In an industry where a "release first, patch later" attitude prevails, games often hit stores before they're really finished. LittleBigPlanet might be the most audaciously incomplete A-list title yet, except this time, that half-baked quality is an asset. When its brief, brilliant story leaves you wanting more, LittleBigPlanet dares you to fill in the blanks yourself. At your disposal: a fantastically deep set of level-design tools, a crafty character named Sackboy, and stickers. Lots of stickers.
Level editors are common on the PC, and they aren't new to consoles, either. (Remember Excitebike?) But no game has ever embraced player creativity like LittleBigPlanet. Once you've gotten the hang of running and jumping with Sackboy through the usual 2D platformer mischief, the game reveals a barren moon that serves as the playground for your inner Shigeru Miyamoto. There, you experiment with gizmos and building blocks collected from "prize bubbles" in the main story.
LittleBigPlanet aims to inspire, so your canvas is blank, but not bland. The overall look—Wallace & Gromit meets The Nightmare Before Christmas—bursts with personality, and everything you see and hear is up for grabs. If you like the bouncing mole rats in the underground level, rest assured that they'll appear in a prize bubble so you can construct your own whack-a-mole mayhem. It's exciting to play through the game's lush, polished landscapes knowing that you'll get the tools to build a world that's just as stunning.
In fact, LittleBigPlanet is banking on the hope that a new generation of auteurs will expand Sackboy's horizons by sharing new levels via the PlayStation Network. Like an MMO, the success of this massively multi-creator game depends on a large base of passionate players—and on the crowd's ability to find side-scrolling masterpieces amid the inevitable chaff. It remains to be seen whether LittleBigPlanet will fulfill its promise, but the sandbox is so much fun, it's hard to imagine that the kids won't come out and play.
Beyond the game: You can create objects from photographs taken with the PlayStation Eye, breathing new life into the camera accessory that—Eye Of Judgment fanatics aside—has gathered dust since its introduction last year.
Worth playing for: When Sackboy drifts into freefall while skateboarding down a steep incline, that sinking feeling in your gut means that the game's exquisitely tuned physics are working.
Frustration sets in when: Not even narration by Stephen Fry can make the tutorial stages any less of a slog, but at least you get a bunch of new toys every time you finish a lesson.
Final judgment: Little game, big potential.