Vintage Game Club: Loom
Book week

Sackboy packing heat


I'm an exhuberant inhabitant of LittleBigPlanet. I love both games with a devotion that borders on irrational. Almost as much as the games themselves, I love Media Molecule's two big ideas: 1) create an unapologetically whimsical world drawn from the materials inside our playful imaginations; 2) encourage players to design, build, and share their creations with the same powerful tools the developers used.

LittleBigPlanet isn't just a game; it's an expression of a design philosophy that actually makes good on Sony's "Play, Create, Share" buzz-phrase mantra. As long-time modders, Trackmania fans, and Minecraft aficionados know, LPB isn't the first or only game to offer players powerful tools to do creative things.

But Media Molecule is up to something different with LBP. They want to present a world that taps into our child-like imaginations and transform that exchange into a self-sustaining ethos. In its opening moments, LBP 2 puts it this way:

Dreams. Fantasies. Ideas. Where do they go when life brings you tumbling back to the now? One by one, they drift away to the cosmic imagisphere. From the atomic to the galactic, they dance and they whirl unfettered by worry and concern. The heavenly ballet of the wonderplane. And sometimes this dance creates something astonishing. Out pops a transcendental dreamverse. A remarkable place where the real meets the fantastic. And this vast expanse of imagination has a name. They call it LittleBigPlanet.

Imagispheres, wonderplanes, and dreamverses. It's an audacious and potentially laughable mission statement, but when Stephen Fry delivers it with such commitment and panache - when you get your first look at LBP's craft-world; when you're given control of the ridiculously adorable Sackboy; when you discover the faces of the game's creators scattered throughout the opening level - it all begins to make sense.

By the time you've met Larry Da Vinci and Victoria von Bathysphere, donned your first head-mounted cake-launcher, or ascended the Tower of Whoop, the world of LBP 2 feels like an oddly unified place, just as the original did two years ago. LBP 2 features fun new mechanics for navigating its levels, and Media Molecule has managed to expand and streamline the toolset for creating original levels. I'll take a closer look at these improvements in a future post.

Sadly, LBP 2 adds one element that I find disappointing and incongruous. After blithely grappling and grabinating my way through "Victoria's Laboratory" and the "Factory of a Better Tomorrow," I arrived at "Avalonia," for Sackboy's "armaments training." If you played the Metal Gear DLC for LBP 1, this level will look a bit familiar. Media Molecule introduced a gun in that pack called the "Paintenator," a clever addition (with accompanying MGS costumes) that hearkened to Snake and company without ceding to its violence. True to the world of LBP, the new gun shot blobs of paint instead of bullets, and players found all sorts of clever ways to use it in their own original levels.

In LBP 2, Sackboy is sent on a training mission in which he learns to fire laser shots from a turret mounted on the back of a camel. Soon, the Negativitron's minions attack, and Sackboy begins lining them up in his crosshairs and mowing them down from his turret. LBP 2 becomes a side-scrolling rail-shooter, and Sackboy mans a lethal gun. 

This sequence doesn't ruin LBP 2 for me, nor does it diminish the many wonderful aspects of the game. But I do find it disappointing. Given all its creators have done to build a lovely idiosyncratic world across two brilliant games, it's too bad this one bows to aping the gun-toting elements of so many conventional games.

I'm aware both LBP games include violence. Bombs, spikes, fire, electrocution - all exist as environmental hazards to avoid. I don't object to violence, especially when depicted in the cartoonish ways that typify LBP's aesthetics. It's just hard for me to make sense of Sackboy packing heat.

In many important ways, LittleBigPlanet functions as an antidote to the same-old-same-old we see across the game design space. Its creators have proven themselves geniuses at creating a self-contained playful universe that, delightfully, makes no logical sense. Sackboy blasting away from a turret just feels wrong. I fear that, in an effort to give players more design assets to acquire for original creations, Media Molecule compromised the integrity of the world they so carefully and lovingly built.