LittleBigPlanet is PlayStation’s premier platformer for this generation, so naturally Sony aims to apply the Craftverse’s signature creativity to the genre of kart racing. The developer, United Front, is also a seasoned kart racing studio, being the masterminds behind the PlayStation exclusive Modnation Racers. On paper this seems like a match made in heaven, but bringing a franchise into a new genre can be difficult. And like most LittleBigPlanet games, the community in LittleBigPlanet Karting becomes the proverbial “MacGuffin”.
LBP Karting is a LittleBigPlanet game through and through. That means the aesthetic has to be immaculate and to the developer’s credit, it is. In fact, most of the user interface is the same as it has been in past LittleBigPlanet games. The Popit tool returns with stickers & decorations, but this time has the additional Kart section. Sackboys hang out in your Pod, which you can decorate, and the world map is a familiar patchwork of planets. It looks like a LBP game in every way possible, point bubbles and presents, but this can actually limit the customization.
Costumes are wild and varied. Karts actually have six unique suspensions, creating Monster Truck Bento Boxes and Hovering Bumblebees. But the decision to not include a color wheel for various components of the Karts is disappointing. I get that texture is a big part of LBP, but the ability to paint my kart shouldn’t involve me stamping it with colors. Once you get those Karts on the track though, and you’ll be drifting through corners and kicking up flames. The visual flair adds intensity alongside the tension of weapons detonating around you. The tracks look big expansive despite obstacles being more than manageable.
The sound design is ripped straight from past games in the franchise. Popits pop, and so does Sackboy. Collecting point bubble chains while sliding around corners creates familiar crescendos. The story mode features the same Simlish conversations, while little Sackfolks still remain silent. Stephen Fry returns to guide you from level to level, his voice providing encouragement and laughter along the way. The music also has the same familiar charm bringing together masters of completely different crafts, including a fresh remixed Anamanaguchi track. However, LBP creators from LBP 2 might be disappointed to notice the lack a Music Sequencer, which was a fantastic addition to last game. Altogether, LBP’s sound is full of life, and one of my favorite things about the game.
Of course LBP Karting is just what it sounds like, a kart racer--yet the game features every bit of nostalgia possible in bringing the franchise to a new genre. Each level is a track in the story mode. Completing a level unlocks the Versus sub-level along with an occasional mini-game. The mini-games are fun, but forgettable. The story picks up almost immediately after the events of LBP 2, furthering the illusion that this is in fact a true sequel in the LBP compendium. Your new enemy is the Hoard, which provides justification as to why the Craftverse has gone karting-- though as a primary antagonist, the Hoard is sadly just as forgettable as previous LBP villains. Story levels not only require you to win first place, but also have Goodies and Prizes which need to be collected before a level is complete. This increases replay value in the same way that LBP games have in the past. It can be a good thing, as long as the mechanics are fun and varied. The latter of which is a bit lacking.
Maybe it is due to the nature of LBP being limited to the kart racing genre, but the creativity in the track design for the story was underwhelming. For the most part, you’ll see everything there is to see outside of the user-generated content in a few hours. Levels vary from lap races and end-to-end time trials, to arena combat. The story mode timeline shortens when playing co-op because, with a good amount of teamwork, you can 100% levels on the first run. There are some interesting mechanics, which vary from level to level. Examples include the returning grappling hook for jumps, along with the jetpack for added boost. Boost, you’ll find, is one of the key mechanics to finishing first.
Just like most kart racers, you build boost by drifting around corners or landing tricks off a jump. The drift button sends your kart into a simple slide; slide long enough and your tire tracks ignite, letting you know the boost is ready. Aerials are more strict; landing a trick will give you a slight boost, but it has to be perfect to a fault. Many times it would appear I landed the trick just fine, but received no boost. Despite these various abilities, combat can also swing the races in a particular rider’s favor, with weapons being delivered at random via power-ups in the level. Some weapons afford you the option of defending yourself using a visual cue, but others are purely about destruction. However, combat isn’t purely weapon-based; Sackboys can slap each other, causing an opponent to slow down, but the costs tend to outweigh the benefits. Maybe if the slap allowed you to steal an enemy weapon, I might be more inclined to take advantage of the mechanic. A mechanic that is made even less important when you’re stuck racing alone.
Here is the biggest gripe I have with LBP Karting: the multiplayer component just doesn’t work very well. Story has co-op and that is great, but hear me out about the competitive multiplayer. I played through Versus levels with 3-4 local players and the track would not always populate bots. Then I jumped into a random game using Quickplay, only to find that bots took precedence over players. I even sat in a lobby for thirty seconds, only to be left a spectator while four of five bots were in my place. In short, it’s inconsistent. And lobby woes don’t end there; selecting a specific Versus map will also have you sitting in the Free Play lobby FOREVER while the game tries to find someone to play with. My multiplayer experience was disappointing at best, along with the issue of whether or not the game would decide to include bots. The user-generated levels on the other hand seem plentiful and are not too difficult. The track design tools take a note from Modnation, while decorations and stickers are straight out of LBP. Publishing, accessing, rating, and searching for content is still great; though getting back to a level you recently played requires a lot of menu digging. Still, the unexpected joy of finding Mario Kart 64 levels complete with Red Shells can’t help but put a smile on my face.
What it all boils down to is the fact that LittleBigPlanet Karting comes up short of being a proper installment in the LittleBigPlanet franchise, though it tries hard to convince you otherwise. It is a decent kart racer, but unless you’re big into the user-generated-content portion of LittleBigPlanet, it doesn’t offer a truly unique experience. The mechanics are solid, but the story tracks won’t keep you entertained for very long. Mini-games are fun though far from memorable, and the online multiplayer was not up to snuff with most modern kart racers. Fans of the franchise will probably find a lot of reasons to love this installment, but most gamers will be over LittleBigPlanet Karting after a fun-filled weekend.
|ScrewAttack's News Director Sean Hinz worked in logistics for over four years before decided it was time to switch industries. After a couple years spent getting an MBA and freelancing, he finally found a home at ScrewAttack.com. As far as games go, Sean likes to play anything he can get his hands on, but especially enjoys third-person action RPGs. Is that really a genre?|
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