Big fun in small packages.
LittleBigPlanet is a relatively dormant franchise that lives in the shadow of its own success, failing to maintain the meteoric success and quality achieved through its genesis. LittleBigPlanet Karting and LittleBigPlanet 3 unfortunately did not live up to the established pedigree, seemingly dropping the PlayStation staple off the edge of the eighth generation. For its sophomore effort with the underperformed IP, Sumo Digital strategically removed the “LittleBigPlanet” moniker, partially removing the established weight of expectation that accompanies the prodigious title, while also utilizing and retaining an iconic level of whimsicality and idiosyncratic charm. Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a delightful restart to a struggling property. While it doesn’t reach the meteoric heights established by Media Molecule’s inaugural foray, Sumo Digital’s implementation is a far more streamlined and focused gameplay experience with a stronger emphasis on whimsical level design, engaging gameplay variety, and intuitive discovery. Its crafted world is littered with charm but lacks a prominent sense of nuance and ingenuity, feeling rather forgettable in a multitude of instances. It also lacks the usual layer of quality that is synonymous with Media Molecule and other titles from PlayStation Studios, with occasional bugs and inconveniences that hinder the intended experience. Despite its shortcomings and inevitable inability to live up to the established pedigree of the LittleBigPlanet franchise, Sackboy: A Big Adventure is still a remarkably fun and whimsical 3D platformer that is joyously engaging and notably wholesome. It is a worthy adversary to Nintendo’s immaculate Super Mario 3D World and a welcomed addition to Sony’s line of first-party software, standing out amongst the exceptional competition. From its substantial inclusion of engagingly robust content to its cleverly woven secrets and addictive collect-a-thon stature, Sackboy: A Big Adventure is surprisingly delightful and is undeniably Sumo Digital’s best effort yet.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure retains that idiosyncratic craft-like charm fostered in the traditional LittleBigPlanet series, layering every day objects into the contextual background or utilizing these contemporary pieces as interactive platforms. Boasting a playful whimsicality that sparks a profound display of imagination, Sumo Digital’s sophomore entry into this wonderful world is delightfully splendid. While its thematic environment is wholesomely unique, each world aesthetic lacks a prominent sense of variety and differentiation. Extensively layered with its crafted atmosphere and décor inspired design, any initial sense of novelty is quickly dissolved due an increased sense of familiarity. While the environments thematically change with each introduced world, its centralized implementation of real-world objects and craft-like persona render any sense of distinction. Additionally, given the foray into new hardware, Sackboy: A Big Adventure lacks the proficient graphical leap one would expect as an illustrious launch title. I was hoping this would be the graphical jump in technical detail and impeccable art direction as exemplified in Mario’s HD showcase and my favourite 3D platformer, Super Mario Odyssey. Despite its marginal step forward in graphical prowess and intricate art direction, Sackboy: A Big Adventure is still remarkably colourful and its lavish design instills a profound sensation of warmth and charm that is undeniably wholesome. Another notable asset to Sackboy’s established presentational quality is its impressive score. From the electrifying placement of licensed titles – such as Brittany Spears’ Toxic or Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk – to the infectious rhythms of novel ingenuity, Sackboy’s impressive musical design is expertly crafted by the very talented Lena Raine, also known for her impeccable work on Celeste. Each licensed tune is accompanied with a rhythmic level, where the environment and NPCs appropriately and grove out react to the rhythm of the particular song, in similar fashion to the exceptionally prolific musical levels in Rayman Legends. While these imaginative levels house some of the most inventive and engaging moments that Sackboy has to offer, these gems are few and far between and are criminally underutilized. Given Sackboy’s more traditional approach to game design, its encompassing narrative is your typical DreamWorks affair – severely predictable and undeniably derivative. The centralized story of saving Craftworld from the nefarious Vex is never obtrusive or overbearing, it is simply a nice afterthought. Granted Vex is a delightfully whimsical villain, ripped straight from the idiosyncratic pages of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Sackboy: A Big Adventure occasionally stumbles due to performance issues that hinder the general experience. From notable frame dips during cooperative play to a number of glitches and bugs that will either crash the game or require a restart to fix, Sumo Digital’s latest lacks an expected level of polish and technical fluidity when compared to the slew of other excellent launch titles.
