Hands On With LittleBigPlanet Karting; Yes, It’s Kinda Awesome

On April 25, I was invited down to the Andaz Hotel in West Hollywood for a chance to preview several of Sony’s upcoming Playstation 3 games in advance of E3. What I saw indicates a bright future for fans of multiplayer and cooperative gameplay, including the announcement of Sony’s entry into the Super Smash Bros. arena, Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale. But while Playstation All-Stars was a cool idea, it was a dramatic departure from the LittleBigPlanet series’ platforming roots, LittleBigPlanet Karting, that surprised me by blowing my mind a little.

That’s thanks to a joint effort by original LittleBigPlanet developers Media Molecule, and United Front Games, creators of the PS3 classic ModNation Racers. Sure, it’s not necessarily an original idea; Kart racing has been with us since days of yore, and every single one ever made riffs off of Mario Kart. But LittleBigPlanet Karting really does seem nail the aesthetic and creative spirit of the LittleBigPlanet Series, while also delivering a truly fun karting experience. It’s still very much incomplete, but what was debuted last week indicates a unique spin on the genre, and might also signal an exciting direction for the LBP series’ future.

It’s also a blast.

Racing Through Craftworld

So what the hell is it? It is, quite literally, racing through LittleBigPlanet. Each track, whether based on a classic level from LBP 1 or 2, or created from scratch for the game, absolutely nails the aesthetic at every turn. I’ll discuss those levels shortly, but first, I want to talk about the actual racing, which gets an A for effort, and a C for the final grade, at least for now.

LittleBigPlanet Karting is, as I said, very very incomplete, and problems abound. I was told by one of the on hand developers that they’re currently play-testing racing functionality with several focus groups in order to work out some major persistent issues without sacrificing what works. Presumably they have a lot of work ahead of them, particularly with issues like steering, which is especially troublesome due to high sensitivity. Driving around the tracks successfully required a ton of overcorrection, each race seemingly defined by karts slamming into walls through every bend or turn.

Fortunately, even at this early stage many things are already nicely in place. Drifting is a particular success, extremely responsive and allowing for precision turns (once you’ve compensated for oversensitive steering). Drifting also has powerup bonuses; the longer you hold down the drift button, the bigger a speed boost you’ll get when you let up (in this respect it is close to Super Mario Kart).

Also showing promise is the way the LPB aesthetic is incorporated into every race. Each level has incorporated obstacles and accessible environmental assets straight out of the original series. For example, Grapple Sponges make an appearance and can be grabbed via tether, allowing you to swing your kart across wide gaps. Incorporating actual elements of the original platformers makes the standard Kart Racing experience, always goofy and emphasizing plain fun, somehow feel fresh.

But LittleBigPlanet Karting isn’t just racing through the LittleBigPlanet universe. It’s co-created by the ModNation Racers team, and elements of that game are around in force. That means excellent weapons and powerups distributed liberally throughout each level. Powerups include: jet packs, which function as you’d imagine; a fast forward powerup, which cleverly moves you to the front of the race with the screen looking like fast-forwarding on an old VHS player; ‘weaponators’, which temporarily weaponize your kart. One on hand at the demo turned Karts into giant boxing gloves that punched their way through karts ahead of them, knocking them out of the race temporarily and giving you an advantage when you turn back into a normal kart.

In addition, there are also weapons galore. Slap fighting will be available, but the power up weapons are great. Rocket launchers that lock on to opponents, lazer guns and so on and give you the chance to take other racers out. You can even defend yourself; in addition to firing forward, you can also fire in reverse to nullify all but the weaponated karts before they can take you out. It’s satisfying blocking a locked-on missile with one of your own, and one of the many ways LBPK gets out from under the shadow of Mario Kart.

In his introduction of the game, United Front design director William Ho said, via an anecdote about playing classic games with his sister, that they set out to hit the sweet spot of what he called the ‘social competitiveness’ of the karting genre. To that end, the final game will support local split screen and online multiplayer of up to 8 players. While there’s still a lot of work to be done, just based on the little we saw, I think I can say mission accomplished.

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