Monday, October 22, 2012

3RM @ NYCC 2012: LittleBigPlanet Karting


One of Sony's big titles at New York Comic Con this year was their new racing title LittleBigPlanet Karting. As one can tell from its title, it is the new kart racer starring Sony’s beloved LittleBigPlanet franchise with Sackboy-racing galore.  After having played a race through the game, I can say it has the potential to fill that kart racing hole in PlayStation 3 owners' lineups.

A Sony representativs on the floor mentioned that the game’s single-player campaign takes place across several planets. On each of these planets are a number of races that must be completed as well as several challenge missions which unlock once the races are complete. He also mentioned that the number of these differ from planet to planet; one planet might have five main missions and three extra races while another might have only three main missions and five challenge course. In the demo, I got to race on Turtle Island from one of the earlier planets.

As soon as the race began, it played much like most kart-racing games. I could accelerate, brake, reverse, and drift with ease. Along the track, there were a number of weapons similar to other racers out there, including red rockets which chase the nearest racer and a blue rocket which chases down the racer in first-place. It just so happens that such a rocket caught up with me on the final lap while in mid-air so that I got hit, fell into the water, and got in third place, which is also not uncommon for me in kart racers.

In order to differentiate itself from other racers, LittleBigPlanet Karting adds features found from the LittleBigPlanet series. In certain segments of the race, there were special jetpack pads which when driven over, would place a jetpack on my Sackboy and boost me quickly through the track. I did not stumble upon these jetpacks where I obtained the other items, and the jetpacks activated as soon as I ran over the pad, which meant that these jet pack pads work more like speed boosters than items. There were also power orbs scattered around the course, although the attendant informed me that all they did was give me more score at the end of the race. However, he added that the larger orbs hidden in the stage unlock content in-game, which likely includes costumes for Sackboy, kart parts, and other LBP customizations.

The most unique addition to the game was the grappling hook. Driving over special pads gives the Sackboys grappling hooks, allowing them to swing across large gaps and take shortcuts. In the beach level I played, I had to use one in order to make the last jump over some water. The necessity of the grapple pick-up opens up new strategies with which to annoy your opponents; imagine preventing opponents from reaching the grapple pad having them land face first into the water!  On the flip side, the grappling hooks' necessity also meant I had to properly react in the jump, but a poorly timed button press quickly resulted in me falling straight into the water. Luckily, the airtime in this game is longer than in most racers, giving ample time to grab any grappling points as well as perform various boost-giving tricks. Not so luckily, this longer hang time also means homing weapons tend to hit you in mid-air more often than in other kart racers.

Following the norm of the LittleBigPlanet series, the level I played was made up of cut cardboard, fabrics, and other handmade materials. It was filled with circular fish rolling back and forth, various sea turtles wearing goggles, and massive umbrellas in the background to remind me just how small the world I was racing in really was. The game managed to maintain the LBP feeling while still being a kart-racer. While the level I played was fairly similar to other racing games, the attendant hinted that the courses later in the game get rather crazy but would not spoil them for me. He did mention that using the game’s level customization, one could make a 2D racer, although he would not say whether this happened later in the main game or not. Knowing how detailed and thorough some players are, I look forward to see what madness the user-created content presents.

Still, there were a number of rough edges I noticed during the demo. The bloom and fog effects seemed to hinder the draw distance of the game. Although the track remained in view, objects in the background quickly faded into a blue haze that felt unnatural and distracting. Certain environmental details were not present, such as water splashing when I fell off-course; the kart simply stopped in place and warped me back onto the track. I suspect this might be added in later, as this was just a demo. Finally, the loading felt terribly long; it took nearly 25 seconds for the race to load. I worry that more complex stages later in the game or user-generated levels might take longer to load, when 25 seconds is already too long.

While LittleBigPlanet Karting plays much like any other kart racer out there, it manages to introduce elements from the LittleBigPlanet games such as the grappling hook and crafty appearance to separate it from other racers. I would need to play more races to know if the floaty jumps have an impact on the races, thanks to airborne collisions. Using the fun aesthetic of fabrics and cardboard, LBP Karting makes the normal kart-racing environments feel unique again, but hopefully the game’s loading does not take up too much time away from the racing. For fans of LBP and PS3 owners looking for a fun kart-racer of their own, this game feels just what you were looking for.

LittleBigPlanet Karting releases early November, exclusive to the PlayStation 3.

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