I’m a huge fan of LittleBigPlanet. I’ve had the pleasure, and the honor, to play each game and to review LittleBigPlanet 2 and LittleBigPlanet Vita, and I am unapologetic in my love for the series. The art direction, the charm, the simplicity, I enjoy it on many deep levels, and can even overlook some of the more wonky control flubs that have occurred while playing. I think the Sack Boy (or Girl) character is ripe for exploitation by Sony and could very well be the equivalent of the mustachioed plumber from that other company.
So, why am I chagrined at the blatant execution of stripping developer United Front’s budding ModNation Racers kart racing franchise of all that it was trying to do with the creator-racer genre and then slapping on the LittleBigPlanet art direction and creation tools, (and of course Sack Boy (or Girl) ) to create a “new franchise” with LittleBigPlanet Karting using an established property?
I guess it all boils down to the question: Is this game even necessary? ModNation Racers was supposed to be Sony Computer Entertainment and San Diego Studios’ PlayStation entry into the kart racing market (one that is essentially dominated by ONE franchise). Developer United Front had the pieces in place to really create a unique franchise that would have separated itself from that other game because of the customization and the ability to create racers and tracks. Yet Sony decided to abandon it, instead shoehorning a beloved game franchise that doesn’t even fit right in the driver’s seat of a kart.
Honestly, these two franchises don’t fit together. LBP has always been about Sack Boy (or Girl) saving the Imaginarium proper from itself or others. It’s a classic heroes journey and has been told now in four different games on three different game systems. Other than a user-created racing game here or there, kart racing and a side-scroller have no business being mashed together. Even the venerable franchise that wrote the book – and continues to write the book – on karting games plays it as a side story. The kart races are something everybody in the Mushroom Kingdom does when Bowser is just content to hang out with royalty instead of kidnapping them.
But in LittleBigPlanet Karting, there is a story that tries to tie it all together. Something called the Hoard is attacking the Imaginarium and stealing all of the thoughts, ideas, hopes, and dreams that make up the world of LittleBigPlanet. For some reason, the Hoard all drive race cars, and the rulers of each of the different planets of the Imaginarium task Sack Boy (or Girl) with racing the Hoard to stop them. Even for a game franchise that doesn’t put a ton of stock in storytelling, this is a bunch of malarkey.
There are 71 story levels, with most of the worlds from LittleBigPlanet 2 being revisited, but there are a few from the first game as well. The 71 levels are broken down into simple eight person races, waypoint races, which require the driver to race through waypoints to keep going, and then the battle/versus tracks, which is, as you might have guessed, a big battle using the kart weapons. The winner is the one who has the most kills at the end of a set time. Also included in the total of 71 story levels are “vs.” levels and timed races and other side-quest type races, so the same tracks are used over and over. With that being said, 71 may actually be an inaccurate number.
The racing in LittleBigPlanet Karting is everything you expect from a karting game. There are weapons that can be collected by driving over them and then be used to screw your fellow racers, or to protect yourself if used at the right moment. There are also jump pads, and speed boosts, and tons of hidden paths to discover.
The additions that LBPK brings to the genre include item stickers that can be found and collected on each track, and the use of the grapple from the LBP game series to cross long chasms and jump over toxic areas of the track. The art direction also begs to be mentioned, as LBP is well known for its creative grade school art room vibe of yarn monsters and cardboard cutout characters whose mouths and limbs are hinged with simple household items and imagination. But other than collecting stickers and taking in incredible art in the background level designs, if you have ever played a kart game, you have played every kart game.
As with each LBP game that has come before, there is a ridiculously robust creation component to LBPK. Imaginative players can, and will, create some incredible race tracks and battle arenas and then publish them and share with the world. The sky is basically the limit as the tools and instructions on how to use them can make even the uncreative novice into a track designer in no time. There is even a way to create full-length games ala LittleBigPlanet2, games that have nothing to do with racing, which doesn’t make a lick of sense as this is a racing game. But hey, why start making sense now.
There are some good features in LittleBigPlanet Karting. There is an almost limitless amount of customization available for Sack Boy (or Girl) and each kart, with stickers and different types of wheels, chassis, steering wheels, and bumpers. But sadly, no amount of customization changes the performance of the kart in any way. It is all aesthetic.
The music of LBPK is also classic LittleBigPlanet pop and remixes. I knocked my score of LittleBigPlanet Vita down for the lack of variety in music, and I’m very glad to see that this game restores it to its glory.
Players can race with up to eight friends locally or online, and enough can’t be said about the skill and creative talents of the “Imagineers” of the world. Even though there are only 71 tracks in the game, the LBP populace will soon have that number in the thousands and higher, so there will always be new tracks to race on, most even surpassing the quality of the levels that United Front devised for the game itself.
LittleBigPlanet Karting is Move enabled, but curiously it only works with the PS Move Racing Wheel accessory that is sold separately.
Unfortunately, LittleBigPlanet Karting doesn’t really bring anything new to the karting genre. Some could argue that the creation tools are something that the plumber doesn’t have, but then again, ModNation Racers already did that. Sony’s decision to sink MNR and rebrand it as LittleBigPlanet Karting, independent of original LBP developer, Media Molecule, is a head scratcher.
Even as a huge fan of Sack Boy (or Girl), I found LittleBigPlanet Karting lacking and a rehash of most every other kart racing game that has come before. Hopefully, this is just a placeholder for the franchise and Media Molecule is off right now creating the next great LBP game. Well, at least one can hope, or imagine.
Shop for LittleBigPlanet Karting on PS3 for a discounted price at Amazon.com (November 6, 2012 release date).