The oh-so-cute game-level creation sandbox is back, but this time with a deeper 3D engine, and four characters, all with their own powers.
"We loved the first one and now we're playing through the second one, together," says Natalie, a woman in her 20s from Southern California. She is standing with her partner Tom, waiting patiently in line to play LittleBigPlanet 3 at the Sony E3 booth.
"I'm excited about there being new characters. I like Sackboy but it's cool to have others alongside him," she adds.
She's not the only LittleBigPlanet fan to be excited about the new PlayStation 4 game. When Sony games head Shuhei Yoshida announced the game at Sony's pre-E3 press conference, there was a wave of warm, genuine applause from the audience.
The original series, from developer Media Molecule, was a forerunner of the current vogue for creative games that allow players to shape their own worlds — in this case, interactive video game levels. It was first released in 2008 and was soon followed by PSP and PS Vita spin-offs and a 2011 sequel.
This game is being developed by Sumo Digital, based in Sheffield, England, alongside Sony's XDev team.
The difference, as Natalie points out, is that Sackboy has been joined by three new friends who, in the grand tradition of video game quartets, each have their own strengths. In an introductory level of the game, each finds a way to solve a puzzle, using their own powers in cooperation with the others.
The original hero of LittleBigPlanet is still LPB3's central character, but his powers are augmented by discoverable gadgets and gizmos. In an early level, he grabs hold of a hair dryer-type gun (a "Pumpinator") that blows and sucks air; a useful thing in any world made up of physical movement puzzles. During our demo, the blower turned some gears and kept the gang moving. Sackboy can also climb.
A speedy canine character, Oddsock moves a bit faster than everyone else and is good for twitch gameplay.
A tank who uses its weight to move heavy objects and solve gravity problems, Toggle really comes into its own due to an ability to change size to creep into those tough-to-reach areas.
A cute bird who can (of course) fly, Swoop can also pick up objects and other characters including Toggle.
You can imagine the amount of variety these characters add to LittleBigPlanet's central attraction, which is creating homemade game levels. No longer is the designer limited to Sackboy's fairly elementary skills. It also opens up opportunities to create levels for up to four players, each working in concert although in online or on the same screen.
Although this is not a Media Molecule game, the characters are clearly born of that company's knack for creating individuals with enormous charm and charisma, even if they are, individually, pretty simple constructs.
And though I only experienced a single level of the game, lasting perhaps 10 minutes, I got to know these little characters, and I got to like them. They can be individualized through the usual panoply of outfits, adding a little extra variety. I found a little alligator outfit especially fetching on Sackboy.
Also, although this is a 2D game construction kit with a fixed camera, it now offers up to 16 levels of depth, so the player can effectively manipulate worlds that ape three dimensions. Toolsets remain familiar but have been rejigged to take advantage of both the extra complexity of these levels, and the four character gameplay.
LittleBigPlanet 3 arrives on PlayStation 4 this November and follows Sony's announcement last year of a free-to-play service called LittleBigPlanet Hub that encourages players to create and explore with others.
The good news for all players of this series, including many of those lining up to play at E3, is that all previously-created levels can be imported. But it seems likely that the real fun will be had with creating all-new levels, especially for the new characters.