Littlebigplanet Karting is a faithful reconstruction of the littlebigplanet formula for the kart-racing genre. But does that devotion for pitch perfection deter it from being an engaging racer? Mitchell McCausland digs deeper into the cushy tracks of the Imagisphere to find out…
God I love Stephen Fry. His ability to eloquently dictate even the pedestrian of commentary is goddamn charming. He has every right to be Britain’s leading Oscar Wilde-adoring, tech-savvy intellectual comic; his footprint is a sight to behold. Even so, as I hear him whimsically narrating a plot about a horde of wrongdoers ready to ruin The Queen’s planet of racetracks, I still have a terrible sense of foreboding.
Lord help me; I am finding littlebigplanet Karting (LBPK) to be a downright chore.
Let us get what LBPK does right: it lives and breathes the littlebigplanet universe. Every inch and decibel screams of Media Molecule’s breadwinner, which LBPK’s developers, United Front Games, have painstakingly transplanted into the kart-racing genre. Apart from the aforementioned Mr. Fry’s soothing commentary, every bleep, chime and whistle is very littlebigplanet. Materials reflect and shimmer like one would expect in a standard littlebigplanet game. Sackboys can still even slap each other silly. United Front Games have succeeded with creating a littlebigplanet game.
One aspect that I am concerned about, much like I was displeased with the previous littlebigplanet games, are the mechanics. The original title sacrificed solid jumping physics and running controls for the sake of creativity, something, which I cannot verify, has been changed for either the sequel or the PSVita iteration (as I have not played either). Sadly, LBPK inherits this oversight.
In a genre where control is king, LBPK regards its own with a lack of concern. Turning is sloppy. Jumping is floaty, much like its forbearers. Drifting is heavily influenced by the Sonic and Sega All Stars series, where the time holding one’s drift will reward the player with a certain magnitude of boost, yet it is too cumbersome to effectively use on the varied track design in the campaign.
So far, not so good.
To be fair to LBPK, it does add a few novel ideas in the kart-racing mechanic. There is an equal emphasis on defense along with offence when one collects a weapon (or a “weaponator” in littlebigplanet speak. Ugh) where by pressing back and Square when the shield icon near your kart appears it will protect the kart from a homing attack from another player. Also, spinning in a 360 or 720 degree rotation in the air will give one’s kart a boost when it lands on the ground. However, much like the rest of the game, these features are far removed from the concept of being tight.
Trawling through the story mode offers a bit of variety in the courses on offer. The two key types of tracks are the racetracks and the battle arenas, much like what Mario Kart has been doing since 1992. However the two are interwoven in to the story mode, along with various other race types, such as tutorials and rally tracks. Yet, all the good work in the story mode is been done a disservice by the shoddy mechanics. Yep, LBPK is an absolute dull affair.
Despite this, there is still one aspect that needed covering: the Create mode.
Carving out a track in Create mode is, unlike the rest of the game, intuitive. Using a rolling paintbrush, the player can “paint” the track, controlling the curvature of it with the left stick whilst controlling the elevation with the right. Once the main course is in place shortcuts, gaps, hazards and swing posts can be added to enhance one’s level.
It is when I started adding decorations and item to the track that the tone of my experience with LBPK turns from business as usual to sheer lunacy. At first, I started placing buildings beside the track to spice up the scenery, not thinking much of it. Suddenly I realize that some of the buildings are floating in the air due to the change of elevation I had made on the track. Curiosity sinks in, which then turns into a creative spark.
Zeppelins and bananas cloud the sky as bagels and transistor radios clog the track. The AI Sackboys become dazed and confused as to how they interpret the oversized picket fence that obstruct both paths available for them. Karts become pinballs as they bounce against an array of cupcakes. As all of this is happening I am in hysterics. My level, the very aptly titled “Test-Icicles”, is my macabre attempt to make LBPK fun. It works.
Stephen Fry did not save this game for me; it was my Gilliameque “fuck you” to LBPK’s poor kart mechanics in the form of a tripped-out troll-worthy racetrack. I am still giggling about it now.