LittleBigPlanet 2 is Democratized Play for Rich People’s Kids

Reposted from Popmatters Multimedia Reviews.

At this point there is very little effusive praise I could throw LittleBigPlanet 2‘s way that would be new, so let’s attempt to do without it. If you are at all familiar with the franchise it should come as no surprise that UK devs Media Molecule’s latest work is a polished, A-lister piece of work that earns top marks in all the areas that it should: it has great visuals, the music is memorable, it’s accessible across age groups and demographics, it’s creative, it’s different, and it’s fun.

It’s also a rather halfbaked experience if you’re poor.

Now look, I am a graduate student. My kind are not known for their endless supplies of money or resources. I feel rather fortunate to own an HDTV, but it’s neither 1080p nor exactly gigantic. I still have to squint or sit exceptionally close to read tiny text in games like Mass Effect 2 or Metal Gear Solid 4, something I have accepted as a bias toward the dedicated hardcore market and in some ways reasonable in that respect, if still myopic in my view. But for a series like LittleBigPlanet, which thrives on its saturation of a youth market, which makes itself out to be the perfect game for anyone because it can be any game you want, to be all but unplayable on even a medium-sized screen is unforgivable.

Tiny text. A distinct paucity of attractive and readable color options. Puzzles so dark you might as well play backlit from an open window. Failed camera casing at every turn. This game is a rude mess on anything shy of a gigantic screen, which only serves to cheat an otherwise visually stunning gameplay experience.

Do I sound like Roger Ebert critiquing a 3D movie? I should, because it’s the exact same kind of hypermonetized hogwash that is killing cinema. The existing HUD elements in no way crowd out the player’s view of the level, so making the text a little larger and more legible would not have impaired the design in any way. The size and style of the text is completely an aesthetic choice– one which unfairly marginalizes any player not gifted with a TV at least half the size of his wall.

This factors into the Create mode as well, where careful sizing and positioning matters quite a bit. I’m sure there are plenty of excellent level designers out there who are working under modest conditions and turning out fabulous work, but I hope they’re resting their thumbs and eyes often enough.

Following on that previous point, this game is a disappointingly short-lived experience played offline and in isolation. While the Story mode should get major accolades for bolstering the aforesaid story to create something enduring and magical, it still manages to feel shorter and in many ways compositionally weaker than the original, which had a much finer gradation of difficulty. The hardest levels are at the beginning and the very end (discouraging for novices) while the middle sections barely involve active cognition (disillusioning for everyone else). Once you’ve mastered the tools, unlocked the minigames and collected all the items, then what are you supposed to do?

Perhaps some local co-op would be enough to fill the void, and I suppose you can always design levels for yourself, but LittleBigPlanet‘s strongest feature has always been its online community. Digital gods help you if you have a slow or unstable internet connection. Even with my rather generous wireless speed, I still get more connection time-outs on PSN than seems called for, and I certainly do not envy my network friends who constantly dropped offline when we tried to do a level together.

“So the servers have some bugs that need ironing out and it’s too much game for your tiny screen,” you say. “How does that affect me?” Well, if it doesn’t, good for you. If, however, you’re part of the design team that made LittleBigPlanet 2, you may wish to explain why a game that so explicitly makes statements of inclusivity, which bills itself on an aesthetic of pedagogy and internationality, is actually orienting itself toward a rather elite clientele of privileged players.

(If your answer is satisfactory, I won’t then go on to ask why the game’s Big Bad, the force of evil manifested as the “heart of darkness,” is apparently from the menacing and alien world of Africa. You see? I can give developers the benefit of the doubt sometimes.)

Do you want to buy LittleBigPlanet 2? Demographically, if you have a PS3 to begin with, there is a good chance you can afford to, so you may as well. It is without question a high-quality game, and my remarks here should not make it seem I did not thoroughly enjoy playing it. Enjoying, however, is not the same as defending. Had this game more consistency to its message and done more to follow through on its attitude of “bring yourself, whoever and whatever you are,” I might have called it straight-up principled as well as fun. Unfortunately, I’m forced to rank it with the many other games whose entertainment value is mitigated by not-so-fond memories of eyestrain.

If you aren’t able to access LittleBigPlanet 2‘s user-generated online content, you may as well give this one a pass until you can. Like many other build-oriented toolbox games, the true genius of this title is in what your fellow player can offer. If you think you might enjoy it just for its offline content, I’d advise you to try renting it first. (A pity most rental stores have gone out of business.)

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Comments

  • TheProfile  On 07.25.11 at 12:48 pm

    Lovely and accurate review. I am among those that can afford a larger screen television and the truth is I had never considered that the quality of the visuals of the game were diminished for those with regular sized televisions. I did hook up the PS3 to a smaller television and was amazed to find that exactly what you say is true. That is a serious flaw that MM/Sony needs to address. Having said that, it would be among many flaws that LittleBigPlanet2 has, including but not limited to, Puppet Porn levels, which are quite graphic in action, that a player stumbles upon in the Lucky Dip feature. Further there are unprovoked Troll attacks by those very same rich people’s children when they are bored, which is apparently often. There are also groups of individuals in the online game with voice devices, who entice children to turn on their mics and then proceed to question them and gather information, such information which can and I do not doubt leads to credit card fraud, break and enters and home invasions at the short end of the scale. MM/Sony has provided no method of blocking these “information gatherers” and when banned, they simply create a new online ID and return to prey on those new or trusting to the game. I appreciate that any online game provides an atmosphere where one must be cautious, however, this game targets a very young crowd that couldn’t possibly understand the consequences of letting their Sackthing friend know that Mommy and Daddy are at work every day and Mommy has lots of beautiful jewellery. Then there are the children who fashionably refer to themselves as EMO’s who glorify and encourage self hurt or suicide of their new six year old fellow sackthing friends. LBP2 is exactly as lovely as you say in some regards, I have enjoyed it, however, I am an adult playing it on a large television screen and am a little more savvy then the usual unsuspecting child. MM/Sony needs to find a fix for their flaws and provide a more child friendly atmosphere if they want to continue to target that market. Moderation and a safe and effective blocking system would be a good start, of course that would require restricting the amount of Online User Id’s that could be generated though the PS3 system.

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  • [...] given the game a lot of flack for being difficult to play on anything smaller than a gigantic HDTV[2] and for falling short on its pedagogical promises.[3] But its story mode and especially the [...]

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