The PlayStation console brand has never really had one single mascot to represent its brand. In the days of the PS1 you might have considered Crash Bandicoot or Spyro to be good candidates, and for the PS2 one might have considered Jak & Daxter or Ratchet & Clank to fill the role. But during the PlayStation 3 era, the Sackboy and Sackgirl from Media Molecule’s creative platformer game LittleBigPlanet could have been considered its most likely candidates. Their downright adorableness won over the hearts of many, including myself, enhanced by them being build-your-own-doll characters which you could dress up in a range of outfits and use to journey through colourful, creative worlds.
LittleBigPlanet was a product of its generation, with developer Media Molecule moving onto other products including Tearaway and DREAMS during the most recent console generation. But the Sackboys have returned this month to bridge the gap between PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, with Sumo Digital (Team Sonic Racing, Little Big Planet 3 etc) developing a proper 3D Platformer based around the beloved characters.
Titled Sackboy: A Big Adventure, this latest instalment represents the best positives and a few negatives of the franchise to date. The main thing worth highlighting is that every world, every cutscene you encounter and every costume you dress up Sackboy in is incredibly charming. Maintaining the somewhat cartoonish stylings of the 2.5D platformer games of the past, the game is brimming with creativity. It combines an appropriate level of challenge with giving you the freedom to tackle levels at your own pace with little pressure to go from Start –> Finish in record time. This is a trademark of the LittleBigPlanet franchise, offering creative worlds which despite design limitations, give you reasons to explore at your own pace to find hidden objects.
Unfortunately, Sackboy: A Big Adventure has difficulty in the same area as other LittleBigPlanet spin-off games… trouble with setting itself apart from other established brands in the genre. Both LittleBigPlanet Karting (Racing) and Run Sackboy! Run! (Endless Runner) were creative games which had the potential to go far, but quickly faded into obscurity due to other brands doing the same game first and arguably better. 3D platformers are already a big genre in gaming, and while at its core Sackboy: A Big Adventure delivers the foundations spectacularly whilst incorporating elements of its parent franchise into it, the simple fact is that in terms of excitement value – there are games which push the boundaries of 3D platforming across all platforms a lot harder.
If you are not after a completely fresh platformer however and love the appeal offered by LittleBigPlanet, then you will surely find a lot to love about Sackboy: A Big Adventure.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure is overall a simple, enjoyable game which you can easily pick up and play without too steep a learning curve. You play as the titular character, Sackboy, whose friends and the entire town are captured by the dastardly Vex, a creature formed of negativity in CraftWorld. Having managed to escape from Vex’s clutches and take flight once more in their rocket, they begin a journey through multiple themed worlds, defeating Vex’s minions and put a stop to his world-ending device. The storyline itself is more a means to justify your progression through the game, and while there are many cutscenes throughout the worlds, they can all be skipped if time poor and you wouldn’t miss out on too much.
The gameplay, on the other hand, is your standard top-down 3D platformer affair. You as the player are tasked with guiding Sackboy through dozens of levels, each of which poses an increasing threat of enemies and environmental hazards. Throughout play, you are charged with collecting score bubbles which increase your points for each state, bells which can be traded in for costumes, and blue orbs of which you need a set number to progress to the next set of levels / next world. Especially for the latter two, you often need to take the less obvious path to acquire them. Some are hidden in hard-to-reach places, some are located after completing genuinely entertaining mini-games, and others may require you to backtrack. It is that sense of exploration that is what makes Sackboy: A Big Adventure the most fun, and provides ample replayability given you are unlikely to find everything in your first, second or third playthrough.
LittleBigPlanet was founded on the principles of Play, Create, Share. The idea behind this is that in addition to offering a playable experience which can be enjoyed either by oneself or alongside three other players, anyone could also create their own levels and share them. Regrettably, Sackboy: A Big Adventure strictly focuses on the Play element – with players unable to make levels. I can imagine this would have been at least in part to enable the development team to have more freedom in designing their worlds, without needing to worry about limitations imposed by the system to ensure users can create something of equal quality.
But at the same time, there is the need, and I think the demand for a game which allows users to create the 3D platforming level of their dreams, especially off the back of Nintendo’s releases in the 2D-oriented Super Mario Maker franchise. With its simple yet charming visual style, outstanding delivery of platforming foundations and sheer variety of assets – I would expect a sequel to at least consider providing some degree of development capability to players. I can wish at least…
While Sackboy: A Big Adventure misses that “Wow!” feature to help it stand out among the large crowd of other 3D platformers, and it lacks the “Create and Share” systems one would expect from a LittleBigPlanet game, it is still a delightful game! It may no longer be in the hands of Media Molecule, but the sheer creativity and colourfulness of the game continues to this day and helps draw you in. Once you are in, the focus on exploration and genuinely challenging puzzles and hazards will help quickly pass the hours. If you have some younger family members looking to take a dive into the next generation of consoles, or those who would typically not be considered a mainstream gamer, this is easily my best recommendation on the PS5 so far! However, if you are a more mainstream gamer, you may want to hold out a few months for the new Ratchet & Clank game.