Is Sony's acclaimed Little Big Planet 'build your own level' platformer the flagship game the PS Vita needs? We took a closer look to find out...
Little Big Planet was a huge success story for British developer Media Molecule back in 2008, wowing PlayStation 3 owners with its zeitgeist-capturing brew of vintage Super Mario-style platforming and YouTube-esque social media sharing dressed up as a high-end Pixar production.
The PlayStation Vita is a fantastic device, full of game-changing inputs, high-def graphics and joyous games; 11 rated 80+ on Metacritic and counting, if you won't take our word for it.
However, there has yet to be a proper flagship title that not only plays like a dream but nails its "only possible on this platform" statement to Sony's mast – Uncharted: Golden Abyss felt like too much of a compromise, Gravity Rush too hardcore a title to capture the masses' imagination.
Yet in Little Big Planet PS Vita, the system truly comes alive like never before, a window on to fantasy worlds that are made to be manipulated and shared on a device built specifically for the job.
The whole basis of Little Big Planet is democratic platforming, a cutesie, open-to-all world straight out of a high-end cartoon, yet skinned over some hardcore level-building tools capable of some mighty impressive feats.
It is social gaming at its most pure – people making their own levels and sharing them, simultaneously old school and ultra-modern. It is the Stephen Fry of video games – impossibly intelligent yet digested and regurgitated in a way that even your dog could understand. Rather fitting, then, that they got Fry in to narrate it.
Little Big Planet PS Vita: Controls
Despite all this, we must admit, Media Molecule's original never really "got" us on its big brother system. It looked beautiful and was certainly fun – we laughed along at the fantastically designed E3 keynote like everyone else – but its world was a bit overly cutesie for our tastes and the level-building never felt natural or tactile enough on the controller.
On the PS Vita, however, the many control inputs and in-your-hand functionality complete it, connecting you to the characters and your creations.
Pinch, zoom and turn on the touch screen and panels enables both subtle level building skills and an array of gameplay mechanics, be it pushing and pulling a bridge over a particularly gaping ravine or guiding your torch- hat's killer light shots round corners.
The gyroscope makes for some precariously poised motion moments that get the pulse going, while the front and rear camera also mean you can get yourself and your world into your levels more than ever before.
Little Big Planet PS Vita: Gameplay
Even without your contributions, the game is as stunning to look at as ever, its material land of textures and tones, levers and platforms, vibrant and alive on the Vita's OLED screen.
Yet the story mode's many mini-worlds of marionettes and puppet masters – the Vegas metropolis meets 8-bit revival of Jackpot City is somewhere we'd like to visit in real life – is also dark enough to hold older kids' attentions (the Mine O' Threat level got a chuckle, too).
Controls are tight and responsive, the Vita's armoury fully utilised, new inputs merging with old like they've known each other for years.
Alas there's the predictable propensity for slightly indulgent cut scenes that you may expect from a game that began its life on the PlayStation 3, pulling it away from the realms of bite-sized portable nuggets, but they can be skipped with plenty of button presses and admittedly do ramp up the story.
Likewise, loading times for levels, while tolerable, are more main console creepers than handheld quick-starters.
Little Big Planet PS Vita: Features
Importantly, though, there's a hell of a lot to load up. Apt for a game that is technically endless when taken online, this is a title teeming with on-the-cart content behind the relatively short, but sublimely realised single-player campaign.
You can never 100% a level first playthrough, with hidden areas requiring unlocking with stickers yet to be found or two-player-only sections held mentally on pause till a friend is free.
Completing story areas also unlocks extra levels, be they LBP-themed time trials like the Sackboy-troubling, touch screen- pounding Whack A Mole or self-contained app-style diversions such as the Pipe Mania-meets-EON diversion of Super Conductor.
Then, of course, there's the actual level building itself, which as well as being more tactile and responsive also has a whole host of new tools based around the Vita's many inputs – we've tried to cram as many as possible into our own T3 Tech Factory of Fun level to show you (see video below), but you should know we're a big fan of tapping out ledges on the touch panel, we don't know why.
The Community area will let you bookmark favourite levels, share and also connect with Little Big Planet 2 content, while upcoming DLC Cross-Play promises even greater link-ups between the consoles.
Little Big Planet PS Vita: Multiplayer
Built as a community game from the ground up, Little Big Planet as a concept has always sung on multiplayer. So once you've built a few levels and shared them with the populous, and maybe tried a few others' creations for good measure, you will be able to try some competitive or co-operative four-player online action, too, though we were unable to test as the servers don't go live till launch.
Yet the really clever stuff is actually all on the same unit and try away we did, as while Little Big Planet supports turn-based local gameplay, there's also competitive two-player on the one Vita thanks to its multi- touch display.
Sure, these tend to be unlockable mini-games not related to the main story – we're particularly partial to the air hockey – but don't seem out of place in a game that has always been about more than just a solo quest, and just add to an already sizeable package.
Little Big Planet PS Vita: Verdict
There's nothing quite like a game truly fitting a system, and in Little Big Planet PS Vita we have an experience that feels as at home as Super Mario Galaxy on the Nintendo Wii or Halo on the Xbox. Whether you're a level builder extraordinaire or just want pure platforming thrills, this has the controls and content for the task.
Married to the whole "in your hand" feel of the PlayStation Vita, it's as if you're massaging these worlds out of Play-Doh or Silly Putty. It just fits. Arguments for dedicated gaming portables don't come any stronger.
Little Big Planet PS Vita release date: September 21 2012
Little Big Planet PS Vita price: £35