Little Big Planet Karting

August 10, 2013

Secretly, Little Big Planet might just be my favourite game of this generation. The concept is brilliant: offering up a set of tools and objects with which to create your own 2D platforming levels. The gorgeous “home-made” visual style, coupled with a great sense of humour and Stephen Fry’s wonderful narration eased us into a world of fiendishly clever platforming. The sequel improved on the controls, and offered more flexibility, particularly with the more programmatic side of creation. It is, in my view, an essential PS3 title.

Changing from platforming to kart racing is a pretty logical move (after all, Mario did it back in the 1990s), and allows the classic Little Big Planet style to be applied to something other than platforming, without losing the flavour that makes the series so unique. The good news is that it succeeds extremely well.

Stephen Fry returns to narrate a new set of tutorials, and he eases you in to the new rules of karting, as well as making words like ‘imagisphere’ sound like they’ve been part of the English language since the Elizabethan era. I think that all video game tutorials could be improved by having Fry narrate them.

Of course, Stephen Fry is only going to earn your game so many quality points, so it’s important that Little Big Planet Karting backs this up with solid racing. I’m pleased to report that it does, with some of the best kart racing antics since Mario Kart 64. Track design is a standout, and the built-in tracks are used, as is traditional with the LBP games, to show off the possibilities of what can be done, from twisting jungle tracks through to WipEout-esque future racing.

Inevitably, the game is going to be compared to the Mario Kart series, and I have to admit, it’s probably better than any recent title in that series. The big reason for this is that LBPK doesn’t punish you for winning in the way the Mario Kart games tend to do. While there is a “blue shell”-style weapon, the ability to use any weapon as a defence nullifies the power of it somewhat, and a good player will always ensure he has something on hand when out in front to defend with.

The other weapons are all variations on well-travelled ideas, with some new ones thrown in for good measure. Any kart-racing fan will be familiar with most of them, conceptually, and the new ideas are easy enough to pick up. Some weapons are more effective in the battle-arena style tracks, but you’ll never feel like you got dudded on a weapons pickup. My favourite is probably the turbo-boost that “fast-forwards” you through the field, and proves to be quite effective at catching you up to the rest of the field from an otherwise impossibly distant last.

You’ll find yourself relying on this a fair bit, as the AI in this game is quite vicious. The usual rules about rubber-banding in a karting game apply here, but, as you progress through the huge variety of levels, they also get a lot more aggressive. Learning the powersliding mechanics and weaponry are the keys to countering this, and if you can’t take every opportunity to boost that you can get, you are going to get left behind. Fortunately, victory is rarely more than a few well-used weapons away, so you’ll never feel hopelessly outclassed either.

Of course, this being a Little Big Planet game, it would be nothing without the ability to create your own levels. The track editor has some idiosyncrasies that mean you won’t want to skip over the tutorials (but you won’t anyway because Stephen Fry), however once you get them down, laying out tracks is fairly easy and quite fun. I honestly found it more interesting to create tracks in this game than I did creating levels in previous games.

Importantly, it’s not just tracks that you can build. The game’s story mode acts as a showcase of what’s possible, and you can create anything from devious side-scrolling levels to vast battle arenas within it. Of course, if creativity isn’t for you, then there’s always the tracks made by others. Interestingly, a lot of these seem to be remakes of Mario Kart 64 tracks.

I wasn’t able to test the game out against other human opponents online, primarily due to the fact I could never seem to get into a race with them. The one time I did, my two human opponents (AI racers filled out the remainder of the positions) both dropped out during the race. Every other time I ended up in a race with AI opponents despite being online. I’m not sure if this is because it’s early days yet and there’s not enough people, or if the game’s matching system needs some work.

Visually, Little Big Planet Karting is a treat. The hand-crafted style of the series translates well to a kart racer, and it looks fantastic. The built-in tracks are all designed to showcase the game in the best way possible, so there’s always lots going on as you race, and between races there’s a typically light-hearted story mode to enjoy. The music, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s a couple of good tunes, but it’s overall fairly forgettable. There’s no Get It Together on this soundtrack, that’s for sure.

If I had one major criticism of LBPK it’s the load times. I know it’s a PS3 game, and long load times are part of the territory, but even by those standards, everything seems to take ages to load. That’s in spite of the mandatory install, which will eat up a good 10 minutes the first time you run the game. Perhaps the additional complexity of a 3D environment means that it’s no longer possible to hide the loading behind animations as in the first two games, or maybe the game is just poorly optimised. Either way, I found the load times to be enraging, especially after short levels when you end up spending more time loading than racing.

Despite this flaw, Little Big Planet Karting is a great entry into the kart racing genre. Sony seem to be intent on knocking off Nintendo franchises lately, what with Sony Smash Brothers Playstation All Stars Battle Royale coming out, but with LBPK, Playstation owners can be proud that they have a worthy kart racer.


Stephen Fry! | Track design | Weapons | Racing


Load times | Forgettable music

Overall Score: