Boogaloo Bonzabril. Those two words say it all. But unless you speak "charming LBP tutorial guide" you might not understand the game that is LittleBigPlanet any better from reading the alliterative phrase. LittleBigPlanet is a game that is more than just play. As it turns out, the primary function of the game is cogently and succinctly phrased in the subtitle: Play. Create. Share. Though the servers have been up and down the past few weeks, the Create and Share parts of the game, for the most part, work wonderfully. Because the Designer's Workshop will be using LittleBigPlanet for the majority of its user creation endeavours, I will focus on Play and be as thorough as possible.
I started writing this Review & Repair three days ago. Now nearly 5k words into the article, I decided to break things up into manageable sections. Part 1 is all about the mechanics of the game.
Sackboy & Sackgirl Our Characters
- Before I delve into the core mechanics of LBP I wanted to say a few things about Sackboy. The default brown avatar is a lively little sprite. Its blank appearance is functionally like a toy doll made out of blank canvas ready to accept any decoration, sticker, or garb one is willing to adorn them with.
- The sack like material also helps communicate how Sackboy interacts with the gaming world of LBP in a few simples way. The soft flexible body fits with Sackboy's ability to squeeze himself into small oddly shaped nooks as well as being able to sustain falls from large heights without taking any damage.
- The form of the Sackpeople sets the tone of the type of play that the LBP engine is capable of. The characters look like play things, and it is this childhood idea of play that is the spirit of LBP. By using a physics based engine, the range of Sackboy's interactions to the game world is analogous to the type of play small children engage in. Activities like building towers, pulling over structures, knocking down blocks, and jumping over gaps are all actions common to children equipped with Legos or action figures and their imaginations.
- Unlike in Super Mario Brothers, there is no RUN mechanic in LBP. Instead Sackboy accelerates into his maximum speed gradually. Unlike most 2D platformers, Sackboy's MOVE mechanic is analog. If you want to creep forward by baby steps, just lightly press on the stick. If you so choose to saunter along, that degree of control is also available to you.
- Sackboy also has the ability to move between 3 lanes along the Z axis. A lot of the trickier lane switching happens automatically to make things easier for the player. Otherwise, players can switch back and forth manually by moving the left stick up or down.
- While in the air, Sackboy can significantly influence his horizontal motion. This ability is most apparent when swinging from suspended grabable objects.
- Like most JUMP mechanics in most platformers, the mechanic itself is usually direct and fairly intuitive. Direct: hold the X button longer for a higher jump. Let go to stop ascending. Intuitive: the springy jump action mirrors the springy press of the X button.
- Determining the dynamics of the JUMP mechanic is a complicated issue. LBP isn't a normal game where we can look at the range of effects a mechanic has to determine how dynamic it is. In LBP, dynamics can be constructed. Technically we can create levels that are transformed by the JUMP mechanic as well as design enemies with many levels of JUMP interplay.
- Without considering the potential dynamics of JUMP, we can still discuss one of its inherent properties that cannot be altered. Because LBP is a physics based game, Sackboy's JUMP height, speed, and direction is greatly influenced by external forces. By JUMPing as an object moves upward underneath Sackboy's feet, the height of the JUMP can increase by several hundred times. I call this kind of jump a "momentum jump."
- The momentum JUMP is the most interesting property of the JUMP mechanic. Without it, the JUMP mechanic doesn't have enough speed or height to create the kind of solid platforming found in Mario, Metroid, Mega Man, and even Sonic games. Because the entire game world is held together using these physics, the opportunities to augment the JUMP are numerous creating lots of emergent platforming.
- By holding R1 players can GRAB onto grabable objects. If these objects are moving, Sackboy goes along for the ride. The grab switch also gives the GRAB mechanic the ability to function like a switch. While holding on tight to a stable object, there is little that can break Sackboy of his grip.
- By combining the GRAB and MOVE mechanics, Sackboy can DRAG around objects and manipulate the environment by pulling on things.
- By activating, releasing, and quickly reactivating the GRAB mechanic, Sackboy is able to CLIMB along grabable surfaces. Though CLIMBing is a versatile and intuitive extension of the GRAB mechanic, it's emergent nature comes with a small drawbacks. Without aid, Sackboy can't climb vertically or CLIMB up over edges, ledges, or corners. It's a tiny detail like this that makes me feel that CLIMBing is an emergent mechanic that the developers didn't specifically design.
- Plays can control Sackboy's facial expression by pushing a direction on the D pad. Each direction represents a different type of expression/emotion.
- By holding R2 or L2 players can control Sackboy's arms with the right or left stick respectively. This feature can be used to point out things in the environment or to dance.
- By tilting the Sixaxis controller players can control the motion of Sackboy's head or waist for even more ways to dance and to give Sackboy a unique player controlled body language.
- By taking control of one of Sackboy's arms and moving the analog stick quickly away from Sackboy, the ARM CONTROL mechanic turns into a BACKHAND attack that has the power to knock nearby Sackboys to the ground. Though the distance a Sackboy flies is influenced by external forces, the BACKHAND mechanic isn't very dynamic because it only works on other Sackboys.
DRAG A FRIEND:
- If you can grab sponges and other soft, light weight materials, then it only makes sense to grab your fellow Sackpeople. You can grab a friend to pull them along if they're feeling particularly lazy, create a chain of Sackpeople like the monkeys from a barrel of monkeys, and you can grab friends who are just about to fall short of a jump and pull them to safety. Be careful though. You can also doom you and your friend by dragging a friend down into a hazard.
- The more Sackplayers pulling on an objects, the stronger the force is. Pulling some objects becomes much faster with a group. Other objects won't budge at all until multiple people are pulling together. Depending on the size and weight of the object to be pulled, this mechanic can be implemented into level 6, 5, 4 of co-op design.
- Because every member in a group contributes to the multiplier score when gathering points, it's possible to continue chaining points in situations that would be impossible for just one player. This co-op mechanic falls under level 6: organic co-op.
Tune in tomorrow for part 2 where I'll be covering the core design as well as glitches and other issues.