LittleBigPlanet 3 review: patchwork partners

Game Info
Platform PS3, PS4
Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer Sumo Digital
Release Date Nov 18, 2014

LittleBigPlanet 3 comes across as something of a bait and switch — both for better and for worse.

On the one hand, it defies negative expectations built up from the previous LittleBigPlanet games — namely that the series has never had particularly great platforming. By introducing three new character types with unique movement physics, new developer Sumo Digital has created a clever way to please everyone.

And yet LittleBigPlanet 3 is not everything it was promised to be in other, less positive ways. When this sequel was revealed earlier this year at E3 2014, it was sold on the idea of multiple new playable characters working in unison. Technically, this happens, but for a game where Sackboy finally gets some new friends, LittleBigPlanet 3 can be mighty lonely.

each new character adds to the variety of platforming in LittleBigPlanet 3

LittleBigPlanet 3 begins as Sackboy's world is thrown into chaos thanks to the scheming of Newton, an invention-obsessed egomaniac given a delightful voiceover by Hugh Laurie. In order to thwart Newton and the evil titans he's unleashed, Sackboy has to hunt down three legendary heroes to ask for their help.

You may have guessed by now that those heroes are the three new playable characters advertised for LittleBigPlanet 3 Oddsock, a speedy dog; Swoop, a bird; and Toggle, a bigger, heavier sackperson who also has the ability to shrink themself down. Each of these characters proves as charming and instantly memorable as Sackboy, save maybe for Swoop ... but hey, there's only so much you can do with a bird.

More importantly, each of these characters adds to the variety of platforming gameplay available in LittleBigPlanet. For example, Oddsock brings the high-precision jumping that the series has always lacked. He can run up walls, jump off of them and generally land exactly where you want him every time. And he feels great! The difference between performing a precarious jump as Sackboy and doing the same as Oddsock is night and day.

LittleBigPlanet 3 review a 450

Toggle adds physics-based shenanigans, while Swoop carries the power of flight and hovering. While neither of those adds quite as much as Oddsock's tight controls, their mechanics feel fully developed and fun in and of themselves.

But the new additions to LittleBigPlanet 3's characters are criminally underused in the game's brief story mode. I didn't even have the full crew together until directly before the final stage. Each new character gets one stage and one boss fight to themselves in the main story, as well as a final stage where you jump between each of the characters for different segments. The rest of the main-path levels stick you with Sackboy.

For whatever it's worth, Sumo Digital has put in the effort to make Sackboy more interesting in light of his new companions. Sackboy is now equipped with a "Sackpocket," which carries a variety of power-ups, such as a helmet that allows him to latch onto wires and a jetpack offering short boosts through the air. You can equip one of these power-ups at any time that you're playing as Sackboy, and while they aren't game-changing in the way the new characters are, they certainly helped keep a third time playing as Sony's affable sackcloth hero from getting boring.

At this point in the review, you may have picked up on something: I've talked about each of the protagonists individually but not as a team. The LittleBigPlanet series is, after all, highly praised for its co-op friendliness. And this entry was introduced at E3 with a lengthy level demonstration with all four heroes working together.

That kind of teamwork with all four characters is nonexistent at worst and annoyingly buried at best.

full four-character stages are hidden and easy to miss
LittleBigPlanet 3 review b 1920 Sumo Digital/Sony Interactive Entertainment

All of the mainline story missions stick to one character. You can bring in other players, but they'll simply take on a copy of the specific character that level is based around (albeit with their own chosen costume pieces to help differentiate them).

Story missions are broken up by hub levels, and within these hubs you can discover hidden bonus stages. A handful of these bonus stages allow you to use a four-player team with each player controlling a different character. But that's it — the scenario that was, in my mind, used to market LittleBigPlanet 3, relegated to a few random, easy-to-miss side stages.

It would be an exaggeration to say that this ruins the game, but it feels like a huge missed opportunity. Each character in LittleBigPlanet 3 is enjoyable to play as on their own, and I suspect they're easier to design levels around this way as well. But bringing all four together makes for much stranger, more frantic scenarios. These scarce levels brought out the kind of off-the-wall imagination that is so core to the franchise, and I wanted more of them.

Perhaps Sumo Digital hopes that content shortage will be fixed by the community itself. LittleBigPlanet 3's user-created content tools are deeper than ever, including the ability to make new tools for the Sackpocket. The game also features a lengthier and more well-rounded set of tutorials on how to create levels than ever before.

LittleBigPlanet 3 also attempts to ease players into the act of creation within the story mode. Some side levels include new "Contraption Challenges," wherein you're tasked with putting together makeshift vehicles for different tasks. For example, I stuck tennis ball wheels on a water bottle and used a fan as a flapper in a challenge to take a jump and get as much air as possible.

Contraption Challenges didn't completely ease the anxiety I feel every time I look at a blank canvas in create mode. But for someone who's always been more into the playing side of LittleBigPlanet rather than creating, they pushed me to explore everything the game offers a little more thoroughly.

LittleBigPlanet 3 review c 360

Perhaps the most impressive part of LittleBigPlanet 3 is that despite the move to a new generation of hardware, every piece of user-generated content from the previous two games is playable here. That means for anyone jumping into the series fresh, you'll have literally millions of player-created levels to check out, many of which are really quite good.

That transition hasn't been without issue, however. While allowing all of those levels to run in LittleBigPlanet 3 is quite the technical feat, it's introduced a number of hiccups and bugs.

every piece of user-generated content from the previous games is playable

The biggest problem I encountered seemed to involve visual layers. Where previous games only allowed creators to move characters around a few levels of depth on a 2D plane, LittleBigPlanet 3 allows for up to 16 layers to be used. That's an impressive number, but it's been retroactively applied in a sometimes confused way. While playing levels created in the previous games, I often found myself mysteriously pushed into background layers and stuck on objects or paths I was never supposed to touch.

That's not the only bug plaguing LittleBigPlanet 3, either. I ran into weird slowdown issues when playing online multiplayer, even with only one other participant. I also hit strange glitches where the menu graphics would disappear, and certain sections in levels where character respawns would mysteriously stop working. Sony is promising a day-one patch that is supposed to fix some of these issues, but if you want a bug-free experience, you may be waiting a lot longer.

Wrap Up:

LittleBigPlanet 3 has big ideas but it never totally commits to them

If anything, that's the theme LittleBigPlanet 3 left me pondering: delayed gratification. Despite switching to a new developer, it has the big ideas and wide-eyed, arms-open demeanor of the series at its best. Yet it never totally commits, never goes all the way with its new concepts and characters. LittleBigPlanet 3's devoted fans will surely craft some excellent levels in the months to come, but mostly this feels like a proof of concept for a much better LittleBigPlanet 4.

LittleBigPlanet 3 was reviewed using a retail PlayStation 4 copy of the game provided by Sony. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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