Whenever a well-known console franchise finds its way to mobile, there are a few go-to genres for trying to make that jump, with one of the most popular being runners. We saw that recently with King's Crash Bandicoot: On the Run, although that hasn't ended well. Hoping to avoid the same fate, Exient has released Ultimate Sackboy for iOS and Android, which sees LittleBigPlanet's adorable protagonist try his hand at arcade running.
If you're sitting there, scratching your chin, convinced there's already been a LittleBigPlanet runner. You would be correct. Back in 2014, PlayStation Mobile released a decent effort in Run Sackboy! Run!, which you can still download today. But, where Sony's effort played out from a side-on perspective, Ultimate Sackboy opts for the Subway Surfers approach with lane switching, jumping and sliding. But does it do the series justice?
But, as we all know, even the best graphics cannot hide lacklustre gameplay. In Ultimate Sackboy's case, everything works well enough from a functional standpoint. Each swipe, whether jumping, sliding, slamming back to the ground, or simply switching lanes, is responsive. I never blamed a failed run on the game for not responding to my inputs in time. It was always my fault. However, as you might have inferred from my lack of enthusiasm about the mechanics, the execution is all too uninspired, leading to a frustrating mediocrity.
The setup is simple. After hitting run, you will have about 50 seconds to collect as many bubbles as possible, with the aim of topping the leaderboard presented before the start of the race. From there, you will dodge obstacles, jump over gaps, and defeat enemies. Initially, the issue lies with the time limit. 50 seconds simply feels too short. It feels like you're just warming up, and where the challenge would otherwise ramp up in another runner, here it is over. With these shorter burst runners, I should constantly be glancing at the time remaining as I desperately slide and jump, hoping I'll survive. Instead, it just feels like a leisurely stroll.
But that's just early on. After playing for a while, another issue crops up; a lack of variety in the level layouts. You see, each run is randomly generated, so you would hope that would allow for plenty of surprises. But the reality is you quickly start to recognise repeated patterns, and, at that point, everything becomes overly familiar. There are two power-ups you can occasionally grab, which add some fun. The Invincibility power-up, in particular, is great while it lasts. Smashing through obstacles and watching them explode into bubbles is awesome. Unfortunately, neither of the power-ups lasts that long, so any enjoyment is short-lived.
A larger issue is the free-to-play model. As you win more and more, you will progress through tiers and winning subsequent runs will require progressively higher scores. That doesn't mean you need to play better, however, it means you need to upgrade the various customisation options available for Sackboy. Whether it's hats, shoes, jumpers, or skin colours, each item contributes to your overall Power Level. The higher it is, the more each bubble is worth.
Fortunately, you don't have to wear the items to benefit from this boost, though you do have to open bags to collect duplicate parts to upgrade them, alongside spending in-game currency. While not awful in theory, you can only start opening one bag at once, and there are only four slots. So, unless you're willing to spend real money on Diamonds to speed up the process, your progress quickly stalls. After completing your daily missions, there's very little reason to continue playing until you have a spare slot for another bag.
If you win with no free slot, unless you're willing to spend Diamonds, you will lose that bag, effectively throwing away potential progression. That won't matter for a while, but eventually, you will reach a point where you're not going to win unless you upgrade several items, leaving you stuck in a loop of losing tier points until the score you have to reach lowers. At that point, you won't progress until you have enough resources to upgrade your items or are willing to spend real money.
Given what I've already said about the gameplay, completing your dailies and leaving the game until tomorrow might be enough to satiate your runner needs. But if you want to keep playing, there's very little reason to after reaching a certain point, which is a shame.