The LittleBigPlanet franchise has been something of a runaway success for Sony. While Sackboy may not be as recognisable as Mario, his games have sold very well, and LittleBigPlanet has now become a staple part of the PlayStation family. Renowned for its creative nature, and the ability to share your wonderful inventions, the series has done a good job of making itself stand out from the competition.
Yet, LittleBigPlanet Karting is a game that suffers from something of an identity crisis. On the outside, it certainly looks and feels every bit like a LittleBigPlanet game, sporting the imaginative visuals and creative presentation that the series is renowned for. But when it comes to the gameplay, it borrows the majority of its mechanics from other kart racers – namely Mario Kart. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the game fails to implement them as well as it could have done.
To make matters worse, the game’s extensive creation features just don’t feel particularly innovative; this was all done before in 2010’s ModNation Racers which, funnily enough, was also developed by United Front Games. That’s not to say that the game isn’t better for having it – it most certainly is – but as a result of this and its other shortcomings, LittleBigPlanet Karting doesn’t feel like its own game, and instead comes across as a somewhat mediocre attempt at emulating a tried-and-tested gameplay experience. It’s as if the developers simply took its previous title and gave it a paint job. While LittleBigPlanet fans will probably find enjoyment in it, most will be put off by the frustrating gameplay, long load times and bizarre game design choices.
LittleBigPlanet Karting – if you hadn’t already guessed it – is all about driving wacky karts around crazy tracks and using nutty weapons to take out your opponents while you’re at it. The premise is far from original, but it’s a first for the franchise. Players have access to a wealth of different race types across both single- and multiplayer modes.
Much like its platforming predecessors, LittleBigPlanet Karting features a story mode where you have to race across a number of different environments. The plot itself is nothing to call home about, simply serving as a means to provide the player with an excuse as to why they’re now restricted to driving vehicles. Nevertheless, it’s all beautifully narrated by Stephen Fry and it’s hard not to find yourself caught up in the game’s charm.
There are many different game types, ranging from your standard kart race with power-ups to boot to a first-person F1 simulation and battle mode. The variety of modes does help to keep your play-through feeling fresh. Interestingly, there are certain VS races within the story mode where you can choose to play online against other players. This feature sounds intuitive and as if it would provide a seamless bridge between the single- and multiplayer modes. The reality is quite different, however, as you’re typically thrown into a match that has already started. You can, of course, wait until it’s finished, but what tends to happen at this point is that the other players then vote for a different track. This is more than understandable (after all, playing the same thing over and over isn’t very fun), but it’s quite frustrating if you’re trying to focus on completing the story.
The game’s Weaponator system is one of the title’s biggest missed opportunities. The fact that it borrows so heavily from Mario Kart in terms of ideas is one thing, but its biggest failing is that virtually no skill is required to use it; every projectile can be easily (and almost automatically) countered by practically every other one in the game. While this might seem balanced, all this does is greatly benefit those in the top and last positions of the race, as they only have to focus on either attacking or defending. It’s frustrating to work hard to reach a middle of the row position, only to then find that you’re constantly on the defensive and unable to attack, for fear of being sent back to where you came from.
The core gameplay doesn’t help this either; tracks rarely seem difficult and while there are a few exciting moments, you tend to find that the only thing you need to look out for is the constant barrage of incoming projectiles. Kart control is tight, borrowing the power slide and boost mechanics from Mario Kart and, overall, the controls are fairly responsive. It’s just a shame that little mastery of this is required for most of the game’s available tracks.
One of the most noticeable things about LittleBigPlanet Karting is its incredibly long load times. For a game that doesn’t look particularly different from older titles, the amount of time spent waiting around for stages and menus to load is staggering. This is further exacerbated online, only because every time you join a race, you’re forced to wait for it to start in some way or another.
Admittedly, the scenery is very nice and each track oozes of the franchise’s signature mish-mash of weirdness. Crazy jumps dangerous obstacles litter the tracks, although the latter only adds to the frustration already caused by the Weaponator system.
It’s worth noting that although the user-created content feature has already been done before, it’s still very entertaining. A comprehensive set of tools is available to the player, and it’s impressive to see what people can do with it. Ironically, some of the best user content at the moment is based around re-created Mario Kart 64 tracks. A nice touch is that the weapons can be re-skinned, allowing you to pay a great deal of homage to certain franchises or themes.
It’s difficult to justify purchasing this game at full-price when ModNation Racers is more than likely already available at a bargain price. Again, if you’re really into LittleBigPlanet, then this may be worth your time, but one can’t help but feel that what is on offer here is a little rehashed.
Unfortunately, LittleBigPlanet Karting doesn’t try to break the mould by doing something different. Its core gameplay strictly adheres to done-and-dusted genre mechanics, although its track design feels far simpler and the weapon system is flawed.
To sum up
Fans of the series will no doubt find a great deal of enjoyment in the game’s creative features and its nice visuals, but it really is nothing that we haven’t already seen before. To top it off, the ridiculously long load times and awkwardly integrated online mode only serve to make LittleBigPlanet Karting feel like a cumbersome and average affair.
Version reviewed: PlayStation 3