Ever since Nintendo’s Mario Kart series debuted on the Super NES, there has been numerous attempts to oust it from the top spot. Sony’s unofficial mascot Sackboy is ready to compete against the mustached plumber for the Kart racing trophy with LittleBigPlanet Karting. Will he take the checkered flag, or will this be another racer that will crash and burn?
Developer United Front Games recreated the look and feel of Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet series by combining familiar elements like its craft-style visuals, Stephen Fry’s narration, the Popit’s customization tool, with the kart-handling of their previous title, ModNation Racers. The campaign places that adorable sack-person behind the steering wheel of a kart as he/she attempts to ward off the Hoard, a group of evil sack-people that speed through the galaxy stealing anything they can.
Most of the competitive races pit you against several other opponents in a race to the finish across tracks set in environments from the previous platformers. Each track is unique and alongside the standard races, Sackboy/girl will participate in rainbow checkpoint dashes, scrolling shooter stages, vehicular arena deathmatch, find-and-collect missions, and boss fights – to name a few.
With the exclusion of a few new tricks, the gameplay is identical to previous kart racers. Performing a drift for a long period of time will reward you with a speed boost and jumping allows you to collect orbs spread across the track. Control feels loose and take some time to get use to. Drifting around tight corners is a bit of a nuisance because of the floaty physics familiar with the series. I found myself constantly catapulting off the track and being knocked back to last place instantaneously. The inclusion of some innovations like the signature grappling hook, which allows you to navigate across huge jumps with a well-timed press of a button, keeps the racing fresh.
Races quickly develop into frenzied three-lap bolts for the finish line, as the racers quickly disperse into a ruckus of explosions and crashes, thanks in part to environmental hazards and the randomly-charged Weaponators. With a varied arsenal consisting of heat-seeking rockets, explosive boxes, grenades, EMPs, and even an auto-piloted boxing glove that will boost you through the pack. If an opponent gets too close for comfort, you can slap them or use any weapon you pick up to block incoming projectiles. Being able to counter-attack incoming projectiles using the pop-up shield alert allows newcomers not to feel like easy targets and levels the playing field. Unfortunately failing to react promptly forces the action to screech to an unceremonious halt, destroying the game’s frantic pace and adding unnecessary frustration.
As you’d expect from a karting title, races are ultra-competitive and there’s strategy involved as you need to pick and choose when to precisely use power-ups. You will need to take advantage of every power-up and rocket panel you come across because similar to Mario Kart, taking first place early results in taking a barrage of rival weaponry. Like many kart racers, LittleBigPlanet Karting has a tendency to give more powerful power-ups to the racers that are the furthest behind, meaning those in front are always at risk for a nasty attack. The stiff competition also shows no mercy thank to its rubber-band A.I.
While the story mode is enjoyable, the majority of your time will most likely be spent customizing, creating, and sharing tracks you’ve created with the level editor. You can create a variety of game types and race tracks using a great number of edit tools and logic features from the “Popit” menu. Continuing in the tradition of series, you will be able to decorate essentially everything from your pod (LBP’s man hub); including your kart, personal planet, and Sackboy. Additional items, costumes, stickers, and vehicle parts are earned from picking up item bubbles spread throughout the campaign races.
At the core of the LBP experience is the community, so if you have some friends over, you can play through the story mode cooperatively (with up to three other people). Every story mode level has a VS mode as well, so you can go online and race against up to seven other people. Online play makes things a bit more interesting, though only marginally so. The multiplayer aspect runs smoothly, and a voting system offers up three stages pulled up at random for players to choose. The randomized aspect makes the next race a consistent surprise, but it can offer up poorly designed courses just as often as good ones, but playing against live humans is always better than facing the game’s A.I.
With a large array of customization options to create your own race tracks and battle arenas plus a solid kart racing experience, LittleBigPlanet Karting takes the lead amongst its competitors. The addition of collectible bubbles and platforming elements delivers a fresh experience, while the LBP characteristics freshens up a genre that has never truly evolved over the years.
Release Date: November 6, 2012 • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment • Developer: United Front Games • Genre: Racing • Multiplayer: 1-4 (8 online) Player(s) • Achievements: Moderate • Cost: $59.99 • Replay Value: High