Cast your mind back to a time when a jump button was a jump button, a platform was a platform, and any one of the infinite possible combinations of the two was enough to make you coo with delight.
The simple gaming pleasures of yore have evolved into ever more complex, graphically lush experiences. The cost of these many gains in exhilaration and adrenaline, however, appears to be the frequent sidelining of one vital ingredient. Magic.
To say that it’s left out deliberately is perhaps a little harsh. That near indefinable, magical quality is a frightfully difficult element to imbue a game with, no matter how experienced or skilled the developer.
Bearing this in mind, it seems SCEE Cambridge has a secret store of it hidden somewhere deep in the bowels of its headquarters, as LittleBigPlanet PSP has the capacity to beguile and enchant with an effortlessness that feels like pure sorcery.
The game is split into two main sections - Story Levels and My Levels - which are cleverly concertinaed into an exponentially evolving playground. Before you even reach the title screen, however, you're presented with the now familiar (thanks to the PS3 version) Sackboy, which you then guide through the first of many tutorials.
A bit of Fry
There’s no explanation necessary as to how this cute avatar should traverse his extremely pliable surroundings, but just to be sure Stephen Fry’s reassuring, dulcet tones soon fill the air.
Fry quickly becomes a welcome disembodied companion, and no matter how obvious the mechanic being explained is, his delivery and the sharply written script never tire.
Movement is handled with the analogue nub, with jumping rightly assigned to the X button. The nub is responsible for moving you left and right, but also allows you to move between two further planes, front and back, handled with a simple up for back, down for front control system.
This quiet innovation is in danger of being lost in a game literally bursting with inventive but simple new approaches to old problems - 2.5D doesn’t even begin to cover it. LittleBigPlanet is neither 2D nor 3D, but some bizarre as yet undiscovered fraction thereof that no current mathematical law allows for.
Moving between planes happens automatically when it needs to and manually at all other times. The implementation is masterful, and the scope for exciting new platforming toys, mysteries and mechanics near limitless.
Pimp my sprite
The amazing thing about LittleBigPlanet is the sheer inventiveness in every single stitch. It's startling how simple and obvious the innovations are and what a profoundly original slant they give on platforming laws that have long since been cast in bronze.
Coupled with the context sensitive grab mechanic, achieved by pressing and holding the R Shoulder button, LittleBigPlanet’s simple set of rules, rethinks and reworks every physics-based puzzle or timed jump sequence into something unexpected.
Take the section at the start of the 'Dragon on a Bite' level, where you need to simultaneously propel a rickshaw while pelting fireworks at a dragon in hot pursuit. Or the complex set of interwoven switches and pulleys in the 'Thieves Den' stage.
The customisation options also start to emerge in the Story Levels with what’s known as your Popit: a simple menu tool accessed via the Square button that allows you to customise your Sackboy and apply stickers to the gameworld (some of which act as switches in context sensitive locations).
As you might expect, the customisation options are based upon elements you collect throughout the levels, more on which later.
LittleBigPlanet is a remarkable platformer, inventive at every turn, polished to a blinding sheen and managing somehow to assign a bewildering array of gameplay mechanics to a simple control set-up that never demands anything more than a gamer’s natural intuition.
The difficulty level is balanced on a gradual upsweep that’s always challenging but never punishingly so, thanks largely to the placement of a checkpoint literally after every sequence of jumps, switches, swings, or whatever else the game throws at you.
Do it yourself
Joining the Story Levels section is the much talked about My Levels section, making up LittleBigPlanet’s all important other half. Presented with a blank canvas, you're given the means with which to craft your own levels.
Using an expanded version of the Popit tool, you can add objects, platforms, audio samples, switches, contraptions, custom camera angles, stickers, enemies, checkpoints, textures and just about anything else you can think of to help realise your own platforming vision.
Explaining the individual mechanics that make this possible would fill several pages, but we’re happy to report that, thanks both to a thoughtfully implemented control scheme and more of Mr Fry’s excellent tutorials (complete with attractive idiot-proof video examples of each individual element), making your own levels is largely frustration free.
As you need to collect parts in the Story Levels in order to unlock more options in the My Levels section, your creation options are relatively limited at the outset. This makes for a seamlessly intertwined experience, with the Story Levels informing and rewarding the My Levels section gradually, providing equal incentive to delve deeply into each section.
The number of customisation options really is mind-boggling, and though the control method is graspable relatively quickly the sense of possibility will be daunting to some players.
The wisdom of crowds
The fantastic thing is, a reluctance to craft your own levels doesn’t matter a jot, because in LittleBigPlanet’s third hanging globe on the mobile that makes up the title screen - the Community Moon - you can go online and download other people’s creations, as well as share your own.
There’s also the option to collect levels directly from friends, which makes sharing your own stages an absolute cinch.
If we wanted to nitpick, we’d bemoan the loss of multiplayer and the fact that sometimes your Sackboy seems quite small on-screen, making it tough to make out any new items you have recently adorned him with.
But we’re not going to give into such facile criticisms, as it’s hard to imagine a more polished, more inventive, more fun and more magical PSP game. LittleBigPlanet is a miniature miracle and an absolutely essential purchase for every PSP owner in the land.