The Edinburgh Interactive Festival concluded this Tuesday at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre after three days of fun, frolics and chicken tikka massala. A smaller, Scottish equivalent of E3 the event featured game-themed film screenings, an industry conference and a free-to-enter consumer section where a number of commercial and indie games were on display. While there was a definite casual slant to the games on the main show floor (with a live DS Indian cookery display, and Wii Fit demonstrations attracting the biggest crowds) there were a couple of gems to be found for the more discerning gamer. Of these gems, the biggest and shiniest was the first UK showing of Media Molecule’s PS3 exclusive – Little Big Planet.
I approached the demo booth with a hearty dollop of trepidation. LittleBigPlanet is a key title in Sony’s 2008 release schedule and a family-friendly counterpoint to the rather more traditional Resistance: Fall of Man 2 and Motorstorm Pacific Rift. However, while it has a U certificate vibe, the ability to tweak and alter anything about the game (from changing existing levels to creating brand new ones from scratch) is at the core of Sony’s “Game 3.0” strategy which is designed to appeal to everybody. While the show floor of EIF was a difficult place to present the sheer volume of creative possibilities within Little Big Planet, the small sections of the game I played firmly reassured me that not only is the game solid and fun to play, it has also integrated its more technical user content design tools in a slick and easy to use way.
During the 30 minutes I spent with the title, I almost exclusively played in 2 player mode. Controls are simple, using a single button to jump and another to “grab” items. The levels are 2.5D allowing some movement backwards and forwards, but largely forcing the player progress from left to right. None of the levels I played were overly challenging, being simple tests of using momentum or environmental features to progress, however what can’t easily be conveyed through screenshots or videos is just how fun the game is. It has a breezy, chilled-out vibe, and a great sense of pace and motion. There are tinges of Mario and the original Prince of Persia, but does feel unique and different, even if it hard to put your finger on quite why.
The game really shines when it introduces controllable objects. On one level we were introduced to a cartoon car which could go forwards and backwards by moving the gear lever. There then followed a chaotic and riotous race against the computer, which was far more fun than controlling a car with just forwards and backwards gears had any right to be. Another level featured an oversized skateboard, which when jumped on careered down a hill with both players precariously balanced on it, before it finally came to an abrupt stop at the bottom of the slope, crashing and scattering objects and the players in such a ridiculously silly way that it raised a few chuckles from the watching audience. Adding to the sense of fun was the presence of Stephen Fry as the voice of the in-game help, his mellifluous tones fitting the vibe of the game perfectly.
Overall, I spent only minimal time with the creative and customisation sections of the game. During that time I looked at some of the fundamental ways of building objects and environments to play in. While simple to use, I imagine the time investment to make creations that rival the levels the game ships with will probably be beyond most talentless people such as myself. However, I can see the tools available creating a storm of creativity from a certain artistic subsection of the PS3 audience. There was also confirmation that “celebrity” levels were under construction, either for inclusion in the game or to be made available as downloadable content. When we dug deeper about which celebrities these were, only one was mentioned – Lily Allen. The mind boggles as to what a Lily Allen themed Little Big Planet level will look like. A general consensus from a lot of people who saw Little Big Planet was that Terry Gillingham would be an obvious person to talk to about doing custom levels, as some of the objects on display already had a very Python-esque vibe to them. I only hope they listened to us!
Interestingly, feedback on the game from other player at EIF was mixed. Some people claimed serious bugs were in evidence, and that the framerate was choppy, and certain modes incomplete. I personally didn’t encounter any glaring bugs and found the graphical performance to be near perfect. I did notice a couple of PS3s seemed to be playing up, requiring restarts (possibly due to them being stuffed in small, unventilated, boxes), but whether this was hardware or software problems is hard to say. In any event, with some time before the game is released (allegedly “October”) hopefully any lingering problems can be resolved before the game goes on sale, as it would be disappointing if the title failed to live up to expectation because of technical issues.
Overall, I was extremely pleased with Little Big Planet. For a game with such lofty ambitions, to see them so beautifully realised was extremely impressive and a credit to the developers. On what I’ve seen so far, if you’re already excited at the prospect – then remain so. If you’re not yet excited, then check this game out and become so.