If we scored for features, then LBP Karting would be an 8 or a 9 out of 10. The same goes for presentation, where the crisp, quirky graphics, the wonderfully oddball soundtrack and the narration all make LBP Karting seem like an awful lot of fun. Unfortunately, we have to take the gameplay into account, and this is where the problems start creeping in.
Basically, the heart of the game – the Kart racing – just isn’t good enough. Some people think that designing kart games is easy, but in fact it’s an incredibly complex exercise in weapons balancing, character balancing, handling, course design and AI tuning. LBP Karting doesn’t get any of these things disastrously wrong – it’s perfectly playable – but it doesn’t get them quite right, either. There are so many weapons flying around and so many insta-kill drops and obstacles that the racing is all a bit messy. The AI is aggressive, and there seems to be a high degree of rubber-banding involved, making it impossible to pull clear of the pack.
There are some clever mechanics for guarding your kart from attack by using weapons in a defensive mode, and for using drift for a speed boost, but neither quite work in the heat of the action. You rarely feel that you win a race by skill. Instead, you win because you happened to be in the right place at the right time as you crossed the finish line. In fact, you can move from first place to sixth place or visa versa so quickly, that the last twenty to thirty seconds of the race are often the only ones that matter.
And while this kind of game should catch fire in multiplayer, United Front has made a mess of the structure. You unlock both cooperative and versus races from within the main story mode, and there’s no way we can find to set up a playlist, work your way through a tournament or play in a Mario Kart-style cup. Instead, you either drift from one track to the next with your sofa-bound buddies, or play online with players voting for which track you tackle next. The result? A weirdly stilted experience.
All this is hugely frustrating, because with some more tuning, a few adjustments and some restructuring, LBP Karting could become a great Karting game. In fact, it’s almost tempting to buy it and play it just to see what the community can do. As it is, though, it’s hard to wholeheartedly recommend. The LittleBigPlanet bit works brilliantly, but the Karting bit? Not so much.