It seems as though Sackboy always has a trick or two up his sleeves, even if he doesn’t actually have sleeves. From costumes to frowning faces, he has never failed to entertain. His latest trick, however, breaks away from the typical 2D (ish) platformer known as LittleBigPlanet and takes him to a whole new level of mobility. Sackboy got a kart, and he has a whole new racing adventure coming this fall! LittleBigPlanet Karting was announced earlier this year with a release date speculated to be around October 2012, but developer Media Molecule wanted to collect some first impressions of the gameplay before it’s released. Thus the LBP Karting beta was born, and I was one of the lucky folks who hopped into the action. Here’s what I found out.
I haven’t played a kart racing game since Crash Team Racing on the original Playstation, but the tutorial level quickly brought me up to speed. I even had the ability to choose my control scheme. For the record, I prefer the old school X button to accelerate and shoulder buttons to slide, but you can also use the right trigger for the gas. The sliding feels absolutely perfect, and I had no trouble navigating around tight turns while drifting. There’s also a boost that kicks in while sliding after a certain amount of time, and if you time the slide button release just right, the boost is even more powerful. When in the air, the shoulder buttons adjust your landing trajectory slightly, but if you want to really turn, you can hold down one of the trigger buttons and turn with the left analog stick. If you manage to spin at least 360 degrees, you’ll get a boost when you land. The controls aren’t anything new, but they’re done very well.
But what would a karting game be without a few weapons? The weapon pickups are scattered along the tracks, and once picked up, can be held onto and fired whenever you please. A few are defensive (like mines or explosive boxes), others are offensive (like missiles and bombs), and some give you a speed boost to catch up with the pack. A feature that I particularly liked was the ability to use any weapon you’re holding defensively if you’re being attacked by another racer. If a weapon has locked onto you, a small red icon pops up to warn you, but if you have a weapon, at the last second the red icon turns into a shield, and that’s when you can launch your weapon to block the attack. So if you’re ahead of the pack and have a missile, you can just hold onto it in case someone tries to take away your lead.
As with the rest of the LittleBigPlanet series, creativity plays a huge part in level design. Each of the levels the developers made and included with the beta were unique. There were a few circuit races and battle arenas, as you would expect in any karting game, but there was also a strange level where you race around to pick up eggs and take them to a targeted area. But the real highlight of my experience in the beta was the community designed levels. With the outstanding toolkit included with the game, players have already made some incredible tracks that rival what the developers made. I can tell that the community is going to give this game infinite replay ability, since there will probably be some new content every time you load the game.
I began my playthrough of the beta in single player mode, just to get a feel for the layout of the game. The first thing that I noticed in my first race was the difficulty of the AI. There was an option to choose difficulty, but there were only two choices: casual and normal. The casual mode advertised that everybody wins, so I went with normal difficulty. I believe a more apt description of that level would be legendary, because I was never able to beat the AI. Of course, I wasn’t much better at beating other humans either, but still, the AI was VERY good at racing. What’s great about the weapons in the game is that they’re designed to change the tide of the race in an instant. There were a few times I was in first place, but a well-placed missile ended it rather quickly. In the same fashion, I was able to move up from 8th to 3rd thanks to a few bombs. Unless you really screw up while driving, you always have a shot at winning the race.
The single player is fun and all, but LittleBigPlanet really shines in its multiplayer aspect, so I felt obligated to try it out. ThatGamerHub’s own Albert Perkins was also playing the beta, so we decided to see if we could join each other in a race. It was a little dicey trying to connect at first, and Albert actually ended up with a black screen and a kart, but no level! But once he restarted the game, he was able to join the track I was on, and from there we raced through several other levels after that. We even had a few other online players join us, and we had a blast in some battle arenas, frantically racing around and trying to blow each other up! Given the choice of offline and online play, it’s clear that online is the winner when it comes to this karting game. Plus, if you’re not online, you can’t access all the great community content, which is what makes this game truly unique.
All in all, I had a blast playing this beta, and I will be picking this game up when it’s released this fall. It combines what I love about karting games and LittleBigPlanet, and it works so well. The controls are well-designed, the karts are responsive and easy to drive, the weapons are a blast to use, and the ability to race with your friends is always a plus. There is already a preorder available on Amazon, but there isn’t an official release date. But when it is released, I guarantee I’ll be online and racing, day one!