Earlier today I showed you that the first LittleBigPlanet was customized by a gamer to play like Xbox downloadable darling Limbo. Last week, however, I watched its sequel play like Xbox downloadable darling Shadow Complex. LBP2 is wonderfully flexible.
Like its predecessor, LittleBigPlanet 2 is a highly customizable action game that is most impressive in its malleability. It may appear to be a co-op side-scroller, a modern Mario Bros. made of realistic-looking virtual cloth, wood and brick. But the people behind LBP2 want us to think that it can be anything.
The new game need not remain a side-scroller. It can be a top-down shooter, a real-time strategy game. It looked to me, when I played a little bit of LittleBigPlanet 2 last week at a Sony PlayStation showcase event, that it could even be Shadow Complex.
This was Shadow Complex:
See that stuff the guy is standing on? That's foam from his foam gun. The Xbox 360, Metroid-inspired Shadow Complex let your hero create his own slopes and walkways by shooting goo from a gun. The first level I played of LBP2 featured a Sackboy, my character, equipped with a hat that could shoot globs of foam. The hat could be set to shoot any substance in the game, a Sony representative who also had a controller in his hand told me. In this level, though, the hat would shoot goo. The goo would stick and pile. We could make our own platforms with it. Soon, I had Sackboy imitating what the Shadow Complex guy is doing in the screenshot above (sorry I don't have a picture of it). The foam gun may not have been Shadow Complex's only special feature, but it was one of its finest. LBP2 can ape it.
In that level my Sackboy also had a grappling hook that allowed for a lot more clinging and swinging than the first game offered. Though the jumping in the game is still floaty, I felt more in control as I hopped around, more capable of going where I wanted.
The Sony people are proud to say that, in just 24 hours, some of Little Big Planet's top users were able to use an early version of LittleBigPlanet 2's enhanced editing options to create all kinds of creative games.
For example, there was this UFO-flying game:
I tried it. I flew the ship around and shot at some enemies, admired the cows.
I didn't try the LBP2 real-time strategy riff:
Nor did I see the 3D-shooter one:
I did try Oh Dayum, It's Rambo which reminded me of the old Capcom game Commando. It turned LBP2 into a top-down military shooter. That was a neat trick that, though I think they sawed this woman in half by putting sackboy in control of a large cardboard soldier that was too big and awkward to move around the screen. Not bad for a 24-hour experiment, but not designed well enough to feel tightly controlled. It felt more like a lark of an effort than a game I would play twice.
All these variations are made possible with LBP2's improved editing tools. Game owners can still use a PlayStation 3 controller to build or tweak levels. They can now also access an in-game device called the Controlinator to map PS3 controls to any object in the game. You can assign actions to the PS3 controller's sticks and buttons. The Sony rep who showed me the game quickly made a UFO of his own and mapped movement controls to show me how this worked. He was also able to define the effects in-game gravity would have on the UFO, to modulate its buoyancy and its responsiveness to controller input.
For those of us who don't plan to create many things in LittleBigPlanet 2 nor put all our faith in amateur creators whose content we can download, I'm told that we can expect Media Molecule to again offer a full set of professionally-made levels and mini-games. The MM folks will also create a batch of levels that can be controlled with a PlayStation Move, though launch plans do not include giving LBP2 owners the ability to make Move-based content of their own.
LittleBigPlanet 2 looks like a nicely-improved laboratory for professional and amateur game-making. The PS3 title launches in November, though given the additions to its editing suite, I suspect the reasons to keep playing the game will pop up for many months after that.