Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

LittleBigPlanet Karting review: Making tracks


I've never been a huge fan of the LittleBigPlanet series, but I've always respected it. I'm rendered powerless by its peerless charm, and the depth of its creation tools and the resulting masterworks churned out by its playrs never cease to amaze. My one gripe, shared by many others, is that the actual gameplay of LittleBigPlanet never seems to live up to most platformers. The floaty jumps, chancy landings, and overall soupy feel to the controls always let me down.

In LittleBigPlanet Karting, at least, my one gripe has been wiped away, with developer United Front adopting a playbook long ago established by the Mario Kart series, including its simple, precise controls. The difference, and this is important, is that unlike Mario Kart, LittleBigPlanet Karting potentially has as many tracks as its players can dream up.

Gallery: LittleBigPlanet Karting | 30 Photos

When I say that LittleBigPlanet Karting borrows gameplay from the Mario Kart series, I don't necessarily mean it in a derogatory way. Honestly, most (all?) kart racers crib pretty heavily from the Nintendo franchise that booted the whole genre in the first place. That said, there are a few elements of LittleBigPlanet Karting that will stand out for fans of Mario Kart.

Several power-ups bear striking similarities to those from Mario Kart. There's the green missile, which flies straight and can bounce off walls, and then there's the red missile that homes in on the nearest target. If you guessed that the blue missile automatically takes out whoever is in first place, you're right. There's also the power-up that turns your kart into a giant boxing glove – let's call him "Bill" – which automatically navigates the track and knocks aside any racer it comes into contact with. Finally, holding a drift may not produce blue sparks, but it will ignite a kart's tires, giving you a quick speed boost.

That's not to say LittleBigPlanet Karting doesn't have a few new ideas of its own. I'm particularly fond of the grappling hook. Flying across a chasm, grabbing onto a sponge and swinging your way to the other side – all at breakneck speed – is a genuine thrill. Perhaps the best feature, however, is the ability to defend against incoming attacks. So long as you have a weapon in stock, you're no longer at the mercy of most power-ups, blue missiles included. By firing backward at the last moment, you can shoot incoming projectiles right out of the sky.

Like many kart racers, LittleBigPlanet Karting has a tendency to give more powerful power-ups to the racers that are the furthest behind, meaning those in front are always at risk for a nasty attack. Being able to maintain your lead by wisely saving power-ups is a very welcome addition to the usual formula. Even so, it's still common to find yourself careen from first place to last in an instant. CPU opponents seem to have an uncanny knack for blasting you the moment you've fired a weapon, thus losing the ability to defend yourself. Of course, losing a race at the last second is par for the course in most kart racers, as is the deep, burning need for revenge. Then again, playing the same single-player race over and over again can get tiresome.

Naturally, LittleBigPlanet Karting also brings with it the familiar style the series is known for, replete with silly dialogue, hand-knitted planets, cupcake laden trains and a penchant for articulated wooden puppets. The music is great too, featuring a variety of styles and a particularly rad remix of Anamanaguchi's "Airbrushed." And all of it, of course, is drizzled with the wonderful, mellifluous narration of Stephen Fry.

The biggest addition to the genre, however, comes in the form of a ridiculously powerful suite of creation tools. Those worried that United Front wouldn't be able to carry the mantle of longtime LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule can put their fears to rest. Creation tools range from the simple laying of track – accomplished by "driving" a paint roller across the landscape – to far more complex logic routines and object manipulation.

Creating a traditional racetrack is relatively simple, but the variety of tools available allow for all sorts of gameplay concepts and objectives, many of which are on display in the story mode. One level, for example, has players retrieve the eggs of a huge monster (named "Huge Monster") and deposit them in a specific target area for points. Or, as in LittleBigPlanet 2, you can even create games that have nothing to do with racing at all. I sampled a rudimentary version of Peggle, for example, that featured disappearing pegs and pinball style flippers. One of my favorite creations was a side-scrolling space shooter complete with weapon power-ups and a boss with multiple transformations.

Of course, there are plenty of normal racetracks and battle arenas available via the LittleBigPlanet Karting community as well. And yes, there are already recreations of classic Mario Kart tracks up for grabs. I was zipping around Mario Kart 64's "Block Fort" only moments before writing this review.

Given their versatility, the creation tools can be pretty daunting. The tutorials, as ever, are presented via a series of videos (again narrated by the inimitable Stephen Fry). Unfortunately, while the videos are fairly exhaustive in terms of what they can teach you, they don't really provide the hands-on guidance that some creators may want. It works well enough if you plan to watch each video in order, but if you just want to learn one specific thing, it can be difficult to find what you're after. For example, after I learned the basics of laying down and altering a track, I had to futz around for a good thirty minutes trying to figure out how to create a surface that would destroy a kart on impact (personal rule: all of my tracks must include lava). The tutorial system certainly gets the job done, though perhaps a little inelegantly.

Another noteworthy concern, I did encounter two hard freezes while playing, once immediately following an online multiplayer race and once during level editing. Certain editing activities routinely make the game come to a standstill, in fact. When changing the height or curve of the track, for example, the game would often freeze for several seconds at a time as the adjustment was made. Maybe that's to be expected considering all the elements that are being manipulated and saved, but some of those momentary pauses made my heart stop, especially after working so long on my (admittedly terrible) track. Still, by and large everything performed as it should, though I didn't tinker around too much with more advanced logic or anything like that.

At the end of the road, LittleBigPlanet Karting is a well-tuned kart racer. It cleaves rather closely to the genre's established formula, though it does add a few wrinkles to the equation, namely the grappling hook and the very welcome ability to defend oneself against power-ups. Perhaps even more important than its competent gameplay, however, is that it empowers its players to create and enjoy a limitless number of tracks and games in perpetuity. I daresay that fans of either "creatinating" or kart racing will not be disappointed.

This review is based on a retail copy of LittleBigPlanet Karting, provided by Sony.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr