It’s hard to believe, but twelve years have passed since the first LittleBigPlanet game released onto PlayStation 3. At that time, the new IP was the talk of the industry, thanks to its colourful platforming and promise of a great creation suite, which would allow players to make their own levels. That particular hook would help propel the series into the upper stratosphere of gaming, fuelled by good sales and interest in sequels.
Six years after Sumo Digital’s middling LittleBigPlanet 3, the craft-based platformer is back for the start of a new generation. Released as a cross-gen title, meaning that it’s playable on both PS4 and PS5, Sumo Sheffield’s Sackboy: A Big Adventure is one of the few exclusives factoring into the new console’s launch line-up. Here’s hoping it won’t be overlooked, because it’s a colourful, whimsical and memorable gem.
This may actually be the best LittleBigPlanet game yet.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure begins in Craftworld, where the happy, fabric-based residents are going about their day-to-day lives. Things are soon interrupted by a dark and Disney-esque villain named Vex, who steals and imprisons every single craft being. Once they’ve been sucked into the stratosphere, he puts them to work in his tedious, depressing and downright evil factory, as slaves for his nightmare machine, the Topsy Turver. Vex’s plan is to replace the good, safe and happy dreams of Craftworld with uproar, which is another term for nightmares.
All is not lost, however, as a singular being manages to escape the interstellar vacuum that Vex unleashes on the unsuspecting world. Of course, that would be Sackboy, the familiar and beloved main protagonist of all six (I believe) LittleBigPlanet games. He manages to hold on for dear life after grabbing the Topsy Turver schematics that Vex so carelessly dropped in the main plaza, and is then able to make his way to his trusty rocket ship before the worst occurs. It’s this space rocket which helps players move from one world to another, over the course of Sackboy‘s rather lengthy campaign.
Although Sackboy’s main goal obviously pertains to stopping Vex and rescuing his friends and neighbours, he’ll have to endure a lot before getting the chance to do so. Sackboy: A Big Adventure is comprised of several different worlds, all of which have a good assortment of levels, including secret ones that can only be discovered by exploring the 3D world maps. For instance, the first area has a flower that you can jump into, and that flower will spit you into a hidden part of the third world (an under the sea motif), wherein you’ll find a couple of extra stages to complete.
The included platforming is very much a honed, polished and thoroughly enjoyable mixture of the best of LittleBigPlanet. However, instead of featuring 2.5D stages, this particular entry offers full 3D platforming. As players explore the several different worlds — which include a monkey filled forest, a futuristic space city, a soaring summit and a dark and mysterious dungeon — they’ll find that they’re offered the chance to fully explore each level. Doing so will lead to finding secrets, such as hidden areas, special dreamer orbs and unique costume pieces, while also helping you get to the gold level score. That last thing has a lot to do with how many bubbles you pick up, though.
Stages run the gamut of traditional 3D platforming levels, rides along special vehicles, slides and more puzzle driven affairs. Don’t worry, though, because the puzzles aren’t complex or difficult. They usually require you to complete small tasks in order to free monkeys or sheep, after which you’ll throw said monkeys or sheep into a barrel or pen. After all, Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a game that was made for all ages. That said, there are some areas that will possibly be too difficult for small children, requiring an adult’s help. I only died a couple of times, but there were some challenging moments, even though each stage offered four lives, plus the opportunity to earn more.
You’ll find yourself using some of the series’ more memorable tools and abilities to get through this campaign, including grabbing on to spinning wheels, grappling from one plateau to the next using a grappling hook, hovering using special boots, shooting enemies and switches using a laser gun and more. At its core, though, this is a LittleBigPlanet game, and a 3D platformer. Thus, you can expect lots of jumping and exploring, all while trying to navigate dangerous terrain.
As is always the case with this type of experience, Sackboy features quite a few different types of enemies. Some can be jumped on or smacked once to kill, while others require more than one hit, or must be hit from behind. Furthermore, some have the ability to fire rocket-like projectiles at you, which increases their area of effect. Sackboy can be hit twice before losing a life, but doesn’t heal quickly after that first hit, meaning that one must be careful.
The core experience is a lot of whimsical fun, and is chock full of so much colour and creativity that it’ll be hard to forget. The aspect that will be most difficult to forget, though, will surely be the music levels, of which there are several. Almost every one of the worlds has at least one or two of these stages, which are reminiscent of the ones found in Ubisoft’s incredible Rayman Legends. These particular levels are timed to popular songs, like ‘Uptown Funk’ for instance. I won’t spoil the others for you, so that you can experience them for yourselves, but I will say that, while these levels were fun and memorable, the ones in Rayman Legends were done better. The ‘Black Betty’ stage, specifically.
You should know that the main objective isn’t to simply survive and complete every one of these well-designed levels. No, that would be too simple. Instead, your main task is to find and collect as many of their three to five dreamer orbs as possible. Found on precarious ledges, in secret areas and in moving treasure chests, these dreamer orbs are the key to stopping Vex. In true genre fashion, you’ll need to collect a certain amount to unlock each world’s boss. Failure to do so will mean your progression will be blocked until you revisit previous stages and explore them further.
