Little Big Whoop

I am not often given to hyperbole, as everyone knows, and it is hard for me to get excited about games these days. Well, I say that but we've had an amazing year or two of excellent releases, but still, I could not have predicted how a single, upcoming title would grab my attention the way it has.

Like so many hopefuls I signed up to the Little Big Planet beta a good few weeks back and like so many hopefuls I wasn't successful, but, as so many hopefuls, we got a second chance as they expanded the number of users recently. My key was actually delivered to me on the cusp of a night on the town. You can imagine how torn I was, having to choose between good food and booze with friends and a glimpse at the one title I am most hotly anticipating. As it happened the former option narrowly won out, but once I got home, drunk and satiated, I managed to download my LBP Beta and give it a good go. Or rather, I fumbled about, fell asleep in a drunken stumpour and woke up, hungover but excited, and gave it a second, non-blurry glance. And it's had its cute hooks in me ever since.

The style is, as is obvious, heart-meltingly cute. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's going to get some attention in Japan, if the squeals of delight my wife produced are anything to go by. Watching a random Japanese player dressed as a pink rabbit sackboy grab my little Shakespeare sackboy and drag him around, having me slap him away, pulling a toothy grin and doing the pointy hand dance made us both smile like a democrat watching a Sarah Palin interview. The wonderfully low-fi quality of the design is just so refreshing in the current pool of brown-gray and the obvious humour dotted around the place, from the World's Best Credits Sequence to the little sackboy emotion animations should guarantee those smarmy bastards at Media Molecule some kind of industry award, or a cuddle at the very least.

Thought all of this was known to me from watching, and rewatching, the many videos and presentations on-line, to the extent I pre-ordered it the very second I was able to do so, I had niggling doubts about the "2.0" nature of the game. Were the tools going to be robust enough, fun enough for your average user to create the content to make this game the hit it so obviously deserves to be? After the slightly disappointing display that was Spore, which had fantastic editors that in the end didn't sit well with the rest of the title, in my humble opinion, I was on the fence with this one. I honestly believed that user generated content was going to be a buzzword that wasn't going to survive the next fiscal year. But then, I also thought at the time the Sims was a ridiculous idea that was going to flop, so I've learned my lesson about jumping to conclusions.

After just a few days with the Beta, I found, I am having Tetris Dreams. The LBP editor is keeping from sleep, as I lie awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking of all the ways I could use the tools to make elaborate traps and levels. Though being bored, with nothing to do, at work as I sit out my notice isn't the most engaging activity anways, I find my daytime too is filled with daydreams of possibility and creativity. Seeing what amazing creations several users have made, and shared, in this mere beta stage I am astounded and daren't imagine what creations wait around the corner once the title is in full release. The editor, in short, is an amazing toy that just fires up my otherwise moribund creativity.

Still, I think I'll wait and see what happens before making any huge pronouncements on its success. It's obvious the tool allows the creative mind to do wonderful things, but it remains to be seen if your average, non-creative user with little time on his hands is going to use it. I think there will probably be a tiny percentage of users creating playable, fun levels for the vast majority to enjoy. But I also think that will be enough. And I'm sure some creative and dedicated LBP users can use the tools to create a game design portfolio that can help their way into an industry job; so vast are the options that truly creative brainfarts are executable within it and I can't wait to see what is going to be out there.

I am not so over-hyped as to notice the game itself isn't without fault. The idea of having to unlock "building blocks" before being able to use them in the editor seems a little onerous and the three layers of the game field are often a little hard to navigate. But compared to the tremendous fun I've had with the beta just these few days these are minor niggles. The fact I can't log into a server if my PS3's system language is set to anything other than Japanese should be considered a major bug, though, and one I am hoping Media Molecule will deal with.

At the moment there seems little hype for the game in Japan. I don't quite understand why Sony isn't pushing this game into everybody's faces; let's wait and see if they do something for this week's Tokyo Gameshow. I truly think Media Molecule has hit upon a style that could appeal to the Japanese consumer. Sackboy certainly has the looks to be the kind of mascot that can be plastered over all manner of product for advertising purposes. Damn, he's cute! Whether they are interested in the user-creation part of the game here remains to be seen, but I'll be very surprised if the title bombs in Japan. If it does I'm going to blame Sony marketing.

Of course, as Titan Quest shows us, a fantastic tool does not guarantee a success, and LBP's editor could overwhelm your average gamer. But it's powerful and playful enough to make me think there will be something special come the final version. I, personally, can't wait. For once the (western) media's hype and my own seem perfectly matched and the product, what's I've experienced of it, delivers in ways I could never have hoped.

I know, I know, this is basically nothing more than a pretty sycophantic love-letter to Media Molecule and their excellent game, but I don't get this excited that often, so take it as it comes.

16 comments:

  1. Lucky :( I didn't get in to the beta. Your killing me!

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  2. I'm hearing so many people praise this game that I'm actually starting to hate it.

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  3. Celso, I hope you're starting to hate the praise, which I admit could be a little tiresome, and not the game itself because that seems a deliberately contrary thing to do and you'll rob yourself of a great experience!

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  4. They may not be pushing it hard in Japan, but in North America (and probably other English-speaking territories), you can't really get away from the coverage. Every single game site that even remotely covers Sony has been jabbering about this for months, and I'm tired of the constant coverage. I'm sure it'll be a top-shelf game and might even move a few (thousand) units, but I honestly think game media's been oversaturated with it. I'll be glad when it finally releases, if only so I don't have to be constantly inundated with prerelease hype.

    (By the way, nice touch with the Sarah Palin. Good to see you keep an eye on this little corner of the West.)

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  5. and i just got into the beta with USA Today :D (I'm in the UK but easy enough)

    Little Big Colossus was amazing!, and Little Big Ninja, are remake of the first level of sakura was brill too!

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  6. I agree with celso, I can see the potential for the game but the hype is borderlining pokemon back in its heyday when the thought of pikachu made my spine shiver...

    JC would you say the game is worth picking up a new ps3 for? I'm eventually gonna pick one up but don't know if LBP would justify that.

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  7. So, is it shaping up to be a real killer-app for PS3 as it is claimed to be by some journalists?

    Personally, after I watched some footage of the game on a game network that showed it up close, I started to fall for it. I want a PS3 real bad now.

    Not to mention the possibility of creating a portfolio using LBP seems like Godsend! (Do you really see this a viable option for breaking into the industry?)

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  8. Given that I've never seen such raw enthusiasm radiating from one Mr. JC Barnett, my pending play date with LBP can't come soon enough. I missed out on the beta, and I've purposely been avoiding previews, game footage, etc. But after reading your first few sentences, I couldn't help finishing the whole essay. Wow.

    I'm very glad to know you're enjoying the game, and I hope it continues to hold up well over time.

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  9. @ Michael: yeah, if something gets an old cynic like me this excited, it must be something special! It got a bit of attention at TGS too. I really think it has a shot of being big in Japan too.

    Today I found out my beta ran out. I am so depressed, it's pathetic! :)

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  10. I'm quite surprised that nobody, in the press or elsewhere, is talking of the fact that it's one of the most technically advanced game of this year.
    I mean, it's doing realtime occlusion, global illumination, fluid mechanics for the fire and the smoke, it's using some pretty insane technologies that Mr Evans designed... And nothing.
    Because it's all about the Art direction and the gameplay. No need for them to scream that THEY ARE DOING NORMAL MAPS and white specular on trees trunk.
    I find it quite refreshing.
    S.

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