Available on PlayStation 3
A bit over two years ago, Sony released a little game called ModNation Racers on PS3 and PSP. The unofficial spin on it was that it was LittleBigPlanet does Mario Kart, mixing the user-generated content and community features of the former with the high-speed, knockabout racing action of the latter. Developed by United Front, It was an okay game, but it never caught the imagination or made the sales of its inspirations, and this year’s Vita version wasn’t a system seller, either. Perhaps that’s why, instead of a sequel, we now get a game from United Front that makes explicit what used to be implicit. LittleBigPlanet is LittleBigPlanet does Mario Kart – and it’s close to being as brilliant as that sounds.
This is a LittleBigPlanet game, with everything you might expect. It stars Sony’s new favourite mascot, Sackboy. It has the classic handcrafted felt, sponge and cardboard aesthetic, the quirky humour, and the ever-lovable Stephen Fry voiceover. You can collect costumes, decorations and now Kart parts or kits, and use them to customise both Sackboy and his vehicle to your heart’s content. What’s more, you can create your own tracks in a ridiculously simple editor, test them, play them, and share them with the community at large. Basically, every feature you would want in a LittleBigPlanet Karting game is there.
And while the gameplay sticks pretty close to the classic Mario Kart formula, LBP Karting actually has its own LittleBig twists to add. Some courses feature spongy rollers you can grapple onto and swing from in classic Sackboy style, sometimes to reach hidden routes, sometimes to bypass massive gaps. There’s a full-scale story mode taking in several planets, complete with improbable scenarios, bonkers characters and crazy cut-scenes. You can play this single-player, or with up to three friends in a split-screen mode, and the game allows drop-in, drop-out multiplayer.
The weapons are all recognisable from Mario Kart or WipEout, but entertaining for all that, with some nice examples like an invincible boxing glove or rocket that you can ride on while smashing through the competition. What’s more, LBP Karting mixes things up in the campaign with other scenarios, that find you battling other racers in a variation on Mario Kart’s old battle mode, fighting over a monster’s egg with your grappling hook, or destroying a gargantuan caterpillar in a weird, shoot-em-up action sequence. Too many Mario Kart clones think that if you take the core Mario Kart gameplay, substitute your own characters and scenery and keep things simple, you can still make a great game. This is one mistake LBP Karting hasn’t made.
Meanwhile, the create and community features are as good as you’d expect in a LittleBigPlanet game. You literally roll out the track with a paint roller using the standard driving controls, using the right-stick to change the angle of elevation or descent. Adding scenery and obstacles is a bit of a chore, but changing the landscape is easy, and it really doesn’t take much time to get a race-able result. Your courses can be saved or shared, and we’re already seeing a mass of cool user-generated tracks that show what can be done, though we suspect the direct Mario Kart homages might not survive for too long. All the features you’d expect to recommend tracks are there, along with hotlists for developer and community favourites.
LBP Karting is rich in customisation options, with a huge range of Kart parts and styles to try out, plus just as many costumes, hairstyles and options for Sackboy. A future DLC pack will allow you to import costumes from existing LBP games, which should please those who’ve coughed up for specific packs. The size or style of your vehicle doesn’t actually seem to make a huge amount of difference in terms of speed or handling, but at least your ride gets your own personal touch.