Little Big planet Karting offers up something that appears to have slipped to the wayside this generation – a fun filled, grudge match inducing, Karting game.
Sure we finally got Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS earlier this year and it was, in fact, pretty damn awesome. When we look at the mainstream consoles though karting titles have been thin on the ground here. The only ones that spring to the front of my mind are Mario Kart Wii and Mod Nation Racers. Well Little Big planet Karting comes to us fresh from the team the made Mod Nation Racers.. oh and Sleeping Dogs… Home Front Games.
Taking the Little Big Planet look and feel, it’s iconic SackBoy creation intact, and re-skinning Mod Nation Racers with it seems incredibly sensible. After all Mod Nation was a solid and playable kart title, let down by poor load times. Unfortunately it appears that this wasn’t the tactic used and we have ended up with LBP Karting being the one type of karting game that United Front didn’t want to make when they set out with Mod Nation – an unfair one.
Looks wise the game fits incredibly well in to Little Big Planet universe. Sackboy NEVER gets old or any less cute. The large colourful graphics, cardboard cut outs, and craft table like look of the first two LBP games has remained firmly intact. Courses are set in reasonably diverse location with a nice theme for each. You once again navigate the levels of the game from a central hub – in this case your LBP Pod. As before you can decorate this pod as you see fit with stickers and patterns unlocked during play.
As smooth and colourful as the graphics are though you can’t help feeling a little disappointed in the level designs. Each one seems a little sparse and lacks a lot of the creativity that titles like Crash Nitro Kart or Mario Kart would show – especially the newest Mario Kart 7 levels.
Sound design is every bit as good as we’ve come to expect from a LBP title and Karting is no slouch. The same trademark languid score plays through the various menus and video tutorials in the game. The narration is once again by Stephen Fry, and once again it proves what a master stroke it was for Media Molecule to sign him from the start of the Little Big planet franchise. Some of the in-game sound work is a little weak in places, with some sound effects just not feeling as powerful as they should – for example the rocket you ride lacks real punch.
On to game play itself and this is where things get a little “sticky” to say the least. Way back in September I wrote a preview for Little Big Planet Karting after playing it at a trade show. I found it looked OK, but lacked speed and the controls were unrefined. It also suffered from some poor enemy AI and a bad case of the “Blue Shell’s”.
Flash forward a few months (and the build I played was a few months old even in September!) and the game has made a marked improvement. Controls feel tighter, the turn of speed from your kart is much more in keeping with the expected performance in the genre. That’s not to say the kart controls anything more than satisfactory though – it still lacks the refinement evident in other karting titles – even Mod Nation Racers.
LBP Karting still suffers from a bad case of frustration blues though. One thing that United Front said when it made Mod Nation Racers was that it wanted to avoid the frustration of a “blue shell” moment. This of course refers to the moment in Mario Kart titles when some git would unleash the blue shell just before you were about to win the game and send you spinning off down the ranks. It was unfair and very annoying. Well LBP Karting has it’s equivalent in the first place seeking missile.
That, coupled with some bizarre weapon pickups serve to make this title a bit of a frustrating mess at times. The Boxing Glove, which you ride
the back of, will quite often leave you hurtling towards certain doom or a wall after its effects have worn off almost negating its usefulness. Similar complaints can be levelled at the fast forward pickup with, when unleashed, will skip you up the field of racers… often as soon as this runs out a hail of missiles will hit you and send you spinning back down the ranks.
That said there is still great fun to be had from playing against friends and other players online. You will still get the massive frustrations of the unfair deaths from things like the missile. You will also end up getting the other issues mentioned before but at least everyone is in the same boat.
One staple of the LBP series has always been user creation. This was also a massive part of Mod Nation Racers and it returns once again. The actual tools for track creation are simple, and you build your tracks as you drive your kart around an open space. One strange omission though, and it’s a biggie, is the auto-populate feature. After creating your masterpiece track you could, on Mod Nation, hit the auto-populate button and the free space would be filled with track side objects, trees etc. In Little Big planet Karting you have to place each of these elements by hand. It can become tedious really quickly to do this and it makes little sense that they took the feature out.
Little Big Planet Karting has managed to turn out much better than my earlier preview impression lead me to believe it would. That’s not to say the game is without flaws though.
Solid race mechanics and kart handling are covered in a liberal dose of SackBoy gloss and at first glances it passes muster. Scratch away at the surface a little more though and you will see that the game lacks the polish and detail that Media Molecule normally lavish on their woollen chum’s games.
Strange omissions from the track editor, unfair driver AI, mixed power-ups all attribute to pull down the game and leave it far from the classic racer it could have been.
Little Big Planet Karting represents a solid enough experience for younger and older gamers alike. Just don’t expect the same level of polish and refinement than the past few games. Do expect patches of much frustration and howls of unfair rage as you’re robbed on the last corner by a cheap shot from the back of the pack.