a game like this? LittleBigPlanet‘s community is something you can kind of replicate with other games, but not in quite the same way. I’ve only been in it for a few months and I already miss it.

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