Sackboy has proven to be a character pretty well suited to anything, including his starring role in the LittleBigPlanet series, a spin-off in karting, and even an appearance as a fighter in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. In Sackboy: A Big Adventure, the character brings a 3D platformer into his blank-slate appeal. Sure, he’s jumped, slapped, and thrown his way through handcrafted worlds since its inception, but almost always with the aim of learning user creation tools. Freed from this responsibility, Sackboy – and players – can just sit back and enjoy the action in another family-friendly storefront.
When we meet up with Sackboy, he and his friends are having a great time in his hometown of Loom. This peace doesn’t last. A joking villain, Vex has plans to build a machine that will wreak havoc, and he’s enslaved the citizens of Craftworld to build it. Sackboy flees to a rocket ship and makes his escape. As for platform game setups, it’s fine, but let’s face it: I would have been just as happy to explore a jungle-themed world or a series of retro space-age levels, even without the Vex or the existential stakes. The fact that he’s quite a fun guy to hate if he shows up during the adventure is just sauce.
At first I was concerned that my biggest obstacle would be Sackboy himself. More precisely, the special way it moves. As appealing as its design is, its floating jumps and general movement in previous games have never impressed me. Sumo Digital must have felt the same way, or at least realized that what works in 2D gameplay wouldn’t necessarily be great at more expansive 3D levels. Sackboy has been tuned to be more responsive and precise and a pleasure to control. And it’s not just the simple movements. During his trip, Sackboy is granted temporary access to upgrades such as hover boots, a boomerang, and a blaster. They’re all well implemented, and incorporating these new skills into his range of movements – including rolling, punching, and grasping – is intuitive and rewarding.
Sackboy travels a fair bit of Craftworld on his search for Vex, covering many places you’d expect from a platformer. Do you like underwater views? Idyllic landscapes outdoors? The classic themes are there, but they are cleverly designed to exceed expectations. Almost every level introduces a new gadget, like teleporters, rising (and swaying) tides or gauntlets of spinning sponges that hurl you forward. I groaned the first time I saw herding missions and motion controlled platforms, but those clichés are less aggravating than I feared. Not only do levels have great platform bones, but they’re also built up in a variety of nifty elements that LittleBigPlanet fans are familiar with. They create functional and often breathtaking worlds to explore.
I wish I were just as excited to work with us. Up to four players can team up in couch co-op (Sumo says online co-op, including intergenerational support, will happen later this year), and Vex should include this type of mayhem in their master plan. I’m all for sharing screen time with my friends and family, but I generally prefer the platform as a group of one. Sackboy: One big adventure didn’t change that preference. The screen cannot capture multiple characters at the same time, even with only two players, resulting in an uncomfortable pulling sensation as I checked one corner of a level while my buddy tried to see another. And if you get pulled together in battle, good luck distinguishing friend and foe – especially if you dress Sackboy in some of the collectable outfits he can acquire. Slapping your partner or picking them up and throwing them aside can be fun, but after a while, all I wanted to do was move on in peace. The side missions, which were specially developed for the multiplayer mode, however, do much better than the main levels. These require cooperation, e.g. For example, having one player move and hold a platform for the others to progress, and overall they are much more satisfying in co-op.
Sackboy: Big Adventure is a visually engaging title that it’s easy to ignore the audio or assume it’s just a random part of the experience. That would be a big mistake. The soundtrack is extraordinary, with tunes that span the work of indie artists (some of whom you may know from previous LittleBigPlanet games) to some of the biggest names in music. When sumo acquired some of these bigger songs, the team wasn’t content with grinding them in the background. Several levels are built around the music, in which they do not serve as an accompaniment to the action, but as a kind of equal partner. Platforms throb and enemies dance to the beat of the music, and I found myself synchronizing my movements along with it all. In a game with so many beautiful moments, these were among the highlights. Once a familiar baseline or beat kicked in at the beginning of a level, I looked forward to seeing how it would work into the level, and I was rarely disappointed. I dance around the details here because I really don’t want to deprive anyone of the surprises that lie ahead. You’re so good.
I’ve always had a thing for Sackboy, and it’s great that the character has found a new home. As much as I’ve appreciated LittleBigPlanet’s tools in the past, I’ve always been more interested in the role than in creating or sharing. And with this release, I can finally take the lovable hero on a journey that plays as good as it looks. It doesn’t reinvent the genre, but Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a wonderful platformer that picks up on the previous, sprinkling in its branded aesthetic, and shaking things up enough to make them feel fresh and exciting.