Try to imagine a world without creativity. There'd be no music, no books to read and no films to watch. No mobile phones, no internet and no computers. In fact, we'd likely still be living in caves and getting trampled by mammoths on a daily basis, given that pretty much everything that fuels our modern lives was an idea someone had, once upon a time. Of course, with no creativity, there'd be no games, either - and while we could put on our jaded journo hat and accuse the multitude of copycat shooters of lacking creativity, there are still plenty of games that seem much more imaginative (thankfully) - like the hand-crafted, lovingly stitched together Little Big Planet 3. A game that's one half platforming adventure, and one half a blank canvas for your wildest creations, Little Big Planet 3 is simultaneously familiar, and a much needed breath of fresh air.
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The third game in the series (not including portable PSP/PS Vita versions), Little Big Planet 3 takes us to the backwater world of Bunkum, the once thriving creative centre of the game's arts and crafts Imagisphere universe, that's suffered a bit of a fall from grace in recent years. Brought to Bunkum by an unusual character called Newton, who has a lightbulb for a head and the voice of Hugh Laurie, Sackboy soon finds himself caught up in a plan to thwart an evil plot a mysteriously old lady called Mama Pud is allegedly planning - to bring back the very devilish Titans that laid waste to Bunkum's creativity. Or so he thought. Turns out, Newton poor old Sackboy for a fool, and releases the Titans himself, hoping to use their power to reawaken Bunkum's lost creativity. Of course, things quickly turn sour and Newton gets possessed, warping his vision into one of world domination instead (as always). As such, it then falls to Sackboy to find and reawaken Bunkum's lost heroes - Oddsock, Toggle and Swoop - free Newton from the grip of the Titans, and save the day.
Essentially part platform game and part creation tool, Little Big Planet 3 is a game of two halves. If you're looking for some more traditional, structured gameplay, you'll find what you're looking for in the game's story mode, where stages packed with platforming, perils and puzzles are waiting to be conquered, as you work to defeat the Titans. With full support for four player, same console co-op (or a mixture of online and local if your friends and family are a bit further away), this is a game that's made to be played with friends, and each can customise their characters to suit.
Scattered around each level are oodles - and we mean oodles - of collectable 'Prize Bubbles', containing anything and everything the game's developers used to create the story mode. There's different materials, shapes, objects and stickers of every colour and type imaginable - burger heads, bowler hats and knee pads; cats, cupcakes and cricket bats; several types of rainbows, ink splats and more buttons, knobs and switches than B&Q - and we've hardly scratched the surface. The stuff you pick up in Story Mode can then be in the other half of the game - the creative tools - where you can put your newfound bits and pieces together to create your very own levels, costumes and what-have-yous. Once finished, you can even publish your hard work for the whole Little Big Planet Community to play through - and download some of their 7 million+ creations too. If you're in any way, shape or form creative, then Little Big Planet will be one heck of a time sink.
From the dingy green Manglewood Swamp - the site of Bunkum's forgotten film industry - to the snowy Russian-inspired, musical instrument-themed Ziggurat temple, presided over by the strange owl-y turkey priest Papal Mache, the whole game screams creativity. These hub worlds, which you use to access the game's levels and challenges, are a new feature for Little Big Planet 3, and are chock full of collectables and characters that will give you side quests (essentially extra levels outside the main story) to do along the way. As for the levels themselves, they're as varied as you'd expect from a game that prides itself on creativity - one minute you'll be re-routing milkshake round a 50s American diner level to power a lift, the next you'll be floating through space solving some laser puzzles, before finishing off by navigating a Yeti through a top down maze of bounce pads, air vents and moving platforms. Each stage is suitably different and entertaining, and in the case of the diner level, packed with some amazingly catchy tunes. There's a definite emphasis on playing in co-op with friends too, as many sections are easier with a helping hand. Some collectables even require two or more people to work the puzzle to get them.
Beyond the story levels, there are also a range of challenge levels to be conquered - extra stages intended to be more challenging than their story counterparts, and generally put a bit of a different spin on the traditional Little Big Planet formula. One minces up Sackboy into eight mini versions of himself, all controlled at the same time, using the same stick, and challenges you to make it from one end of the level to the other, leaping across jumps, swinging across gaps and avoiding deadly electric grates as you go, with the intention of getting at least six Sackboys to end. Another asks you to complete a stage without picking up a single points bubble. Sounds easy enough - but with stomping bears in the background making the whole stage bounce, flinging you up in the air in the process, perilously close to those points bubbles, it's a lot harder than you'd think.
But the real star of the challenges are the Contraption Challenges, which blend together the play and create modes by asking you to build something with which to complete the level - like piecing together your own car out of pieces you've collected, adding gadgets like balloons and turbo boosters, before decorating it how you see fit (maybe some butter on the wheels for added lubrication? A T-rex face to strike fear into your opponents hearts? Or simply as many fuzzy cat tails around your wheels as you can?). With your ride suitably pimped, it's on to the track, where you have to race your contraption to the end of the stage with the help of your friends - which, if you're anything like us, will result in plenty of crazy crashes, and leave you laughing so hard you cry. Pro tip: It's probably best to divvy up who's controlling what parts before you start, lest your Sunday morning devolves into fits of laughter over which numpty turbo boosted into a wall, flipping your jerry can car over and costing you the race.
As you complete the main levels, and rescue each of Bunkum's heroes, you unlock the ability to play as them in the game, with each having their own unique style, and their own specific levels to complete. Oddsock is light on his (four) feet, and as such, tends to have much faster paced, reaction-based levels with lots of jumping, running up walls and leaping from wall to wall. Toggle meanwhile focuses more on puzzles and switching between his big and small forms - the former is heavier, good for weighing down objects or walking on the seabed, while the latter is much lighter and can even run on water. Finally, Swoop, being a bird, is capable of flying around levels, and can pick up and carry all sorts of items (including Sackfolk!) around stages. With each mixing up the formula somewhat and bringing with them new puzzle possibilities, it seems a shame that they actually play a fairly minor role - apart from an introductory level once you free them and the occasional cameo from thereon in, Little Big Planet 3 is still very much Sackboy's game.
Fortunately though, our little knitted chum has a handful of new tricks up his sleeve, with a new selection of power-ups at his disposal, all accessible via a handy button press. His new wind gun, the Pumpinator, can be used to either suck or blow jets of air to spin windmill-like objects, move lighter blocks around or simply suck a couple of elusive prize bubbles towards yourself. The Hook Hat meanwhile lets you leap onto bendy rails and ride around; the Hover Boots let you hover (duh) over larger gaps; while the Illuminator, a torch freebie from Zom Zom's in-game shop can be shone on certain objects in the background to make them move and reveal bonus prize bubbles. The Blink Ball is another hat, but one that fires metallic balls at wibbly metallic-looking portal pads - teleporting your little Sackboy with it when the two cross. It's quite nifty, although perhaps a little hard to aim and use. And while not strictly a powerup, the new Velociporter items in levels are rather fun - as with first person puzzler Portal, you can enter one and be spat out the other, with your momentum preserved. Meaning if you go through a string of them, you can fire your sack person into the stratosphere.
And fire him you can, given that the other half of Little Big Planet 3 is one huge create mode, where you can let your imagination run wild. With insane amounts of depth, all wrapped up in a surprisingly easy to use editor, you can create pretty much anything you like - from Little Big Planet-ified versions of Bioshock or Dead Space, to an entire level based around making breakfast to a disturbing recreation of the Titanic. Making things is a simple matter of assembling the constituent shapes, changing the colours around and decorating things with stickers - but actually making a game out of them can be a bit more complex, as you have to delve into the more complicated concepts of what they call 'logic', which dictates how your creations will behave in the game world. If we're honest, we don't really get it, but then our logic is more along the lines of point and click games - where spiking some caviar with prunes to make a fishmonger go to the toilet, in which you happen to have put a cauldron full of custard and a rather angry octopus, is a perfectly reasonable way of separating a man from his belt.
Fortunately, the folks behind Little Big Planet 3 have come up with an innovative way of helping you get to grips with the editor - through the Popit Puzzles. Housed in the Popit Academy, these walk you through the basics of the create mode with a little mini adventure, under the guidance of Little Big Planet 2's helpful newspaper-in-3D-glasses man, Larry Da Vinci. These are a handy way of getting used to the create tools, without having to sit through video upon video explaining them - although if you just want a refresher on logic for example, you'll have to play through all the preceding Popit Puzzles at least once to unlock it, rather than jump straight into the relevant one. Still, they are pretty fun challenges in their own right, requiring a bit of a different thought process to solve some of the puzzles and reach some of the more elusive prize bubbles.
However, there are a few problems with Little Big Planet 3, especially on the PS4 version - although they're now just a shadow of the issues that plagued the game at launch. While the massive, several second long lag when opening the popit has now been banished to the depths of hell, there are still a few places where you can reliably fall through the floor (oddly, only if you aren't the main player), and random loading screen hangs, while trying to sync our previous Little Big Planet profiles and unlocks also ended in us having to reset the console. Luckily, these issues aren't game breaking, and are being bashed on the head with each progressive patch - but they still shouldn't have been there in the first place.
All in all, Little Big Planet 3 is as awesome as we imagined it would be, giving us more of the creative, kooky, co-op platformer we know and love. Although the new characters aren't quite the game changers they were made out to be (while they do add a bit of variety, they could have done with a few more levels each) what's here is plenty of fun. With a few more levels for the story mode, this would have come even more highly recommended - but with millions of community levels to play, a deep creation mode with which to make your own, and oodles of collectables to find, you'll likely be playing Little Big Planet 3 for a while anyway.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4