Anyone who knows anything about video games knows that LittleBigPlanet Karting looks like a mash-up between Sackboy and everyone’s favourite Italian plumber, Mario. But there are a few key differences that make this game more about LittleBigPlanet and less about ripping off everyone’s favourite karting series.
To clear any sort of misunderstanding, if anything, Karting is a mashup of LittleBigPlanet (LBP) and ModNation Racers from a few years ago. In fact, Karting is developed by the same group that put ModNation together, and it shows is its foundation, yet somehow fails in two major ways. But LittleBigPlanet is about creation and wacky level design. And ModNation Racers was about intuitive, simple track design, easily populated, and instantly playable. Somehow, United Front managed to make a mess of both these things.
Karting does offer a wide assortment of tools to design and build tracks, but they’re put together in a way that is so tedious that it discourages any sort of repeat level building. Once we put one level together, we never wanted to touch the level editor again. It works, sure, but anyone who hasn’t designed a few levels in LBP – and we’ve done more than a few on a couple of platforms – will think this is rocket science.
We’re focussing on the non-karting components of gameplay because LittleBigPlanet Karting gets things right, for the most part. There are a ton of power-ups that make Karting a lot of fun, and the developers (United Front Games, for those keeping track), managed to make this game feel like a game starring Sackboy. It is cute, layered, and copies the art style from the classic LBP series in such a way that there is no way you could mistake it for anything else.
There are a veritable wealth of customization options. You can make anything from a racer out of balloons to a racer out of chicken wire and digital cameras. Okay, so that last part didn’t make much sense, but you understand the point. Karting is one dictionary away from being Scribblenauts in terms of customization, and that in its own right makes the game awesome.
Graphics in Karting are tolerable, but nothing compared to what we’re used to from racing games. Of course, this isn’t a typical racing game, and while we can’t say this looks as good as a normal LBP game, that’s probably because there is less variety in Karting than there is in Sackboy’s main adventure. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, but it does affect the overall design of the game.
There is indeed a story with a familiar narrator and the storyline itself is quite lengthy. In fact, it’s one of the longest racing game stories we’ve ever played through, which shouldn’t be surprising if you’ve played a LBP game before, but might be if you’ve ever played a game where racing cars is the main gameplay mechanic. We kept unravelling storylines as we’d play through the game, and each one would branch off in a few directions, sending replayability skyrocketing.
In addition to a traditional racing mode, there is an arcade-style battle mode. The mechanics from normal racing carry over to this mode but these matches take place in an arena style where your objective is to take out other players, much like in other racers like Mario Kart. Unfortunately, maneuvering your racer is not the easiest thing in the world and it doesn’t make for super-intuitive battle gameplay. It does work well but could be much better tuned. The simple addition of a button to instantly turn your kart around would easily make up for any problems with gameplay in this mode, so while it’s unlikely, we’d love to make this an official feature request for an update to Karting.
We’re a little perplexed as to what Sony is trying to accomplish with LittleBigPlanet Karting. On one hand, Karting does shine in its main gameplay mechanic with a wild amount of variety and smooth driving physics. On the other, it becomes a tedious mess when you want to do anything related to an LBP game like build a level or two. It’s interesting that LittleBigPlanet 2 was supposed to be the “design any type of game from the ground up” deal, including shooters, puzzle games, and you guessed it: racers. We’re just not sure LittleBigPlanet Karting is necessary in the current landscape of games, especially since we just saw Sackboy hit the Vita about two months ago.
It’s tough to dismiss Karting as just another kart-racing game because it does star Sackboy and has a very keen ability to reel you in. There is clearly a lot of heart in the game and it’s upsetting to think that this game could be looked over as just another entry in the LBP series, but at the same time, there isn’t so much here that we haven’t played before in other games.
If you’re a Sackboy fanatic, you’ll need to pick up LittleBigPlanet Karting. If you’re not, grabbing hold of a full Sackboy adventure on PlayStation 3 or Vita is probably worth more of your time and money.