LittleBigPlanet Karting: A Review
Because there weren't enough karting games....
When I'd first heard about Little Big Planet Karting, I was very cynical about it even before its release. There were multiple mascots in karting games, especially on the PS2 (Rayman, Jak and Daxter, Crash Bandicoot) and most couldn't beat their inspiration and origin: Super Mario Kart. There is no denying that SMK added so much more to such a primitive genre at the time, which only involved racing around in a very bland track with cars that were so pixelated, you couldn't tell if they were glitches or 8-bit machines. There were others that came along that revolutionised the genre, but I think this is the title that says "If you're going to do a racing game, do it properly". Yes, this game is awesome.
Little Big Planet Karting made excellent first impressions from me, and I had to admit it looked flashy and the environments were very clever. The characters weren't anything I hadn't seen before, but the cars were new and stayed loyal to what made Little Big Planet a great franchise. But even though it's a fluent, fair and colourful game you're forever conscious of it being very similar to Crash Team Racing and Muppet Racemania. There's also plenty of distractions which take away the traditional race element, and it's a shame because this game would be perfect as just that.
Whilst United Front take most of the credit, they still made the racing aspect of the game alongside Media Molecule, the developers of the LBP series. United Front haven't done many games, their most notable ones being ModNation Racers and Sleeping Dogs, but this doesn't mean they should be cast aside. On the contrary, they should be welcomed to the Hall of Heroes' dining table, because they've done a much better job with this than anyone could have imagined. The game was also published by SCE and released in November 2012 as a PS3 exclusive. Furthermore, it would also allow the Playstation Move in the form of the steering wheel peripheral, one I've yet to experiment with. I've wanted to play this for approximately 3 weeks now and the time has come to give it a review. Let's see how it fares. Start your engines for another John Roberts review!
You're now against a new enemy in this campaign called the Hoard, as opposed to the Negativatron of LBP2. These guys are like cardboard sackboys and race around trying to steal different pieces of LittleBigPlanet and, you guessed it, hoard them. I would make some snide comment about this being identical to Nitrous Oxide in Crash Team Racing but this game fleshes the story out far more. Rather than have the bad guy threaten you at the start and finish of the game (much unlike CB2 and 3), you get a plea to recover items and drive out the Hoard from the world in races. But this is my problem; the game tells the story to the point of breaking and because there's not much going on, it hurts the game overall much like LBP2. One of the reasons why I didn't like the second game in the franchise was because of how much story it tried to cram in, and it was neither a good story nor decent storytelling. For this, Karting gets a bump down in the opinions, but it recovers almost immediately - when the races begin!
Racing in this game is stunning, and there's several things that help the replay value of this game increase. As you'd expect, each level consists of three laps and eight racers, and the main objective is to get to first place as the race finishes. However there's far more to it than that: this is just a side objective, because as long as you are in third or higher place, you can unlock new levels, and it's a good job too because this game can get awfully hard, even early on. But what you should really be looking out for is the 'score bubbles' and the 'prize bubbles'. These require no explanation from Stephen Fry or myself if you've played LittleBigPlanet, but allow me to discuss them if you're not familiar with them. Score bubbles grant you points which contribute to your total score, whilst prize bubbles give you cosmetic items that are used to create characters, vehicles and tracks. But with every positive aspect of this game there seems to be a negative, and the score system is no different. Position doesn't mean as much as points, and to get points you need to get score bubbles. When you finish a race, the amount of points you have is shown on a leaderboard and this is what players can compete for (in local play, many will just want a friendly game of traditional racing), but the game cares more for this than position. Another method of earning points is by hitting other players, via "slapping them" (having your kart adjacent to theirs and thwacking them with your stubby cloth hand) and posing in mid-air.
"It's not exactly Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts 'n' Bolts, but it should've been."
Combat also plays a big part in racing, though I find some of these weapons are over the top. The rockets and plasma guns are standard, but things like mountable rockets boxing gloves can change the playing field considerably. My favourite has to be the bomb crates, which work great with physics when launched, but the one I dislike the most is the goo gun, which doesn't do much but leave a green puddle. Sometimes you'll have to use weapons of all kinds to 'defend' when a weapon homes in on you, and to do this you must launch a weapon back before it strikes you. Once again, the shadow of negativity looms above such a role of this game. Before a homing projectile hits you, it sort of hovers near you before colliding, giving you plenty of time to react or at least get a protective item. While this is great for people who can't stand the blue shell in Mario Kart or that black hole doodah from CTR, this is just ridiculous and looks as bad. Not my biggest gripe, but not at all subtle and removes the fun of blowing your friends up in multiplayer.
And that, my dear Sackperson, is the racing aspect of this game covered. Let us power slide into the customisation, and boost ourselves all the way to map and character design.
This aspect of the game is quite fancy but not much to brag about. LBPK cannot stand on this alone and thankfully it doesn't try to. Customising your character is exactly how it was before, only with new materials, costumes and accessories for you to hold in your hand as you drive. I like to have a Sackboy in mostly leather and with a wrench or spanner. Because there's nothing more satisfying than whacking someone with a spanner! Not only that but you can 'do up' your kart, changing everything such as the chassis, the wheels (and their material), the steering wheel, battery, engine, colour, horn sound and your seats. As far as I can tell there's no distinct advantages and there's no stats for each vehicle such as acceleration, speed and handling. So you can expect a tank to go as fast as a spaceship in this game it seems. Plus, every vehicle has different customisation options so none of your vehicles will be similar to each other. It's not exactly Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts 'n' Bolts, but it should've been. Finally the map design, though I've not really understood this. The thing is, since I tried making levels in the first game I've not bothered with it here because of how annoying the popit interface was and just generally doing things was a pain. And on a race track I can't see it being a joy, but I won't down/up vote the game on those grounds. The only thing that is often mistaken is that you can customise the tracks whilst on them but this is false, so anyone planning on twisting the environment to your advantage can pop that dream bubble.
Screeching to a Halt
Outside of this there's not much in LittleBigPlanet Karting, but know that if you're looking for a cheap racing game that remains surprisingly loyal to the franchise from the customisation right down to the lobby and the Pod, you'll love this game. But before we pass the chequered flag, I need to talk about the visuals and soundtrack. And I mean I need to. The visuals in this game are vibrant, the environments look incredible and the other racers are well designed, but I cannot stand it. And why? It's because everything looks so bleeding nice. Maybe it's because I lack a funny bone, I don't know, but for some reason I can't stand worlds that are full of colour and bully me into having a nice day. Much like Bioshock: Infinite, this game forces the beauty and "sickly sweetness" upon you, making me feel nauseous from the start to finish of a race. And this is on a standard definition television - imagine in it 1080i!
The music however has to be the best part of this game with its foot-stomping tracks and catchiness, as well as the sound effects. I love going around popping score bubbles to string up a combo just for the "pop-pop-pop-pup-pup-pup" sound.
LittleBigPlanet Karting scores a SEVEN OUT OF NINE for its great gameplay, breathtaking (and yet sickening) visuals, not to mention the amazing customisation options available. I personally find that scores shouldn't be part of the main gameplay objective, and that trophies should determine (awarded to those who get first place) if a player continues throughout the level rather than how many bubbles they pop. Not that scores should be removed, but made as a second gameplay objective (like CTR tokens and relics in 'Team Racing) after the trophy has been one. This becomes distracting and it's quite unclear what objective you want to go for, and in the end you achieve either first place nor the highest score. It also manages to derail you from shortcuts, your personal defence and even the road.
The visuals too are a let down here and it's one of the reasons why I've voted the game down. If I can't see the game, how can I play it, I ask? I'm all for flashy visuals but making it so it strains my eyes is not the way of doing things. Still, the game's gameplay and beauteous handling keeps this thing alive, as well as remaining true to the source material. Do I recommend LBPK? Absolutely.
Until the next time, have a pleasant day! Thanks for reading, folks!
Great racing gameplay that has quite a tough AI, brilliant cosmetic changes to characters and vehicles (as well as unlocking parts in races) and huge tracks! This game is certainly one of the finest racers I've played.
With 7 vast lobbies to explore you have quite a lot to be doing on each with your standard races, boss battles, versus modes and more!
Though fluent, this game's control can get ahead of itself and become rather incontrollable. If ever you've played Muppet Racemania, you'll know how this will feel - wonky at times, but still at least it's not stiff. The layouts too are very simple, and have multiple ways of steering and braking; for those who have different preferences
Nice, but can make the game unplayable because of how bright and shiny everything is. Tone the contrast and gamma down a bit.
One of the best racing OSTs I've heard sinc Project Gotham 4 and Crash Team Racing. Catchy, memorable and jolly!
Because I've not yet completed the game I can't comment, but there's no doubt that this game with friends will be a barrel of laughs to be repeated!
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