A Match Made in Dreamscape

United Front Games has been given the keys to the Little Big Planet kingdom and the results look promising.
Author: Vincent Ingenito
Published: May 2, 2012
When United Front Games came on the scene with Modnation Racers a couple of years ago, it impressed people with solid racing mechanics and and suite of creation tools that were both powerful and simple to use. At first glance, people love to make “it's like this but with that” style comparisons, so naturally more than a few gamers called it “Little Big Planet but with kart racing”. Another common trope in the game biz is that if you have a hit franchise that's just about run its course, then it's time to make a kart racer out of it. Sony is no stranger to this practice, having done it with Crash Bandicoot, and Jak & Daxter with mixed results. In this respect, there was little to be surprised about when I found out I would be getting a first ever look at Sony's Little Big Planet Karting. However, I was pleasantly caught off guard by just how right it felt when I played it.

This is likely due to the fact that Sony tapped United Front Games to handle the development honors. While kart spinoffs of popular franchises are often handled by a second or third string studio with little to no prior contact with the property, LBPK is an entirely different story. According to UFG's creative director William Ho, they were constantly sharing notes with Media Molecule while Little Big Planet and Modnation Racers were in the oven. What's more, Modnation possessed a similar spirit – a focus on customization and community. Throw in the fact that they already have a successful karting game under their belt and United Front Games seems perfectly qualified to handle LBPK, and from what I've seen so far, those qualifications are already paying dividends.

The first thing that jumped out at me was how much of a true Little Big Planet experience the game was. All my concerns that it would be missing the signature LBP look and feel melted away as I explored the familiar Pod hub and customized my kart and Sackboy with the very same popit interface I've been using for years. As you would expect, the number of options for personalizing your vehicle are exhaustive, allowing you to mix and match different body types, chassis, seats, wheels, engine and horn sounds, and more. As I walked around the room to watch other journalists play, no two karts or drivers were alike. Even without all the customization options available, people were already putting their personal stamp on the game. It's what Little Big Planet has always been about and LBPK is already delivering in that regard.

That same parity of experience is present when you hit the race track too. While some levels are straight homages to popular LBP worlds, others are completely original. Either way, they feature the same improvised, cobbled together charm that the franchise has come to be known for. But once you're off to the races, it's shared DNA with Modnation Racers shines through as well. Jump ramps, drift boosts and weapon pickups all feel very close to UFG's previous title, and that's a good thing. Surprisingly, UFG was even able to work in some of LBP's key mechanics as well. Tracks are littered with rows of score bubbles to grab as well as hidden paths to to uncover. Not only do these paths act as shortcuts, they also reward you with item unlocks for creation mode. One shortcut on the track Future Perfect even required you to use the the grapple gun, another LBP standby that made it in. These elements help give LBPK an identity of its own, in a genre crammed with formulaic lookalikes.

As I raced through Garden Grip, a track inspired by the very first level of Little Big Planet, I couldn't help but get excited to see what kind of tracks and environments the community will eventually build. While we didn't see it, the creator sounds about as robust as you could hope for. Not only does it allow you to build tracks from scratch, but it lets you build custom obstacles and terrain pieces, modify existing weapon behaviors or create entirely new ones, and even create your own scoring system for your race. Bot AI will be fully customizable as well, giving you full control of how your opposing drivers behave. And just like its namesake, LBPK will give the players access to the same exact creation tools that the team used to build the game, ensuring that our time spent in the Dreamscape will be both fun and fruitful.

But even when you aren't constructing your next racing masterpiece, it seems as though you won't be lacking for things to do. When I spoke with him after the presentation, William Ho explained to me how he sees the game as something of a “karting adventure” with a full fledged story campaign that will introduce players to a wide variety of different modes including an arena style battle mode, a long time favorite of Mario Kart fans. “Everyone loves a good battle mode so we've got that. And then we have other modes like waypoint races that let you really explore a space and race through checkpoints. We've got score attacks, we've got treasure hunts and more modes that we're still finalizing to reveal them later.” Players craving competition won't be short on ways to find it either, as 4 player split screen and 8 player online multiplayer will both be supported. Whether you feel like a friendly match with your spouse to see who does the dishes, or you want to test your skills against the best in the world, LBPK will have you covered.

Overall, I came away from LBPK with positive vibes, more so than I expected to. It's far from being a soulless kart spinoff cash in like so many we've seen before. It's a project that makes sense, and has been entrusted to a team uniquely qualified to make it work on all fronts. The racing is tried and true, but with enough wrinkles to make it feel fresh, and the creation options already look second to none. Assuming it's all polished up by the time it hits shelves later this year, Little Big Planet Karting should be another big hit for Sackboy and friends.

Vince Ingenito is the guy who sits there making his own Dr. Wily Sackboy and floating skull hover kart while everyone else races. He writes reviews and previews for TotalPlayStation, plots world domination with his evil robot army on Twitter as @WK_VGAMS.