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LittleBigPlanet 2

(Sony Computer Entertainment; US: 18 Jan 2011)

'LittleBigPlanet 2' is Democratized Play for Rich People's Kids

At this point, there is very little effusive praise I could throw LittleBigPlanet 2‘s way that would be new, so let’s attempt to do without it. If you are at all familiar with the franchise, it should come as no surprise that UK devs Media Molecule’s latest game is a polished, A-list piece of work that earns top marks in all the areas that it should: it has great visuals, the music is memorable, it’s accessible across age groups and demographics, it’s creative, it’s different, and it’s fun.


It’s also a rather halfbaked experience if you’re poor.


Now look, I am a graduate student. My kind are not known for their endless supplies of money or resources. I feel rather fortunate to own an HDTV, but it’s neither 1080p, nor is it exactly gigantic. I still have to squint or sit exceptionally close to read tiny text in games like Mass Effect 2 or Metal Gear Solid 4, something I have accepted as a bias toward the dedicated hardcore market and in some ways reasonable in that respect, if still myopic in my view. But for a series like LittleBigPlanet, which thrives on its saturation of a youth market, which makes itself out to be the perfect game for anyone because it can be any game you want, to be all but unplayable on even a medium-sized screen is unforgivable.


Tiny text. A distinct paucity of attractive and readable color options. Puzzles so dark that you might as well play backlit from an open window. Failed camera casing at every turn. This game is a rude mess on anything shy of a gigantic screen, which only serves to cheat an otherwise visually stunning gameplay experience.


Do I sound like Roger Ebert critiquing a 3D movie? I should because this is the exact same kind of hypermonetized hogwash that is killing cinema. The existing HUD elements in no way crowd out the player’s view of the level, so making the text a little larger and more legible would not have impaired the design in any way. The size and style of the text is completely an aesthetic choice—one which unfairly marginalizes any player not gifted with a TV at least half the size of his or her wall.


This factors into the Create mode as well, where careful sizing and positioning matters quite a lot. I’m sure that there are plenty of excellent level designers out there who are working under modest conditions and turning out fabulous work, but I hope that they’re resting their thumbs and eyes often enough. I know that for my part, while I had a ton of fun designing and programming my own NPCs, I had to give it up in short order once the eye fatigue set in.


Thirdly, and following up somewhat on the subject of Create mode, this game is a disappointingly short-lived experience played offline and in isolation. While the Story mode should get major accolades for bolstering the aforesaid story to create something enduring and nostalgically charming, it still manages to feel shorter and in many ways compositionally weaker than the original, which had a much finer gradation of platforming difficulty. The hardest levels are at the beginning and the very end (discouraging for novices) while the middle sections barely involve active cognition at all (disillusioning for everyone else). Once you’ve mastered the tools, unlocked the mini-games and collected all the items, none of which is exceptionally difficult. So, what else is there for you to do?


Perhaps some local co-op would be enough to fill the void, and I suppose that you can always design levels for yourself. However, LittleBigPlanet‘s strongest feature has always been its online community. Digital gods help you, though, if you have a slow or unstable internet connection. Even with my rather generous wireless speed, I still get more connection time-outs on PSN than seems called for, and I certainly do not envy my network friends who constantly dropped offline when we tried to do a level together.


“So the servers have some bugs that need ironing out, and it’s too much game for your tiny screen,” you say. “How does that affect me?” Well, if it doesn’t, good for you. If, however, you’re part of the design team that made LittleBigPlanet 2, you may wish to explain why a game that so explicitly makes statements of inclusivity and that bills itself on an aesthetic of pedagogy and internationality is actually orienting itself toward a rather narrow clientele of privileged players.


(And if your answer is satisfactory, Media Molecule, I won’t then go on to ask why the game’s Big Bad, the force of evil manifested as the “heart of darkness”, is apparently from the menacing and alien world of Africa. You see? I can give developers the benefit of the doubt sometimes.)


Do you want to buy LittleBigPlanet 2? Demographically, if you have a PS3 to begin with, there is a good chance that you can afford to. So, you may as well. It is without question a high-quality game, and my remarks here should not make you believe that I did not thoroughly enjoy playing it. Enjoying, however, is not the same as defending. Had this game more consistency to its message and done more to follow through on its attitude of “bring yourself, whoever, and whatever you are”, I might have called it well principled as well as fun. Unfortunately, I’m forced to rank it with the many other games whose entertainment value is mitigated by my not-so-fond memories of eye strain.


If you aren’t able to access LittleBigPlanet 2‘s user-generated online content, you may as well give this one a pass until you can. Like many other build-oriented toolbox games, the true genius of this title is in what your fellow player can offer. If you think that you might enjoy it just for its offline content, I’d advise you to try renting it first. Er, not that there are many rental places left in business these days.

Rating:

Kris Ligman is an independent media blogger and a current master's student of critical studies at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts. Her blog, Dire Critic, offers a daily assortment of links to articles on video games, animation, film, science and technology. Her favorite color is orange.


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