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LittleBigPlanet 2
Score: 101%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Media Molecule
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4, 1 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Platformer (2.5D)/ Puzzle/ Editor

Graphics & Sound:
LittleBigPlanet has a unique look, all its own - a whimsical combination of real-life materials and everyday items used to form an interactive world where you can digitally "play," much like a small child might, but with rules and goals, making it actual games. In a very real way, LittleBigPlanet makes it "okay" for adults to imagine and play as they did when they were young.

The graphics in LittleBigPlanet 2 are rich, vibrant and whimsical, based on real-life fabrics, items and what-nots. There are also some good looking special effects, from electricity to smoke and from water to lightning. The graphics can be really absorbing; one level had me captivated in a way that I haven't been since Donkey Kong Country's mesmerizing water level.

The music is better in LittleBigPlanet 2, and the Music Sequencer is fully featured, rivaling the capabilities of some products that are specifically music-editing products. Not only that, but the music can be made to interact with gameplay. How cool is that?


Gameplay:
There are different things to do in LittleBigPlanet 2, from playing through the main storyline of the game, to playing levels created by other players in the Community online section, to fashioning your own LittleBigPlanet 2 creations or simply decorating your "Pod" while you chill and listen to tunes via your pod's music player.

The story in LBP2 revolves around the most feared enemy of toys, the infernal vacuum cleaner, or, as it's referred to in the game, the "Negativitron." The Negativitron isn't merely a vacuum, however, it's a nightmare of a vacuum, bent on destroying the cosmos, not only by sucking creations up into nothingness, but also by transforming benign creations into hostile monsters and demons that like to blow things up and burn them down.

In the first level, Da Vinci's Hideout, you are rescued from certain doom and given the chance to prove yourself so that you can join "The Alliance," a team of heroic sorts trying to save the cosmos from the Negativitron. (This was especially amusing to me, as I had my Sack-boy dressed up in the Iron-Man costume from the Marvel Costume Pack almost all the way through.) This first world is mostly tutorial, teaching and testing your ability to perform fairly standard gameplay skills and also showing you how to use the new Grappling Hook to climb, swing and pull hard-to-reach levers.

Victoria von Bathysphere's world, "Victoria's Laboratory," smacks of Victorian artwork and baked goods. You'll get to play around with Grabinators, which allow you to pick up and throw grabbable objects to defeat meanies, solve puzzles and give teammates a "helping hand" to reach further places - whether they wanted to or not. Victoria also has a Cakeinator to assist you in certain levels. This would, of course, be a head-mounted cake launcher which can be used for attacking meanies, providing a stepping stool to higher areas and, occasionally, to simply tip the scales.

Once you've reached "The Factory of a Better Tomorrow," you'll be introduced to Sack-bots, as they are enslaved in the factory and you must free them. Sack-bots are characters which are very similar to Sack-boys and girls, but a bit simpler and not directly controlled by a player. In one level, they're afraid of you and try to get away from you, making your job of rescuing them that much more difficult. In this world, the Sack-bots are controlled in very simple ways, either repelled by you, attracted to you or attracted to some other object that you can, in some way, manipulate. Even so, there is a nice variety of puzzle-based levels that are based on this simple dynamic.

If "The Factory of a Better Tomorrow" is all about Sack-bots, then "Avalonia" is all about, um... vehicles? You'll try your hand at a vicious bunny (look at the bones!), a sonic-enhanced puppy, a spinning ball-shaped hamster-o-doom, some sort of four-seater robotic camel and a honey-firing Bee. One level even includes some side-scrolling action reminiscent of E.D.F.

"Eve's Asylum" introduces some neat mechanics based around fire, light and water. Fiery evil Sack-bots (that look like little devils) are setting everything ablaze, but a head-mounted Water-Cannon should even the odds a bit. There are some cool dynamic scenery bits here: the water from the cannon will revert burning greenery back into its green state and will cause some water-base platforms to grow. One scene is almost completely dark, except for the light coming from deadly fiery fireflies. You'll need to stay close enough to use them to see the platforms around you, but not close enough to catch fiery death. In addition to various variations on the flammable, the end of the level features a trip inside the body of Dr. Higginbotham, in order to remove his meanie infection.

