When seeing Sackboy, it’s impossible not to smile. You don’t have a soul if a smile doesn’t at least play around the corners of your mouth. This inherent charm is part of the reason all his games are entertaining, and intricately designed, family-friendly atmosphere ups the appeal even more. LittleBigPlanet Karting is a definite departure from the innovative platformer that launched Sackboy’s illustrious career, and although it isn’t a masterful gem, it’s still tons o’ fun. And isn’t that the point?
As you might expect, the tracks and environments are reminiscent of the original LBP adventure(s), in that there’s a goodly assortment of creative, imaginative settings. There’s a fantastic variety of race locales, the detailing is good (if not quite as impressive as we’ve seen before), and the animations and effects are just shy of top-notch. It’s colorful and pleasing, which is most important. The only problem is that die-hard fans of the franchise might notice the small yet obvious drop-off in terms of visual presentation quality, which always pushes the envelope in the LittleBigPlanet platforming quests.
The sound is another highlight, as the combination of a diverse, engaging soundtrack and kooky effects gives us an audio style that is distinctly LBP. The music ranges widely and greatly enhances the racing action, while the effects – though occasionally tripping over the line into generic – are relatively accomplished. Overall audio balancing is pretty good, too, and you’ll definitely want a decent sound system to take full advantage of the various musical pieces. But much like the graphics, there’s just a little something lacking…something that reminds us that we’re playing a title that doesn't quite capture the elite AAA label.
I am a huge proponent of the LittleBigPlanet series, as I believe it’s easily one of the most innovative, artistic and creative franchises of this or any generation. Therefore, it almost seems anticlimactic in a way to produce a karting spin-off; perhaps the hardcore LBP fans will find it off-putting and even insulting. But if you’ve always loved the beautiful artistry of past games, and you’re a fan of all the in-depth customization and development tools, LittleBigPlanet Karting can still deliver the goods. You simply have to make a few concessions.
For instance, while the racing is mostly solid and reliable (and fun!), the physics and control can be somewhat erratic. It isn’t too tough to get a handle on the basic controls, but you may notice a few small problems as you fling your way around another nicely designed and presented track. It can feel a little loose and the boosting isn’t 100% perfect, as I don’t like the idea of focusing so heavily on drifting (which is necessary for the boosting). I get that power-slides have become common mainstream fodder, even though it bugs me no end that people don’t realize a power slide is a mistake for any real racer.
Ah, but this is just good ol’ Sackboy arcadey fun, so we shouldn’t get all anal about the slightly wonky control setup and general physics. It’s a little annoying that bumping into opponents causes some really weird things to happen, but you become accustomed to such minor eccentricities. And the best part is that they don’t necessarily hinder your enjoyment, just ‘cuz the rest of the production is so damn cute. The racetracks are indeed quite diverse and you’ll utilize everything from a grappling hook to missiles to land mines. For those who want to get all nostalgic, much of this might really remind you of good ol’ Mario Kart .
It’s funny that some of the old strategies I used in the MK games work out quite well in the LBP kart iteration. It’s better to hold on to really good items until you’re near the end of the race, for example, and getting nailed by even one attack can really screw you up. However, you can’t catch up as easily as you could in Super Mario Kart (if I remember it correctly), so playing defense is probably the best course of action. This may be seen as a detriment or flaw to some but for me, this is basically how most kart-based video games work. So I just accept this “flaw” and move on.
It’s just that there are other clear drawbacks, such as the unreliable and sometimes difficult-to-explain physics, that hold Karting back. The cool part is that you’ll always want to come back for more, as there are seemingly countless collectibles and the customization/creation tools are, as you might anticipate, beyond robust. You can really flex your artistic design muscle if you so choose, even if requires a fair amount of practice and trial-and-error. Sadly, the tutorials are tedious and don’t do a great job of teaching you how to utilize the wealth of tools at your disposal but again, this isn’t anything new. It’s a common complaint from the land of LBP.
That being said, if you factor in the sheer amount of content and the gameplay variety, you’ve still got a game that will demand your attention for many hours. I liked the twists they throw at you, too; there are the battle arenas, which don’t really have anything to do with traditional racing, the top-down remote-control-car type of competition, and even some side-scrolling goodness to keep you coming back for more. So if you get a little tired of the standard races, you can always try your hand at invention or sample one of the alternate modes, which offer new mechanics and perspectives. As such, this game feels like a full, complete package.
LittleBigPlanet Karting is fun. That’s probably the most accurate assessment one can make without exaggerating or leading others astray. It has its fair share of shortcomings and unfortunately, that does involve gameplay idiosyncrasies I’d rather not have seen. And I still feel like I have to be a development genius to really dive into the ridiculously complex creation tools. All in all, though, this offers plenty of bang for your buck, the racing flaws aren’t critical, the appreciated variety and diversity adds that patented LBP flair, and playing with friends never gets boring. It should make for a worthy addition to any holiday wish list.
The Good: Excellent design and lots of visual variety. Great soundtrack. Plenty of gameplay versatility thanks to unique modes. A gigantic slate of creation tools. Racing fun factor remains high throughout.
The Bad: Not quite as technically impressive as expected. Odd physics and slight control issues. Tutorials are tedious.
The Ugly: “Duuuude, visions of Mario Kart…”