Posted on July 13, 2012 AT 11:07am
For as long as I can remember, there has been one series that’s dominated the kart racing genre in video games. Eagerly trying to break into the genre, many imitators have tried their hand at besting the massively successful Super Mario Kart franchise. A few days ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to the beta for the latest attempt by Sony: LittleBigPlanet Karting. While it’s impossible to deny that this game borrows heavily from Nintendo’s time-tested series, it adds the flair that makes the LittleBigPlanet games amazing to the mix for an experience that could prove to be quite a competitor.
When loading the game up, it’s almost indistinguishable from the original LittleBigPlanet games. After arriving in your pod, the only giveaway sign that you’re playing a kart racing game is that Sackboy is now sitting in a kart. From here, you can choose from a variety of karts and costumes to customize your racer. While I’m sure there will be numerous add-ons that will give new costumes and karts, most of the available options in the beta were generically racing themed.
After customizing to your heart’s content, you can make Sackboy hop out of his kart over to the PS3 controller sitting in the pod to select where you go from there. Once again, just like in LittleBigPlanet, the main components of the game involve the concepts of: Play, Create and Share. Each of these features are accounted for in the beta with more and more user-created levels being added daily.
Launching into the “play” portion of the game, it starts you off with a nice tutorial stage that gets you familiar with how to control your kart. Stop me if this begins to sound familiar. As you begin each race, you may hit the gas just at the right time to get a boost. Drifting around corners during the game, if you hold it long enough, will make the back of your kart begin to flame, affording you a boost once you let go of the drift button. You can pick up items along the way to take out your opponents, one item in particular being a rocket that takes out whomever is in first place. I don’t even need to tell you the color of that rocket.
True, many principles from the Super Mario Kart series played a huge part in how this game plays, but the heart of the LittleBigPlanet franchise is ever present and adds its own flavor to the mix. Everything from the scenery to the weapons are themed around the previous games. The weapons range from rockets to giant boxing gloves you can ride. As you speed along the course, if you bump into a jetpack, you get a nice little boost. There are even score bubbles laid out through each course to increase your total score. Both time and score bubbles play a factor in your final score, which adds a few extra layers to how you can compare scores with friends. Sometimes you’ll find yourself leaping over tall pits, but you can use your trusty grappling hook to swing across. Probably my favorite carryover from the main series was that whenever you get blasted, one of the spawn-point appears on the ground and you pop out ready to race.
The stages in the story mode of the game are, as always, incredibly well designed and beautiful. There were only a handful of them, but all of them were well diversified and fun. The first few were basic racing tracks where the main goal is simply to cross the finish-line first. Also included was an arena track, one big enclosed space built for blowing each other apart, and a time-based score-building level. It would be a bit disappointing at this point if that’s all there was, but on top of all that, you still have the numerous user-created levels which are already looking really good.
After playing a level, it gives you the opportunity to offer feedback in a few ways. Like always, you can heart the level which will give you easy access to it in the future. You can also add specific tags which you think accurately describe the level or write a very short review. Each of these sharing mechanisms mirrors how it was brilliantly done in the original games.
If you have a bit of time on your hands and want to try your hand at creating a stage in the game, they’ve provided numerous tutorials to get you started with how the creation tool works. You can reshape terrain, build objects and place stickers all over your level until it looks and plays as well as the best story levels. The game affords you with some complex creation tools that will let you create some incredibly dynamic levels with the only limitation being your imagination.
This part of it is where this game surpasses the Super Mario Kart series by leaps and bounds. Instead of having to replay the requisite eight cups over and over again, you’ll have a nearly endless stream of new race tracks to try out every day. The one thing I’m not seeing quite yet, and this may be in the final version, is a feeling of continuity. Sure, you’ve got some random race tracks, but it would be nice to experience a grand prix mode with sets of tracks. It seems unlikely that it’ll be left out, but it’s absence in the beta is worth noting.
Keep an eye out for this game, because it’s taking two incredible game formulas and combining them into quite an experience. If you haven’t gotten the chance to play the beta, they’re still accepting applicants, so check it out below.
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