The final world, "The Cosmos" pits you and your comrades against the Negativitron, with the help of your spaceship, Huge Spaceship, a Bee 2.0 and a familiar Bunny of Death. I found this world to have some tongue-in-cheek references to popular sci-fi, such as Star Trek and Terminator in places. In my experience, the last level "Into The Heart of the Negativitron" was quite a jump in difficulty, but that was primarily because I never quite mastered swinging around with the Grappling Hook.


Difficulty:
The main storyline is very approachable, in general, at least through to the last level at the end of the last world, "The Cosmos." The play up to that point may ramp up a little bit as you go along, but, primarily, you'll keep encountering different game mechanics and interesting new game types as you progress.

When playing levels created by the Community, your mileage may vary, of course, based on your personal skill, and how well the level was designed. One key to finding fun, well-built community levels is to look for levels that are highly rated by the community or featured by the LBP 2 dev team. Remember, however, that if you like a level (or don't like it, for that matter), you should rate it appropriately, so that the better levels gain more notice and more people will be able to quickly find them.

One thing worth mentioning here is the ability to play with up to four players. If you need help (or even just direction) getting through a level, you can play it with others, either locally or online. Other players can help you figure out puzzles and can even help you achieve some things that you simply couldn't achieve as a single player. Specifically, there are some puzzle areas that are designed to require the cooperative efforts of two, three, or even four players. These are always just extra rewards, but you won't reach them without a helping hand... or several. The Prehistoric Moves levels, which require the PlayStation Move, are another example of gameplay that requires multiple people, although this requires two local players and the PS Move to play.

If you want to create your own creations, there is a lot to learn, and a lot of neat tools to use, but the included tutorials will have you up and creating in no time. Well, that's not completely true... and that's my only gripe - the time aspect. Even if you know how to use a tool (or are pretty good at figuring out such things), the tool's not available for you to create things until you've completed the tutorial - even if you've done the tutorial for that tool in LittleBigPlanet. Fortunately, the tutorials in LittleBigPlanet 2 are designed so that, should you not feel the need to stick around, you can basically run the width of the screen to the right and exit the end of the level before the video gets done explaining what you're about to learn. Unfortunately, you still have to enter and the take the tutorial's exit to unlock each tool.


Game Mechanics:
LittleBigPlanet 2 builds upon the franchise, with richer environments, more creative content to use in your own creations, and enhanced game dynamics, allowing gamers to not only play, but create their own amazing levels and movies and share them with others. One short film I saw was the clock tower scene from Back To The Future, complete with a time-travelling Delorean and a wild-haired Doc Brown. Another featured a world that was made to look like it was created out of LEGOs (or, perhaps, Duplo Blocks). While these are imitations (or, parodies) of commercial brands, the tools to create original, engaging games are at your fingertips with LittleBigPlanet 2... without the need to learn to program or to create art or music. LittleBigPlanet 2 allows you to "Play" at being a game developer, and to share your creations with others.

There's a whole lot of creative fun to be had with LittleBigPlanet 2. The main story can be played through in a weekend, but the multiplayer minigames offer some replay value, and the community-created content provides endless, free downloadable content. And, when your creative juices get flowing, you can try your hand at building your own world and letting others run around in it. With the enhanced game-building capabilities, you can make anything from the ultra-simple to the hyper-complex, messing with gravity, lighting, and anything from simple switch-controlled items to items with involved logic. I highly recommend LittleBigPlanet 2, but don't see what they could possibly do to have a sequel to this... perhaps from here on out, additional chapters will be in the form of level packs and DLC? Only time will tell, and, while I'm waiting, perhaps I'll make a level or two...


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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