Games like this are all about the personality. I think back about my time playing the numerous Mario Kart titles over the years and it's not the gameplay I remember - although that's always been good - but the characters and tracks. LittleBigPlanet Karting has a fun, drift-heavy driving model, an expected roster of weapons and loads of tracks, but it's almost completely devoid of character. I've played through every track numerous times, yet I'd seriously struggle to pick out any highlights.
Developer United Front Games has done a great job making LBP Karting fit neatly into Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet stable. Everything about the game is LBP through and through, with anyone coming from a previous title instantly being able to notice similarities beginning with the menu itself. You've got your pod, the pop-it for customisation, planets full of stages (races), the Me planet for your own creations, and access to loads of user-created content - if the community decides to embrace it, that is. Stephen Fry is even back, although he's so synonymous with the LBP series that it'd hard for anyone else to do his voiceover job.
In trying to harmonise Karting with all the other LittleBigPlanet games, a story of sorts has been included, with typically odd cutscenes full of larger-than-life characters. They don't need to be here, and a lot of you will skip them. More important is the racing and, with a slick drift-to-boost system, it's hard not to quickly settle into a fun groove. There's nothing new here, really, aside from a grappling hook to swing from ledges - the assortment of weapons on offer is very much Kart Racing 101. Some seem more useful than others, a few give you a huge advantage, and you can deflect attacks if you fire a weapon backwards at the right moment.
From time to time the standard multi-lap races are split by odd little events, with some based around racing, some set in battle arenas, and others quite far removed from the core mechanics. Sadly the battle arenas suffer when played solo, and the majority of novelty events feel like afterthoughts when judged on quality, and certainly nowhere near the standard of the excellent bonus offerings found in the recent LittleBigPlanet Vita. They represent the kind of creations that can be achieved using the included editing tools, but hopefully what comes down the line will be significantly more entertaining.
As ever in a LittleBigPlanet title, you'll get as much out of the creation suite as you put into it. Compared to the platformers that came before, it's certainly easier to make something that's passable (as was the case with ModNation Racers), but true greatness will only be achieved by the dedicated and those of you with a bit of creative flair. The sharing system in place is certainly good enough, and it's very easy to find the best new content or dig a little deeper - there's just not much of it at the moment in the pre-release period, just a lot of hope and expectation. Previous games in the series haven't disappointed anyone wanting lots of user content, although I'm not convinced wannabe game designers will take to this as feverishly.
Multiplayer via four-player split-screen or online finally gives the battle arenas their moment to shine, and allows for typically expletive-filled races, but I simply couldn't connect with any of the stages like I have with Mario Kart and other racers of this ilk. While LBP's pop-up art style made for some inspired levels in the platforming titles, the courses here look rough instead of quirky, and slap-dash instead of imaginative. When you're in the moment there's fun to be had, but in the future I'm not going to reminisce with my friends about the track where you ride bees or that part where you shoot what looks like a giant caterpillar.
Some classic LittleBigPlanet music played a few times during my time with the game, and I instantly felt like I was having more fun because of memories and fondness of the earlier games. LittleBigPlanet Karting is an enjoyable game, but it's far from a great one, and it doesn't feel like it's had the love and attention previous games in the series have clearly benefitted from. Play it, mess around with its tools, and have fun, but LittleBigPlanet Karting's lack of personality will result in no long-lasting impression.
Version Tested: PlayStation 3
LittleBigPlanet Karting was reviewed via debug code supplied by Sony. Access to test servers was given, allowing for online multiplayer and user created content sharing. The entire single-player campaign was finished, and online multiplayer was tested by taking part in two online sessions organised by Sony, each running 2+ hours.