Rumours about LittleBigPlanet for the PSP emerged before the PS3 game even hit stores, so excited was the PlayStation fanbase about the upcoming physics-based 2D platformer. It made perfect sense. Sony was looking to improve the flagging handheld's software line-up and the Media Molecule developed title has few peers when it comes to hardcore appeal. The rumour became reality in February this year, and got the Sony faithful very hot under the collar: If Sony's Cambridge Studio could successfully replicate the PS3 experience, we'd have a contender for handheld game of the year.
So, how close did it get? Well, pretty damn close, as it turns out. If you've played the PS3 exclusive this PSP version will look and feel strikingly similar. Once again you take control of Sackboy, a customisable avatar that resembles a kind of basic children's stuffed toy. In his unclothed form he's a bit of a blank canvas but, just as in the PS3 game, you're able to dress him up and bring out a personality of your own making - a rooster hat is my accessory of choice.
As before, Sackboy is pretty nimble on his feet, able to hop with a tap on the X button or leap to cover more distance by holding it down. In the PS3 original his movement was somewhat floaty - a quality that was either loved or loathed, depending on your temperament. To an extent the same can be said of this PSP game, but it certainly seems as if he's a little easier to control than before, even if the difference is minimal. The rest of his limited move set is included here too: He's able to grab hold of objects by holding down the R button, letting him swing on ropes, pull switches or manoeuvre objects into the correct position.
Much of what made the PS3 game so much fun to play stemmed from the way objects in the game world obeyed the rules of physics. There may have been some concern that this wouldn't be so in the PSP game, but everything behaves as you'd expect; if any downgrades to the physics engine have been made, it's hard to notice. All the 30 odd levels here (spread over seven locations) are brand new, created by Sony Cambridge for this portable version of the game, but it's remarkable just how close to the PS3 game it looks and feels.
LittleBigPlanet on PSP is a game that oozes originality and charm. From the hand-drawn characters and seemingly random level designs that never fail to raise a smile, to the dancing Sackboy animations and the way you can make him express his emotion, the game is never anything but lovely. There are flaws in the platforming, which still isn't nearly as precise as some will want it to be, but it's forgiveable when the levels are so creatively designed.
Returning is the pop-it menu, an in-game interface that lets you change your character's appearance on the fly and stamp your collected stickers over the level. There is some point to this mindless vandalism, with certain sticker points actually being switches, triggered when the correct image is plastered over the top. It's not a complicated gameplay mechanic, with a bit of resizing and rotating being as tricky as it gets, but it works in the sense that this is a world that has been cobbled together by bits and bobs.
In the pop-it menu you'll also be able to reset your Sackboy if you become trapped, sending him back to the last checkpoint - something that's useful for when you somehow manage to get into an inescapable part of a level. Sadly, I found myself repeatedly having to use it after Sackboy became stuck on an object. A few occurrences over the course of the entire game would have been tolerable, but this happened from the first level onwards, and often numerous times on each level attempt.
Happily the checkpoint system used in the PS3 has been tweaked here. The original used a lives system, so you'd have a certain number of attempts to get past a tricky section, after which you'd be returned to the start of the level instead of a conveniently placed waypoint. In this PSP game the lives system has been replaced by endless restarts, with a return to the last checkpoint simply losing you some points. This makes the tricky sections of the game (and there are a fair few here - perhaps more than in the PS3 game) far less of a headache than they could have been, and should prevent players from experiencing the same levels of frustration that the PS3 game caused.
Many people found the four-player multiplayer of the PlayStation 3 game to be a real time-sink, but that's nowhere to be seen in the PSP game - there isn't even any local wireless play, which is a real shame. As disappointing as that is, there's still a great sense of community, with the level creation and sharing tools of the first game all present and correct. A few tweaks have been made which make the level creation process a less frustrating one, but you're still going to need a fair amount of artistic talent to put together something that doesn't look as if it took five minutes to knock together (and I should know, given how terrible my four-hour-in-the-making disaster is turning out).
Sharing levels is a piece of cake, with tags making it simple to find what you're after. There's obviously going to be loads of rubbish put out into the virtual world, but if the PS3 version has taught us anything, it's that some people will create amazing things. It's too early to tell if that's definitely going to happen here, but assuming the same types of people flock to the PSP game, you should be able to play through a steady stream of user-made masterpieces for some time to come.
I've already touched on how wonderful LittleBigPlanet looks (bar some slowdown here and there, this is one of the best looking games on the system), but the audio deserves special mention too. Whether you're listening to one of the many velvet-toned voiceovers by the suave Stephen Fry or mindlessly humming along to each level's soundtrack, the care that's been lavished upon this game is abundantly clear. If I'm being picky, the load times are a tad longer than ideal, even when running from the hard drive on the PSPgo, and there's a slight roughness to some of the objects, but these are minor issues that really don't get in the way of what is a stunningly well put together PSP game.
I've jumped around a bit over scoring for LittleBigPlanet on PSP. At one stage the irritating frequency at which my Sackboy got stuck had me donning my scrooge hat, but despite that I keep flicking up my PSPgo's screen to have one more go. In truth, this is something I rarely did with the PS3 original once I'd written the review, so Cambridge Studio has definitely done something very right. It's flawed in places, but it's still one of the PSP's best games and an absolutely essential purchase.