Although I tried to collect as many as I could during my first trip through each world, I will gladly admit that I wasn’t able to find enough dreamer orbs to unlock one of the final gates. Thus, I had to go back and replay a few levels. It helped that I also found another secret area, which led me to a couple of previously undiscovered levels, one of which happened to be another musical stage.
Dreamer orbs can also be earned in co-op stages, which allow you to play with up to three friends. These should be available to play in online multiplayer sometime next year, but as for now it’s local co-op only. I had to skip these several interesting-sounding levels, though, because I didn’t have anyone to play with. I haven’t been having friends over due to COVID-19, and the people I live with don’t game. I also currently only have just one DualSense controller.
Those weren’t the only special challenges or levels, though. In fact, Sackboy: A Big Adventure also features what are called Knitted Knight trials. These are unlocked by finding hidden cubes in select stages, and take the form of timed speed-run challenges. As such, your goal is to get from the starting gate to the finish gate as quickly as possible, all while dealing with precarious platforming and sometimes frustrating enemies. They start out fun, but then get pretty challenging. I didn’t play all of them, myself, but did beat maybe 12 out of 15. The others still need to be unlocked.
Knitted Knight trials award one dreamer orb for each metallic trophy. By that, I mean that bronze earns you one, silver earns you two and gold earns you three. That, along with the leaderboards, provide good incentive to replay them in attempts to better your best time(s). However, as is always the case, some people are just too damned good at these types of games, and have posted times that are tough to believe.
Then there are the bosses, of which there are several. Each world has at least one end boss, but sometimes you’ll find a mini-boss at the end of a particular level. Normally this would add up to more than several, but since there are numerous boss fights against Vex that isn’t really the case. I’m only counting different bosses here. What matters most, though, is that they’re all fun and engaging, and offer a bit of challenge.
Lastly, it’s important to note that each world map offers one fashion tent and up to three different Zom Zom challenges. The colourful French creature returns, and offers you chances to buy, change and swap costumes, and compete in a few different types of mini-games. Your goal in these challenges is to collect as many bells as you can, because it’s those brass bells that act as your costume-buying currency.
The costumes are both expected and fitting. After all, Sackboy: A Big Adventure is almost LittleBigPlanet 4, and those games were famous for allowing players to customize their avatars. Thus, there are many different costumes to find and unlock, including a tiger, a viking, a Bioshock style diving suit, a matador and Little Red Riding Hood. This allows for some freedom of expression, especially in co-op and at the end of each level. Why the end? Well, you get to use the joysticks and the DualSense’s motion controls to position Sackboy in different poses for end of level pictures. Expressions, meanwhile, are handled by the d-pad, can be unlocked through progression, and can be changed and customized in the fashion tent.
Of course, Sackboy: A Big Adventure isn’t just a near end-of-life PlayStation 4 game. It also happens to be a PlayStation 5 launch title, which sells for $10 less than its counterparts. Although it doesn’t fully showcase everything the newer console has to offer, nor fully utilize its DualSense controller, it still stands as a well above average launch title. One that shouldn’t be overlooked amidst all of the talk about Miles Morales, Demon’s Souls and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.
Like all of the games before it, this is a very colourful experience, which features levels and worlds made up of craftwork items. You’ll see platforms made from brick, grass made from felt, dirt made from burlap and that kind of thing. It all looks really nice, and makes for a game that screams LittleBigPlanet. Its textures are also quite impressive, especially those of Sackboy and his costumes. That said, the game can sometimes be quite dark, which is to its detriment.
The first time I used our PlayStation 5, I set Sackboy to download and then tried to play it the following night. When I did, the logo screen came up and a message saying “Please wait…” appeared at the bottom. I waited about fifteen nervous minutes, but nothing happened, which forced me to hold the power button for 30 seconds before eventually turning the console back on. After that, I decided to play Astro’s Playground, and got sucked into that awesome pack-in game.
Thankfully, that was the first and only glitch I ever experienced during my three lengthy sessions. This game ran smoothly the rest of the time, and there were no real issues to make mention of. The loading times were pretty fast, the game looked quite nice (albeit not as great as it probably would’ve if it wasn’t a cross-gen title), and everything ran smoothly. The platforming was fun and fluid, too.
It’s in the audio department where this particular title really stands out, and that isn’t always the case with platformers. As I mentioned previously, there are several musically themed levels which make use of popular, licensed music. Some also use lesser known licensed songs, while many skips the vocals and just feature orchestral versions of familiar tunes. I think I heard a Madonna song in there, but wasn’t 100% sure.
All of the major characters are voiced, too, in that way that Disney and Pixar movies are. Thus, there’s lots of personality to be found within the supporting cast, including an old woman who helps guide Sackboy on his journey. Vex is a very personality-filled villain, as well, and is pretty great at what he does.
With all that having been said, I doubt I need to say much more. Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a fun, whimsical and memorable game, and it’s one that will be tough to forget. Although it’s not the sexiest PlayStation 5 launch title, those who sleep on it or skip it altogether will miss out on something special.
This review is based on the PlayStation 5 version of the game, which we were provided with.