Sony’s much loved LittleBigPlanet series takes a whole new twist, and joins the current bombardment of karting games by taking to the track with the intention of bringing the best of that moustachioed racing game into a sack-lined package. Combining the collect-em-up nature of the previous two LBP games with racing and track designing that feels similar to Modnation Racers (no great surprise there) this is aimed at hitting a wide audience. But trying to cram multiple genres into one game has gone wrong before, so what can LBP Karting do to avoid a similar fate? More to the point, what can it do to bring a genre back to life which has started to turn a bit stale?
Well, to be honest there isn’t a great deal. While fans of the LBP universe will love the styling of the entire game (including the ever-genius inclusion of Stephen Fry as the narrator) the rest of the game is pretty standard fare for a cute kart-based racer. Tracks are scattered with the ever-present collectible bubbles, giving you something extra to aim for while racing round circuits that, in all honesty, aren’t all that amazing in design. Sure they give some opportunities for some fun racing and the potential shortcuts are nice to search for, but you’ll be keen to dive into the community-created tracks and see if there are any better ideas out in the imagination of other gamers.
The karts themselves handle with a decent amount of satisfaction, allowing you to throw yourself round corners, over jumps and spinning through the air with ease. With a few mates this turns into some really enjoyable racing, something that is only dampened by the over-charged powerups. Whether it’s a huge boxing glove that takes over the controls and occasionally dumps you in some water, or the fast-forward pickup that whisks you a few seconds up the track they never quite feel right. You could have battled your way up towards the front, only to be pummeled by a series of unfortunately-timed powerups which end up putting you in an almost-infinte respawn loop until you’re at the back again. It works both ways obviously – you’re just as likely to benefit at some stage – but it just feels a bit too weighted in favour of the powerups.
But, as mentioned, the racing itself is pretty good if you can ignore the powerup issues, as are the other modes that are on offer for your enjoyment. An arena battle pitches you against a bunch of other sack-folk with the sole intention of using said powerups to destroy the others as much as possible – kind of a free-for-all deathmatch in karts if you like. Other slightly more quirky modes such as carrying a huge egg around for as long as possible before it gets stolen from you help matters a bit, but playing any of this online is so clunky you’ll spend as much time finding and waiting for a game than you will actually playing it.
But this is LBP, so there’s all the customising to think about. The thing is, dressing up your Sackboy isn’t quite the same as in previous games. Sure you can change everything about his appearance, but as half of him will be hidden by the kart and the rest won’t be seen because of the racing being quite quick you’re unlikely to really pay any attention unless you pause the game to use the built-in photo option. The karts are a slightly different story, and changes are more obvious when racing against others, but the changes are all cosmetic and whether you’re racing in a monster truck, muscle car or cardboard box everything handles and drives the same. While you can’t expect this to take on Gran Turismo levels of customisation, you’d expect big-wheeled vehicles to traverse off-road a bit better, and low-slung sporty types to be a bit more speedy round the bends.
If this sounds a bit negative then that’s born just as much out of disappointment than anything else. The game isn’t bad by any means, but considering what could have been possible with the LBP universe it all feels a bit flat. Playing through the main story mode sometimes feels like you’re just going through the motions to open up every available track and mini-game to play with others, as you won’t be able to play the tracks online or with local split-screen until you reached it in the story mode – quite frustrating if you just want to jump on and have a few races with the kids.
Where LBP Karting makes up some brownie points is the track creator. Those who have delved into the depths of LBP level creation in previous titles will know what to expect, and a massive range of logic options and sensors will let you create tracks with such variety and quality that you’ll wonder why the main game’s tracks weren’t more dynamic. It’s not simple though, and although you can create something quite simple quite quickly you’ll need some kind of undergraduate engineering qualification to get though the tutorials without half of your questions still unanswered. That’s not a failing of the game, it just goes to show the amount you can do when setting up your own tracks. These, as before, can be uploaded and played by whoever stumbles upon them.
I had high hopes for LittleBigPlanet Karting. The idea of Modnation-level customisation, track creation and online fun mixed with the ever-adorable Sackboy charm appeared to be something that just couldn’t go wrong. But along the line something didn’t quite click into place, and although there’s still plenty to enjoy about the racing, creating and madness from the various game modes there’s also plenty to frustrate you and want to hurl your controller at the cat. It’s a decent shot at a karting title, but it’s not the game that the genre, or the LBP series, really needed. It’s worth a chance if you love LBP or kart-based racers, but if you’re the type of gamer who gets easily annoyed then don’t even consider it. Not unless you have a healthy stock of controllers. And cats.
Reviewed on PS3