Friday, October 31, 2008

LittleBigPlanet - Game of the Year

LittleBigPlanet has absorbed most of my week. It’s the best thing to happen to platforming games since Super Mario Bros. Seriously, it’s that good.

The game is utterly refreshing. The art style is cute yet cool. The graphics are gorgeous. The gameplay is constantly interesting; challenging but never infuriating.

I’ve spent most of my week playing co-op as we’ve had a stream of visitors. First, my dad played co-op with me. By the way, this is the first time I’ve played a videogame with my dad in years. It’s certainly the most time we’ve spent playing games together and I can tell you he enjoyed it, as every time we lost all our lives on a level I’d ask “Do you want to quit?” and he’d say “No, let’s try again.”

My friend Bryce, a serious PS3 gamer, picked up where my dad and I ran out of time. We’ve gone through so many of the story levels that I’m sure I must be almost finished.

Normally I’d be sad to finish the story mode of a game I’m having so much fun with, but it’s okay in this case because there’s so much additional content. I could lose days playing user-created levels. There’s a certain “You never know what you’re going to get” feeling that keeps me trying level after level. This, however, is also a concern. I don’t have the patience for challenging and sometimes flawed levels that I encounter. There are some common issues in these, which I point out because I’m thinking about them as I create my own level; it wouldn’t be fair to be so judgmental of home-made creations.

User levels obviously aren’t tested in the same way that the developers test their story levels. In some cases I’ve found myself deadlocked. For instance, in a Batman inspired level called “Sackman Begins,” Bryce and I got stuck when a swinging bat-symbol vine broke. We didn’t start the level over though, we just moved on to another. 

As a whole, it seems that many users haven’t mastered the ability to reset things when errors occur, or methods for planning alternate paths when the planned path fails. Similarly, checkpoints don’t seem to be popular in user-created levels. In other instances, it’s practically impossible to figure out what you need to do next, as clarity is an issue. But my only real complaint about the game that comes out of this is that it’s hard to tell the creator specifically what went wrong (like “I got stuck when the batman vine broke and couldn’t continue”); instead you rely on tags like “needs work,” “creative,” or beautiful.”

Earlier in the week I also suffered through a lot of lag while playing LPB. This was particularly frustrating because I wasn’t always playing online, I would just get stuck while the game was downloading or uploading high scores. Fortunately, this hasn’t been happening lately. There was a patch that may have fixed the bug, but it may also be that additional servers have been added to compensate for the game’s popularity. It’s really hard for me to criticize the creators for not expecting the game to be so popular that servers were strained.

LPB is so popular that I’ve even received a Twitter request from LBPlanet; apparently organizing all of the LBP players in the world. I hope this game becomes an absolute phenomenon, complete with appearances on morning talk shows.

LBP hasn’t quite grabbed the attention of my fiancé, but she’s remarked that it is really cute and cool to look at. With a little luck, maybe she’ll give the game a whirl. Even if she doesn’t, I am having ridiculous fun playing it.

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