It’s fitting that when you make it to what would traditionally be regarded as “the end” of “LittleBigPlanet,” you unlock a trophy called “Just Beginning.” The several dozen levels Media Molecule created for Sony’s 2.5-dimensional platform-jumping game (rated E, $60 on PlayStation 3) are among the best you’ll play, but they’re best thought of as inspiration for the thousands of people who’ll use the game’s ample editing tools to create worlds for others to explore.
Though it’s neither the first console game to let gamers create their own levels, nor the first to let players team up online for real-time level-editing jam sessions, “LittleBigPlanet” represents the current forefront of the democratization of game development. While Microsoft’s XNA toolkit may let anyone with a relatively modern computer make an Xbox 360 game, you’ll still need a PC and a bit of programming know-how to do do. On “LittleBigPlanet,” anyone capable of playing the game online is capable of creating and publishing levels.
If you’re interested in building levels, a series of tutorials will teach you the basics. While in create mode, you’ll have access to any number of objects, craft materials, stickers, music and level themes that you unlocked playing through story mode. (You need not finish story mode to dive into the world of user-generated content, but you’ll probably be better off for it.) What’s more, if you have the PlayStation Eye USB camera hooked up to your console, you can import your own photos for use in the game. Once you’ve play-tested your level to your satisfaction, you can share it with fellow “LittleBigPlanet” enthusiasts.
Between the time “LittleBigPlanet” hit stores at the end of October and early January, more than 348,000 levels had been published on the “LittleBigPlanet” servers, a Sony rep told me, and it’s safe to bet that number is probably approaching half a million by now. Even if only 1 percent of the user-created levels are any good, that’s 5,000 stages to play. So long as you don’t tire of the Mario-style platforming gameplay, the adorable stitched protagonist Sackboy or the game’s cool, hobby-store-style art direction, you’ll never run out of stuff to do in “LBP.”
Luckily, “LittleBigPlanet” features some Web 2.0-style community functions that let players rate, tag and leave feedback for other users’ levels. One stage I played said it was the creator’s first attempt, so I was glad I could leave him feedback to let him know that my Sackboy fell down a crevasse and got stuck, forcing me to euthanize Sackboy and restart at a checkpoint. (In a game that so emphasizes user-generated content and all its faults, a self-destruct button is crucial.)
Even with all its sorting tools, the breadth of options can overwhelm, which has led some LBP players to seek popularity by giving away objects for players to use in their own stages. One popular stage was titled, “LBP prizes over 3 hundred and few trophies!” The same impulse that usually leads me to walk in the opposite direction of any overly eager salesperson prompted me to avoid these.
The stages can be loosely grouped into several genres. You’ve got those prize-oriented stages, built to either dole out tons of items or help players get easy trophies. Music stages play a song as you travel through a level. A John Lennon “Imagine” stage left me bored. More interesting are the clear nods to popular entertainment. I played one absolutely dreadful “Simpsons”-style level, a mediocre “Left 4 Dead” tribute and inspired homages to the “Silent Hill” and “Dead Space” video games.
The best stages, though, are wholly original, such as “Dinosaurs Island,” “The Fireman Thats In Between Heaven and Hell” and “Distress in Ocean,” in which a shark knocks you off a boat into an undersea adventure that culminates in your Sackboy trying to outrun the shark as he devours the land behind you.
One of the most stylish stages I played, “Maxed out” by Qugz, had my bunny-eared, tuxedo-wearing Sackboy sling-shotting all over the place, using an umbrella to fend off shards of electricity-conducting metal, rolling over a firepit inside of a giant hoop and blasting off in a rocketship.