LittleBigPlanet Karting Review
After only a few races in LittleBigPlanet Karting, it soon becomes clear that United Front Games has wasted its time. Not on crafting a racing spin-off for Media Molecule’s increasingly-ubiquitous play, create and share universe – on the contrary, it’s one of the most accomplished kart racers of recent times – no, we’re more concerned about the time and resources that the studio poured into 2010 PS3 offering ModNation Racers. With an LBP-style remit at its core and by no means a terrible game, ModNation Racers failed to capture the collective imagination quite like its platforming counterpart – in spite of intuitive track-creation tools and an abundance of customisation options. After the success of LittleBigPlanet which launched two years prior, anticipating a similar reception for ModNation might’ve been somewhat unrealistic, but left us with the cautious notion that a LittleBigPlanet racing game might have fared better.
Skip forward two years and perhaps United Front’s work on ModNation didn’t go to waste after all. The core of the game is alive and well in LittleBigPlanet Karting, Sony’s new family-friendly racer, and the result is a little more than the sum of its parts. Everything you know about LittleBigPlanet is here in abundance; Sackboy, the craftwork-inspired visuals, Stephen Fry’s typically English narration, the poppit’s customisation tools, the cardboard pod and interplanetary navigation. Add to that the kart-handling and track-creation mantra of ModNation and you’re someway to understanding what LittleBigPlanet Karting is all about.
The boxing-glove boost: like the Chain Chomp in Mario Kart 64
Most of the competitive races pit you against seven other Sackboys/girls/bots in a race to the finish across the various tracks that populate each themed planet – think confectionary, jungle and urban cityscapes to name but a few. In the great tradition of kart-racing, your vehicle can drift around corners (doing so for an extended period earns a mini-boost) and even perform a small jump, vital for collecting the hundreds of materials, costumes and object icons dotted around each course which will become so important to your very own creations. Your racer and kart are also ridiculously-customisable, but only cosmetically.
Being an amalgamation of all things LBP, ModNation and kart-racing, offensive and defensive tactics also play their part, and United Front has included a canny mix of genre archetypes and innovative ideas when it comes to on-track battling; there are goodies here, available via your Sackboy’s ‘Weaponator’, which take us all the way back to the original Mario Kart, from heat-seeking rockets, to explosive boxes, while other weapons include electricity bubbles and short, steamrolling speed boosts. You can even slap adjacent racers if they get too close, or use your current weapon to neutralise an incoming rocket.
Races quickly become frantic three-lap dashes for the finish line, as the pack quickly disperses in a melee of explosions and crashes, thanks in part to the environmental hazards (think moving obstacles and jumps) that litter the tarmac/cardboard, but also the randomly-charged Weaponators which present themselves on specific parts of each track. Combined with a varying number of shortcuts, races rarely play out the same way twice – but the sensation of on-track activity isn’t exactly perfect; karts fly through the air almost as often as they’re on the road with occasionally frustrating results as you end up off the track to be reset, or worse, stuck behind scenery and unable to rejoin the track.
Making an ugly, poorly thought-out track like ours can be done with ease.
Elsewhere, the huge jumps that require you to employ Sackboy’s grappling hook often correct your path for landing via seeming invisible walls, a jarring effect given the mostly physics-based action elsewhere. Rubber-banding plays a small part too, most evident when you find yourself in last place and receive a rocket/boxing-glove/VHS-style FFWD boost up the placings.
The niggles are as much about track design as anything else though, and it’s here where LittleBigPlanet Karting’s most potential lies – like ModNation Racing before it, but (hopefully) harnessing the power of LBP’s sizeable community, creators are invited to do their worst with the in-depth selection of track design tools. Unsurprisingly, they’re initially similar to ModNation too, enabling you to ‘drive’ out your desired path with minimal fuss – that comes later, with the LBP poppit which enables you to choose, place and tweak objects to your liking.
LittleBigPlanet Karting’s Battle Modes offer some of the game’s best competitive moments.
The track-building community is definitely the most exciting aspect of the game, if not for creators then for players looking for that killer new track; LittleBigPlanet Karting is packed with content and the system of playing and unlocking tracks (versus versions of each course are a constant reward) is solid enough, but we did encounter a few weak mini-games, such as an oddly simplistic first-person grand prix circuit, which seemed shoehorned and failed to match the quality of the core story offering.
That said, the campaign’s learning curve steps up significantly after world three or four, the excellent eight-player, arena-based battles are – at their best – reminiscent of Mario Kart’s various battle modes, and the pop/indie soundtrack of familiar-sounding pop is one of the best of 2012. Yep, it’s really that good. Ultimately, LittleBigPlanet Karting is a solid family racing game, much like ModNation Racing was. This time it has extra polish and an exceptional license behind it, but better than that is the promise of new creations for months – perhaps years – from the LBP community.