Neeeeow! Screech! Boom! Karting games are back in season this week, and Sony has a first-party entry to send into the fray alongside Forumla One drivers and Sonic the Hedgehog. That entry is LittleBigPlanet Karting, an amalgamation of 2010’s DIY karting game Modnation Racers and the cloth-tacular platforming series by Media Molecule. It should be the most creative thing since William Shakespeare and Picasso had a weird pseudo-science baby. But is it?
Despite being handled largely by Modnation developer United Front Games (Sleeping Dogs), LBP Karting is hugely faithful to the original world that birthed Sackboy and gave him to the world. Several concepts and hallmarks make it into the driver’s seat unscathed: Stephen Fry as the softly-spoken narrator of everything from tutorials to the intro movie; the PopIt menu which holds stickers and customisation options for both your driver and your kart; your Pod home hub and the planets which hold your custom levels and allow you to access those made by others. It’s extremely comfortable for those coming straight from LittleBigPlanet seeking something more within the confines of the series’ universe.
However, with familiar confines comes a familiar problem, and it’s this: LittleBigPlanet is largely devoid of personality. Despite being extremely pretty and charming with its craft-themed design motifs, it’s very much a game held together at the seams rather than stitched tightly. The included tracks have little to tie them to one another and the story’s lighter than the average crisp bag; the cutscenes which precede each level are there to be watched blankly, not to be enjoyed.
The whole thing is adorably dead-eyed, even down to the customisation of your racer. Sackboy customisation is as before, allowing you to change skin patterns and attach items of clothing, but the kart modification is lightweight at best. After choosing a pre-made chassis, you can alter the wheels, the steering wheel and the seat. And that’s it. You can’t even pick what colour you’d like it to be.
This half-hearted feeling develops as you explore the meaty track editor, which has been developed as a mish-mash of ideas from Modnation’s track editor and LittleBigPlanet’s PopIt - a car crash of 3D and pseudo–2D engines. Modifying 3D shapes involves convoluted use of a static gyroscope to position them which is awkward and probably confusing if you’re at LBP’s ideal target age. Things will go wrong and change for reasons you don’t understand, and the video tutorials - which aren’t compulsory to watch - gloss over things in brief rather than offer up expanded explanations of each function. You need a very patient and steady head to wrap your head around it.
However, LBP Karting still offers up a couple of great feelings as you play. You still feel immensely proud after pouring hours into creating a track with custom power-ups and logic-stuffed microchips changing everything from the environment to AI behaviour on the fly, and creating your ideal Sackboy continues to reel you in, attaching you to your avatar because, well, it’s yours.
The driving itself, lifted from Modnation Racers, is an untroubled drift-focused experience. Power-ups are the standard kart-alikes, ranging from homing missiles to mines and a fast-forward button which sends you shooting up the grid. The game opts not for shields, instead allowing any weapon to be fired backwards at an approaching threat to deflect it instead. There’s even four-player split screen support and if you have the convoluted PlayStation Move Racing Wheel you can use that too. United Front have, by and large, done a reasonable job.
But they haven’t done a great one. LittleBigPlanet Karting is what it is - a karting game starring Sackboy with all of his hallmarks and his flaws, and as a result it feels like a pale imitation of its bigger brother, held back by the world that it has tried so very hard to embrace. It’s not a bad game - not by a long shot - but it’s not spectacular. Should you find it in yourself to excuse its self-imposed flaws and have the saintly patience and tenacity required to fight through its more awkward features, you can craft yourself a kart racer deeper than the others it’s up against this week.