Sackboy has been superseded by Nathan Drake as the face of Sony in recent times. It wasn’t ever meant to be that way. No, Sackboy was always heralded as the poster (Sack)boy of the brave new world Sony was progressing. They have been by far and away the most daring, open-minded and varied software publishers of this generation, allowing multiple projects to enter people’s homes via digital download, retail and more recently the PS Vita. Sackboy, when he first came on the scene, was very much the focal point of all things Sony. It didn’t quite work out that way long-term though. Yes, the character was loved. The games were incredibly well-received and thought of by many as some of the finest software titles currently available. But the series had its problems. What Sackboy doesn’t do on the PS Vita is eliminate those problems but it does provide the most varied, creative and wildly enjoyable installment in the loveable puppet’s travails to date.
Firstly, we need to touch on those problems. The platforming physics are still floaty and don’t have that sure-footed feel or crisp responsiveness fans of the genre would normally expect; definitely from a Mario game and normally from a Sonic one, too. This is entirely as you will have seen before and as such you’ll know how much of an issue it can be. If you are about to experience Sackboy for the first time don’t expect the mechanics to be what you would demand. This is a design choice, in-keeping with the puppetry soft textile nature of the worlds but it can jar. The design ethic also can be distasteful. Personally it doesn’t work for this reviewer but it must be said that as an alternative to desert, snow, jungle worlds and the like it is fresh, and the likeability or otherwise of how it looks and feels is going to be subjective.
Now, putting the above to one side, let’s focus on what’s new and exciting and going to make you want to get ahold of and play with this portable Sackboy. Tarsier studios, Double Eleven and Sony XDev Europe have taken over game-making duties from Media Molecule, the franchise creators. With this injection of new talent it seems an extra impetus of freedom has been generated. The story mode delivers some of the most entertaining and different level design seen across the four Little Big Planet games. We have a retro 1980s disco vibe world, a scrapyard location about which you travel via rollercoaster for the most part, a ghostly house about which you need to switch ovens on and off to stop your footsies getting toasty and more. Each level introduces something new, plays with it and then discards or builds on it in the next. One level has you flying from start to finish and then that’s it. You get to shoot things, dissolve things, jump on things and grapple across things. You learn how to do something new and then it’s on to the next, back to it and then again onto something new. A lot of it makes you smile, some will confound at first and the rest you’ll probably be afraid to leave behind. It really does fill you full of wonder for the sheer effervescence of creativity within.
Playing it on the PS Vita obviously brings a certain level of novelty to proceedings as well. You have the wonderfully framed five inch OLED screen which ensures Little Big Planet Vita looks good enough to touch. The colour temperature seems a little low meaning there’s less vibrancy than one might like but you do get used to that fairly quickly. The touchscreen is put to good use - front and rear. You at certain points have the ability to fire and guide balloon-like rockets from yourself to the target using the front screen. You have to push certain items into a deeper plane to open up new routes, and using the rear touchpad can push them back if needed to reverse anything. You move giant cogs of machines from the front and guide yourself when flying using the rear touchpad. It’s probably the best overlay of touch abilities onto a game which hasn’t had them before, but it can get in the way at times. It’s hard to see where you’re tracing the rocket to for example because your hand is covering two-thirds of the screen. It’s always very difficult to accurately tap the rear directly where the item needs to be pushed. It’s never enough of an annoyance to have you screaming in irritation but you do think to yourself there must be another way.
Where touch becomes truly useful is in the create part of the software. As with all Little Big Planet games the intention is you play, create and share. You have all the tools from previous games at your disposal plus some new ones. Being able to touch, scroll and select items from your trusted popit with the tip of your fingers is great. Using the Vita like you would a touchscreen phone or tablet, and pinching to zoom for example makes things that much more easy to get going when translating the thoughts in your head to the frankly terrifying open space in front of you. There are sixty-seven tutorials to watch and listen to if you want to be able to make a masterpiece or three. That’s a lot of content, all easily playable and workable through at your own pace. That’s the good thing. The bad thing is you need an idea first still as just playing can result in some hideous creations, plus of course to be able to do turn your idea into a well made level you need to watch and learn from each of the sixty-seven tutorials. Perhaps it’s harsh to be too down on the creation aspect of the game for this reason as there’s no obvious other way but if you have never really got going in this department before then nothing here will elicit a different result.
If you aren’t so up for the create and share part you can enter the community areas and play other people’s levels, get yourself some prizes and heart it, provide feedback or just move on. There’s already some fantastic stuff there and it will surely keep growing. Being a handheld game this means on each bus journey, business trip or lunchtime you can play something entirely new and Little Big Planet Vita has the ever-flowing content source of its predecessors, ensuring longevity in bite-sized chunks even when the developers themselves have long moved on.
Taking into account all the above and the fact that you can play cooperatively online (and you will have to if you want to one hundred percent the game), you will want to replay levels to enjoy once more the creativity and will be driven to do so in order to get all the trophies, what we have here is a fantastically successful and incredibly creative offering which perhaps surpasses the other Sackboy outings because of what it gives you and what you can play with. It doesn’t reposition Sackboy as the face of Sony ahead of that most bubbly of characters Nathan Drake, but it does reinvent him enough such that he’s very much the reason to own a PS Vita.
Sackboy goes portable