Hands on

The PlayStation Vita was made for LittleBigPlanet.

Double Eleven and Tarsier Studios’ latest entry in Media Molecule’s sandbox series is one of the most intelligent experiences available in the handheld’s initial wave of software. Everything from the user interface to the game mechanics has been expertly tweaked and adjusted not only to make the game feel relevant on PS Vita but absolutely at home.

During a brief hands-on we got to test out a selection of LittleBigPlanet’s professionally produced levels, and came away stunned by the game’s infectious potential.

Easily the most memorable of the stages we tested was a circus themed platforming level that used the PS Vita’s unique specifications in a variety of interesting ways. Taking control of an outrageously cute slimmed-down Sackboy, we were required to manually turn cogs using the touch screen, create makeshift springs by dragging blocks and even reveal hidden pathways by popping out piano keys with the rear touch pad. As with previous LittleBigPlanet releases, the level was not only enjoyable to play, but also got our creative juices mulling over the potential of the game’s create mode.

All the fun of the... circus

There’s a popular Penny Arcade comic that attempts to discredit the importance of portable gaming by insinuating that you can purchase significantly more games on a mobile phone for the same price as a single specialised handheld title, but LittleBigPlanet disputes that shallow argument. With the potential of the PlayStation Vita opened up to budding game designers, it’s easy to imagine the next handheld hit emerging within LittleBigPlanet, and that alone is an exciting proposition.

Unfortunately Sony wasn’t showing off the game’s create mode, but it was keen to paint us a picture of where it’s heading. Level creation has never been an easy task on the PlayStation 3, but the platform holder promises it will be much more intuitive on PS Vita, and it’s easy to see how. The touch screen offers a much more straightforward interface for designing objects, and we have no doubt that a significant portion of the development crowd from LittleBigPlanet 2 on PS3 will migrate to the PS Vita version, creating all manner of memorable mini games and stages during the game’s lifespan.

Unfortunately the other levels included on the demo build didn’t quite get our blood pumping like the circus stage. Controlling a submerged Sackboy in a bubble with careful strokes of the PS Vita’s touch screen felt fine but a bit basic, while a tedious squid-sorting mini game appeared to exist purely on the merit of its alliterated title rather than any real gameplay worth.

Two mini games closed out our brief hands-on, one showing off the versatility of the game’s create engine in a retro-themed racing game and another re-emphasising touch controls in a multiplayer air hockey head-to-head. The latter intelligently split the touch screen in half, allowing two players to compete on a single unit.

Visually LittleBigPlanet on PS Vita looks every inch the adversary to its PlayStation 3 counterpart, with the game’s madcap whimsical art style perfectly replicated on the system’s shrunken screen.

The game includes some nice interface touches that put it ahead of its nearest PS Vita counterparts. For example, using the rear touch pad places a thumbprint icon on screen, allowing you to easily track the position of your finger without depending on guesswork. It’s alarming how many other titles ignored this simple feature.

Sadly the demo we tested limited menu navigation and Pop-It control to the touch screen, which felt a bit jarring at first. Navigating on the touch screen is OK, but like so many other of the PS Vita launch titles, it would be nice if developers had the forethought to include both button and touch controls, allowing players to decide which inputs they’d prefer to use. You can never offer too many options.

Sony often gets criticised for shrinking home console content onto its handheld platforms, but LittleBigPlanet feels like it belongs on the PS Vita. The system’s range of new inputs multiplies the package’s creative potential beyond anything seen on PS3. What’s even more impressive is that the interface improvements are applicable to both the creative and gameplay aspects of the experience, resulting in a more intuitive development toolbox laden with greater mechanical potential than ever before.

LittleBigPlanet is clearly the star Sony’s PS Vita line-up, and thus it’s smart that the platform holder is giving the game and system space to mature. We assume the title is intended to be Sony’s big Christmas release next year, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t catch on. LittleBigPlanet’s always generated a passionate and involving audience, but based on our first impressions, its debut PS Vita outing is poised to become the franchise’s coming-out party.