Removing the create and share moniker of the LittleBigPlanet series, Sackboy: A Big Adventure solely focuses on the aspect of play. Sackboy is an exceptionally fun cooperative experience, with the entirety of the game being playable with friends and family alike. Its whimsical engagement further cements PlayStation’s diverse catalog of software, with each title catering to a different set of needs. Sackboy’s platforming is notably more responsive than his LittleBigPlanet days, incorporating a level of control and input that largely removes the associated floatiness, while not quite reaching the impeccable intuitiveness of Mario. Accompanying its newly designed platforming is its impressive level design. Each of Sackboy’s joyous levels are intricately designed with each platform and accompanying element being deliberately placed to instill a euphoric sense of awe and engagement that never ceases to be delightful. As a bonafide collect-a-thon, secrets and other hidden goodies are expertly woven into the wonderfully crafted level design, exuding a remarkably delightful sensation of discovery and wonder. From prize bubbles that unlock additional costume pieces to dress your Sackling to the exceptionally well-hidden Dreamer Orbs for additional collecting flair, Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a rewarding collect-a-thon that uses its strategically placed collectibles to enhance its established longevity and level of challenge. Additionally, Sackboy incorporates a point system within each level – collecting score bubbles, prize bubbles, and dreamer orbs will net you points and your final score will determine if you will receive a bronze, silver, or gold trophy. Each trophy is accompanied with a reward –either collectibells (a currency used to purchase items and costumes from Zoms Zoms shop) or exclusive outfit pieces for your Sackling. Certain levels also incorporate illustrious tools that further accentuate Sackboy’s intuitive control, acting in a similar fashion to Mario’s expansive power ups. From a remarkably responsive grappling hook to an immensely satisfying boomerang-like throwing star, these diverse set of tools create a level gameplay variance that permeates any sense of repetition while impressively shifting the level design to accommodate to the specific gameplay mechanic.
While all levels can be played in two to four player coop, Sackboy: A Big Adventure also includes engaging coop only levels which are intrinsically designed with multiple players in mind, where each player’s actions directly affect the other’s segregated section and ability to progress, in a simple yet enjoyable puzzle-like manner. Boss fights are another recurring engagement encountered throughout Sackboy’s titular adventure. While some boss fights are cleverly designed, such as the intricately hacking-like encounter with the maniacally autonomous NAOMI, momentous confrontations with main villain Vex are disappointingly uninspired and ultimately feel recycled. You will face off against Vex roughly five times throughout the adventure and each encounter is carbon copy of the last, with environmental and gameplay alterations creating marginal differentiations. Sackboy’s latest outing is exceptionally robust, with optional levels serving an aura of quality that easily matches anything dished out on the main path. From the aforementioned coop only levels that enforce an adaptive playstyle to the Knitted Knight Trials which are designated time challenges that offer the perfect amount of challenge and gratification, while not even mentioning the slew of collectibles to obtain throughout each standard and optional level and its engaging score system, Sackboy: A Big Adventure offers a high level of replayability while continuously distributing quality content. An entirely new world is also unlocked upon completing the main game, further complimenting its established development of remarkably robust endgame content. Its level and respective world structure is interconnected by an interactive hub world that is not only aesthetically pleasing but contains a plethora of collectibells to find and hidden levels to discover. You can even take part in Zoms Zoms delightful collectibell mini-games, which drop a bevy of collectibells for you to attain in a multitude of different ways, while delivering it all in a competitive and challenging gameplay format. While Sackboy’s use of the DualSense controller is nowhere near the innovative feat demonstrated in Astro’s Playroom, its implementation is notably appreciated, albeit subtle. Noticeable tension is received upon picking up objects with the adaptive triggers and the reverberating pulses of its haptic feedback is still a gratifying next-gen sensation.
Alongside both fantastic Astrobot titles (Rescue Mission and Astro’s Playroom), Sackboy: A Big Adventure is an excellent addition to Sony’s growing line-up of platformer software. While it never manages to be the renaissance of the LittleBIgPlanet series, Sumo Digital’s latest effort is undeniably delightful despite its lack of polish. Its core gameplay loop is impressively streamlined and tightly focused, tweaking its level of control and responsiveness to accompany the more traditional approach to its structured design. Topped off with practical game mechanics and implemented tools that rival the ingenuity of traditional Mario power ups and whimsical level design, Sackboy’s absence of level creation and sharing is rarely missed when the core act of play is so substantial and diverse. Symphonic rhythm levels are simply electrifying and criminally underused, its slew of various collectible goodies and their accompanied level of challenge and satisfaction are layered within its improved level design, and its whimsical art direction and personified sense of awe and wonder is positively delightful. Each facet culminates into a robust ensemble that is teeming with a staggering level of impressive quantity and mirrored quality. While its technical discrepancies and performance issues leave much to be desire – as well as its underwhelming story, uninspired writing, and lack of ingenuity – Sackboy: A Big Adventure is undeniably one of the most wholesome and delightful gaming experiences of the year. As a remarkably engaging coop experience that fully utilizes established multiplayer conventions within its game design, Sackboy’s latest adventure is unadulterated fun that is further improved when shared with friends and family. It may not be the bonafide reinvention that I hoped it would be, but Sackboy: A Big Adventure makes up for its shortcomings with its prominent charm and idiosyncratic personality, and I sincerely hope this is not the last we see of the titular character.