On paper at least, LittleBigPlanet Karting is a great idea. Sony’s staple franchise is appealing enough to the masses to give this idea plenty of potential. Unfortunately however there is nothing more than potential squandered in this below average attempt to compete with the karting greats.
We all know a good karting game by now. Mario Kart has pretty much been head of the race for some years with the recently realized Sonic All-Stars Racing franchise coming up fast in second. If we use these two as first and second, then somewhere idling along at the back of the race is LittleBigPlanet Karting.
After an unusually long install time, LBP Karting opens in the franchises usual fashion. The menus are their usual quirky self and the narration by Stephen Fry is top notch as always. The game’s initial presentation is actually one of its few strengths and if you are a fan of the series you will at least find part of the style you have grown to love here. However, things go generally downhill pretty fast once the racing starts.
Since Media Molecule moved on from LittleBigPlanet as a franchise, things were initially looking promising for those of us who worried that it wouldn’t be the same. Double Eleven Limited, Tarsier Studios and Sony’s LBP Vita was an awesome example of how other developers can continue to keep a franchise alive by showing enough respect and care to what came before. Unfortunately United Front Games have not managed this feat with LBP Karting.
Right from the tutorial race it is clear that the feel of this racer is just not right. Although the kart’s handling is serviceable, the drift mechanic is incredibly poorly realized. This creates a fundamental break in the game’s design as drifting is nearly always one of the most important features of any karting franchise. Much like Sega All-Stars Racing, drifting for long enough earns you a boost of speed. The trouble is that upon releasing your drift, the boost makes your vehicle almost uncontrollable for its duration. This in turn means your options are drive slower than everyone else or drive fast and out of control. Either way frustration is sure to follow.
One of the other issues here is with the power-ups. As with almost all racers of this type, there are weapon and defensive pick-ups peppered around the track for you to collect and unleash on your unsuspecting competitors. The idea here is that any weapon pick-up can be used as a defence if deployed at the right moment to counter an oncoming attack.
The reason there is an issue here is really down to poor balancing and a few major bugs. Pretty much being hit by any power-up will make it extremely difficult to get back in the race as it disrupts your progress significantly. It will usually take at least a full lap of perfect racing to get you back to anywhere near the front.
The power-ups themselves are also pretty poorly designed. As an example the fast forward ability will speed you ahead but sometimes drops you down a gap or gets you stuck on a piece of terrain. This only serves to increase your likeliness to use the pick-ups for defence rather than attack.
This therefore means you will find yourself in one of two positions. In first place with a power-up you are too scared to use (as you need it for defensive purposes) or in last place having just been hit by someone else’s power up. There is no balance here just a big mess of poor pick-ups and frustration.
Graphically, there is nothing to blow you away here either. The wrong elements of the LittleBigPlanet franchise’s art direction have been kept making the look of the game far too bleak and two dimensional. Track design is also incredibly soulless making racing boring rather than fun and exhilarating.
When it comes to multiplayer, most of the same issues apply here. The lack of balance and empty feel unfortunately translates to the multiplayer too meaning after a few races, you simply won’t want to continue playing.
With regards to the game’s creation tools, there is enough here to keep avid creators satisfied but nothing to make it feel amazing. LittleBigPlanet’s level creators have always been tough to master but here there are decisions that just seem a little strange. United Front Games are known for the Mod Nation Racers franchise, which bears some striking similarities to LBP Karting, especially in the track creation mode.
Strangely however, Mod Nation Racers actually had better customization options than this title, ironic considering LittleBigPlanet is known for its creation opportunities. A perfect example of this would be the Auto Populate option that was incredibly useful in Mod Nation Racers but is strangely missing from LBP Karting. This in turn means every single item has to be placed manually when creating a track, a feature that purists will love but only serves to frustrate the newcomers.
Despite this however (as with all LittleBigPlanet titles) some players have already made some incredible races and tracks that are in many cases more enjoyable than the games single player content. This is a saving grace of sorts for an otherwise poor package and you will possibly be spending most of your time seeing what others in the world have managed to create rather than creating yourself.
LittleBigPlanet Karting is the epitome of a missed opportunity. All the right ingredients (LBP’s grounding in customization, United Front’s history with making good kart racers) were right but have all come together to make a wrong. Whether you are a fan of the franchise or not I would stay away from LittleBigPlanet Karting and gravitate more towards the plethora of better options out there (Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed, Mario Kart etc.). This poor use of a good license is unfortunately destined to finish in last place.