Sequel-worshipping apologists are in for a bumpy year. In October 2010, Fallout 3 got a glorified but fan-pleasing massive expansion pack in New Vegas. Now, although developer Media Molecule swore up and down that there wouldn’t be a follow-up to 2008’s media darling centered on user-generated content, here’s LittleBigPlanet 2. It has more powerful level-creation tools that let players build their own full-scale games. And customizable artificial intelligence. And social-media integration to make sharing all your content easier and more intuitive. But did it really need to be made?
That isn’t meant as a defiant or even contrarian question: At last count, more than 3.25 million LittleBigPlanet levels have been created. What gives Media Molecule the right to decide when its public is done creating and impose a new tool set on them, no matter how impressive? The developer has been plenty conscious of this potential rift, and for its part, crafted a more memorable (though noticeably derivative) single-player campaign. Still, you can blow through LBP2’s 30 packed-in levels in an evening, as it’s largely intended as a guided “see what sorts of things you can do?” tour. For example, the addition of more sophisticated vehicles translates into levels informed by Gradius and PixelJunk Shooter, if you were mounted on a laser-spitting camel. Eventually, though, familiarity begins to set in: LBP2 is referencing LBP or other popular games in its levels, as if daring you to do better. We’ve all seen leaderboards, escort missions, running to the right to win, unlockable elements, and such before, but it’s harder to swallow in a package that touts itself as celebrating creativity. That said, there’s no lack of whimsy: Playing this game, you’ll run along cookies that drop into an oven, and clutch crème-filled cupcakes along rollercoaster-like rails.
Ultimately, LittleBigPlanet 2 attempts to reinvent and re-imagine gaming’s square pegs. What it winds up with is more ornate square pegs. LBP2 will live and die by its user-generated content, which, thanks to a healthy public beta period, is already bursting with levels that outshine the core experience. There’s no doubt that as the community hivemind makes these new tools more malleable to its will, there will be millions and millions more experiences that ably serve not just as a complementary experience to the main game, but worthwhile in their own right.