Hands-On With LittleBigPlanet Vita

Are you a LittleBigPlanet fan?  Do you own a PlayStation Vita?  If you answered yes to both of these questions, then you’re probably excited for the upcoming and aptly named title LittleBigPlanet Vita.  Chances are you’ve also signed up for (and unfortunately were not chosen to take part in) the beta test that occurred during the last few weeks.  Fret not, for though you may not have gotten your own hands on it, we were lucky enough to and we have all the details for your reading pleasure!  Come with me as I go for a stroll through my experience with LittleBigPlanet Vita’s beta.

Players enlisted in the program had access to four official levels, designed by members of the LittleBigPlanet (LBP) staff.  Two of these were full levels, pulled from different sections of the main story, and the other two were mini-games.  The first of the two levels was centered on hacking a computer mainframe for some military-looking beefcake, all of which appeared to take place inside the PC itself.  Three locks needed to be… well, unlocked in order to complete the hack, but to get to them players needed to avoid deadly lasers, while making clever use of a grappling hook to navigate the silicone environment.

Alternatively, a race level was also available, where a circus ring-master wanted to “test what you’d learned so far.”  Lack of context aside, the big-top themed level featured many trampolines, and circus-attraction styled objects.  If you’re unfamiliar with the LPB series, the goal in a race is simple: get from point A to point B as fast as possible within a time limit.  While the race may have felt a little out of place, since they threw the player into a level mid-story, they did a great job showing off the mechanics and graphics of the title, as well as the contrast in themes.

For the most part, gameplay was business as usual for the series: lots of running through the play area, navigating hazards, platforming, and grabbing little bubble-things for points.  However, LittleBigPlanet Vita makes use of the titular system’s key features, namely that of tilt and touch.  Throughout the provided levels were various blue-coloured objects, which could be pushed in, grabbed, or pulled using touch controls.

Alternatively, some objects of a more teal hue could be pushed back out towards the camera/player by tapping them with the rear touch screen.  A user’s finger position on the pad was signified by a small blue circle, as opposed to the fingerprint seen in older builds of the title.  The change is definitely for the better though, as it takes up much less space than before, allowing more of the area to be seen. Hopefully this convenient change will carry over to the full release.

Other set pieces could be moved about by tilting the console and letting gravity take hold, to slide say, a bridge or a platform over to be more easily accessed.  All of these features, although seeming quite simple, are so far adding an entirely new dimension to gameplay.  In turn this is sure to greatly augment the already entertaining play established by earlier games, causing the series to evolve nicely.

As mentioned above, two mini-game levels were also present.  The first was a battle game called Toy Tanks, which had a very simple premise: roll around the map in your tank and blast the fluff out of the other sack-people.  Gamers had a view of the small map via the top-down camera angle, and were able to move with one stick while directing shots with the other.  While the concept seemed like it might be fun, I was unable to play a single round of it with other players during the entire beta period, which could have been down to either a lack of interest or problems with net-code.

Speaking of which, this brings me to one of the few issues I came across consistently throughout the beta: connectivity.  LBPV is set to feature online play at launch, allowing multiple gamers to play together on the same level at once, yet every round I attempted to join ended in a failure to connect.  This issue will need to be fixed before launch; otherwise it will harm the title immensely. Thankfully though a solid release date has yet to be revealed, so there is plenty of time for it to be resolved.

Moving on, the other mini-game feature is actually very noteworthy.  The game, called Tapling, seemed almost like its very own game outside the LBP universe.  Featuring a dark and shadowy art-style (similar to that of the indie game Limbo), this mode gave the player control of a small, round creature, with the easy task of reaching a goal at the end of the level.  To navigate, gamers needed to tap the screen, causing the freaky blob to bounce towards where they tapped, which was possible as long as the creature was touching a surface.  While the mini-game was in-fact quite small, simple, and definitely out of place in terms of graphics and style, it was an incredibly interesting feature – one that I’m really hoping makes it into the final release.

Something I wasn’t expecting to be included in the beta, however, was the level creator.  Players had access to all the tools and features needed to design and craft their own worlds, and upload them for others to test out.  Anyone familiar with the editor in LBP2 will be right at home, except utilizing the Vita’s touch features.  Objects could be moved, adjusted, and placed all using touch controls, giving the feature a more natural and responsive feel than using thumbsticks and buttons.

My time with the editor was quite short (mainly due to a lack of artistic skill and imagination on my end), but it is looking good so far.  Once you got past the moderate learning curve, crafting a zone was quite easy, though fairly time consuming.  This mode is very important for LBPV, as once the story is said and done gamers will be shifting their attention to the ever expanding wealth of user-generated content, so it was great to see this mode get the same testing attention as the main feature.

Something else great to see was how the title’s graphics were coming along.  While the title sported some very minor issues with character animations and outfits (such as a character’s hands going through parts of their bodies/outfits on occasion, some stiff and ridged movement, or stickers not pasting immediately on a surface) , not a whole lot was out of place.  Textures were actually glitch-free, with levels and background actually having a considerable amount of care and detail.  If animation can step up to the environment’s level of polish, gamers will have quite the aesthetically pleasing title to look forward to.

Looking back on the LittleBigPlanet Vita beta, much of the game was actually very well developed.  Sure, a few hiccups presented themselves throughout the program, mainly in animations and connectivity, but it’s better to have seen them now rather than at launch.  Should the developers take the player feedback and crack down on the presented issues, then this could be a blockbuster hit for the portable device.  Only time will tell, however, so stay tuned for a full review at or around launch.

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June 26, 2012 - 8:00 am