LittleBigPlanet and its sequel on the PS3 are fantastic game experiences, but their mechanics never felt as tight as the best examples of the platform genre. As enjoyable as the titles are, the platforming physics always felt a little heavy. They not as precisely tuned as genre stalwarts like Mario and Sonic. To be fair, such exacting mechanical standards and pitch perfect level design aren’t what LittleBigPlanet is about. The itch that the series is trying to scratch is not one of perfect execution, but rather one of creation and community. You’re meant to be astounded by what others have put together, and perhaps compelled to create original content yourself. As such, while the stock levels are polished, they’re intended less to be enjoyed than to inspire hobbyist developers to make levels of their own.
At this point, with two home console titles and two portable titles, LittleBigPlanet is a legitimate franchise. Although the kart racing genre is long since past its heyday, it was once almost a rite of passage for a successful platform series to take a stab at a kart racer. As such, it’s not surprising that we’re now seeing LittleBigPlanet Karting.
While the physics behind various kinds of racing games differ dramatically based on both vehicles and where on the style spectrum the title falls between arcade and simulation, kart racers in particular tend to feel very similar to one another. The physics of LittleBigPlanet Karting feels different from a traditional kart racer in much the same way that the core LittleBigPlanet titles feel different from a traditional platformer. It should be noted that the original developers behind LittleBigPlanet, Media Molecule, have moved on, and this title was developed by United Front, the same studio that brought us the well regarded ModNation Racers. It was in that title that the physics style on display here was introduced.
What’s interesting is that ModNation itself was likened to LittleBigPlanet with respect to the importance of its content creation and sharing tools. In fact, at the time, United Front mentioned in an interview that they had a cordial relationship with Media Molecule, bouncing ideas off them during development. Given the chronology of announce and release dates, it seems highly likely that LittleBigPlanet served as an inspiration to the developers at United Front. If LittleBigPlanet Karting simply represented a costume change from the audiovisual design of ModNation Racers, then, it would be fair to be puzzled by the title’s release, or to cynically view it as a mere cash-in.
But aside from bringing the LittleBigPlanet aesthetic to the party, United Front has also brought over a content creation scheme very similar to the one presented in LittleBigPlanet 2. It allows for extraordinary flexibility and richness from those dedicated enough to learn its intricacies, and it greatly extends the possibilities (over ModNation) of the kinds of content that can be created and shared. This means that, like LittleBigPlanet 2, creators are not limited by the core genre of the title (in this case, kart racing). Ambitious authors can use the content engine to make whatever they’d like. It should be noted, however, that this is a bit of a trade off in that though it was less powerful, the content creation tools in ModNation Racer were more approachable to the newcomer than they are here.
Like the other entries in the LittleBigPlanet series, Karting can be approached one of two ways. The first is to lose yourself in authoring complex levels to share with others. While this approach will undeniably make the game a long lasting value for those that are compelled to try it, the reality is that no matter how user friendly the toolset, not all fans of the series will have any interest in investing the time and energy required to make levels for the community. While creating (or recreating) levels drawn from other media franchises is interesting, clean and original level design is an inherently difficult task that’s not for everyone. The other way to enjoy any LittleBigPlanet title, Karting included, is to revisit it every few months to see what the community has come up with. As long as content is being created, it’s easy to check in and see what new interesting content has arisen.
The LittleBigPlanet aesthetic is as charming here as it’s ever been. ModNation Racers already felt as though it had brought the trappings of LittleBigPlanet to the kart racing world, but this title does so even more so. With it’s deep content creation tools, jawdropping levels are likely to appear as time goes on. LittleBigPlanet Karting is a no-brainer for those fond of the LittleBigPlanet style, and willing see what the community can put together. Certainly, those who rolled up their sleeves and got deep into creating content for LittleBigPlanet 2 will be right at home. Hardcore kart racing fanatics who aren’t familiar with the LittleBigPlanet way of doing things, though, might find the actual action a bit imprecise for their tastes.