LittleBigPlanet Karting looks to be a fine racing game, but an excellent slapping game.
Does the world need LittleBigPlanet Karting?
"There's always an appetite for great kart racing games," says William Ho, Design Director at United Front Games.
Ho would know. His last project, ModNation Racers was a fully customizable kart racing game. Its players were encouraged to use included tools to design new characters and tracks and share them via an internet connection. The user-generated world of blacktop speedways dwarfed the number of available levels included in a traditional kart racer.
ModNation Racers received positive marks and was a modest success, inspiring a follow-up for the PlayStation Vita.
You get the sense the game is a spiritual sequel to ModNation Racers, as though United Front Games are making use of lessons learned in an effort to produce that great kart racing game everyone is hungry for.
An obvious improvement at this early stage is the load times, which in ModNation Racers motivated players to take bathroom breaks or read Russian literature. Here, they have been significantly trimmed. The included stages are also more elaborate and vertical with big jumps and steep hills. Height allows the player to get a view of the rest of the track, making the game feel bigger. Like a real kart racer, not a trifle made by a dedicated fan.
That's not to say this isn't a LittleBigPlanet game. LittleBigPlanet Karting hits the mandatory franchise notes: Levels, characters and props from the original game are included. The soundtrack alternates from worldly, twangy and infantile. The world has that handmade look, as if it's strum together with scotch tape and thumb tacks. Sack Boy, the adorable hand sewn mascot, is still front and center.
The developer has even found a way to include LittleBigPlanet's grappling hook mechanic. In one level, the racers launch a hook onto a roll of yellow foam hanging between a chasm, launching themselves from one end to the other.
The karting still lacks friction. Competitors, like Mario Kart 7 and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, give their tracks texture. Dirt, glass and planks of wood. Sometimes you go underwater and sometimes you fly. In what was demoed of LittleBigPlanet Karting, driving felt more like hovering, like Wipeout. Appropriately enough, there's a hover chassis.
Otherwise, what makes those other kart racers so great is present. Like drifting and collecting items from boxes that have special abilities like projectiles, heat seeking projectiles and speed boosts.
Ho calls LittleBigPlanet Karting a karting adventure, sidestepping the racing game label. He says there will be an emphasis on modes unlike traditional circuit racing, like finding hidden items or hide n go seek or waypoint races.
Battle mode, an eight player arena battle, was the example the team brought as a demo. It felt awfully similar to Mario Kart 64's battle mod; that's good company to have.
All tracks and modes will have asynchronous multiplayer, even those tracks made by users. Ho was careful not to reveal if the asynchronous system will be on the level of Need for Speed's Autolog.
LBP mega fans will be glad to know the Pod is still the game's hub, though it has been expanded into a large, cardboard spaceship, with which the player travels between the game's various modes. Inside the Pod, the sack boy can be customizes, as can the cart.The frame, the wheels, the paint. Any in-game object can be turned into a weapon, or objects can be "painted" into the game for more talented and patient artists. Want to bacon someone to death? Its as simple as dropping the bacon prop onto a weaponizer, the game's gun, and presto, you have a baconizer.
One more thing, slapping. Players have the ability to reach out and slap somebody, stunning racers who get to close. The karting may still need some tweaking, but the slapping is perfected.