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LittleBigPlanet Karting Hands-On [E3 2012]

There are some franchises that deserve spinoffs, reboots, remakes, whatever you may call it and then there are others that should be left alone since they’re perfect as is.  With a franchise like LittleBigPlanet that’s almost genre in itself due to the creations that are capable of being built within it, there didn’t seem like much sense to do a LBP spin-off revolved around kart racing. Can’t we already do kart racing through a nifty user creation so what’s the point of throwing down $60 for a new game?  Well as random as LBP Karting may be the game is actually one of the better experiences I’ve had at E3 since its simple addicting fun.

Despite not being in the hands of LBP creators Media Molecule, LBP Karting feels like a true LBP game from top to bottom.  The Sack people look the same in their ever cute way, the world has that organic and slightly kitsch aesthetic, and LBP staples such as the pop it and My Moon are present. So yeah, LBP Karting is a LBP game except instead of platforming or controlling a user-created Gundam I was controlling a small car and putting a sad face on Sack people by blowing them up.

Available to me in the heaven that was the PlayStation E3 2012 booth was a simple sampling of what LBP Karting offers. Aside from a traditional race event, the LBP Karting demo also included a death match event.  Yup, there’s an actual death match/destruction derby type event in LBP Karting in which it’s every Sack person for themself as whoever has the best racing and combat intuition will reign supreme.

Going into the deathmatch mode for LBP Karting I really didn’t know what to expect.  I’m a fan of vehicular combat games but I’ve never enjoyed deathmatch modes too much since they often feel cheap and simply have too much mayhem to make anything truly enjoyable.  How is a LBP experience going to translate into a kart racing game in which a deathmatch mode is an option? Well despite any worries I made had I ultimately found myself with a huge smile on my face for the majority of the demo as its simple fun that’s executed nearly perfectly.

A deathmatch mode may sound basic but there was nothing overly conventional about the mode or how things were presented other than the goal being to kill anything that drove past me.  Taking the element of fancy that LBP is known for, the deathmatch stage was set aboard two structures akin to airships, both of which had LBP2 bounce pads so I and my fellow gamers could hop back and forth from either to recoup or simply cause more mayhem when need be.  

The design of the tracks were open so things didn’t feel too cramped but at the same time it never took me long to find an enemy to blast or to find a weapon pick up.  A ship based LBP Karting stage may not sound too exciting but it did have a nice amount of character to it through the wood based design, the ramps and their corresponding tight curves which provided some usage of drifting.  LBP has always been known for its unique visual style which has matured in parts thanks to the community but I felt as if nothing was lost by having the style of the franchise adapted into a different genre.  Honestly there weren’t a whole host of inventive elements in the stage, but that wasn’t a huge determent as it did what matters the most: it stayed true to the LBP style without being too boring in the process.

Obviously the big element of LBP Karting was the gameplay itself and that’s what made engaged me the most in the game.  Those who played ModNation Racers on the PS3 will probably be familiar to what LBP Karting does as developer United Front Games has in a way used the foundations of ModNation for LBP Karting.  To some people that may seem like dire news, but the relation between the two is honestly only noticeable in things like the weapons system and the drifting.  Weapons in a LBP game may seem like another odd thing, but they’re handled rather well in LBP Karting as pick-ups were strewn about the stage and upon picking them up I had an immediate weapon to use.  Just like in ModNation, weapons in LBP Karting can be upgraded when a second weapon pick up is obtained.  So a regular missile can turn into a homing missile if I decided to run into another pick-up, thus adding a bit of combat strategy to the game.

 For what they were the weapons in the LBP Karting were balanced and had that special LBP charm to them.  Base weapons like the homing missiles weren’t too special in their execution, but some of the more advanced weapons I had the chance to experience in the race event proved to be fun.  Outside of stuff like the homing missile or the electric shock attack, I was able to rewind time in my favor upon acquiring a special weapon.  Perhaps the strongest weapon in the game, the rewind weapon simply rewinds time while it advanced me a few positions, at one point putting me from 5th place to 2nd in mere seconds.  The weapon may sound a bit overpowered, but it wasn’t something that could be picked up all the time so hopefully it won’t be abused too much.  Other weapons in LBP Karting are still outlandish yet fair such as controlling a giant boxing glove to deliver a KO punch to a racer, all represented in a way that made me think of a Terry Gilliam cartoon.

The other comparison LBP Karting has to ModNation Racers is the drifting, which at this point was the only element I had concerns with.  I may not have been able to use drifting to its full potential due to the closed circuit nature of the deathmatch stage and the limited time I had with the race event, but on a few turns I did try to drift and to be honest nothing good really came out of it.  I did bust out a few decent turns, but the drifting feels a bit clunky to be honest and that in turn could lead to some major issues on the racing side of things.  I won’t get too down in the dumps about the drifting in LBP Karting as it could simply be a case of something that needs to be fine-tuned and me not being a complete master after playing a mere demo.

Other major elements of LBP Karting unfortunately weren’t on display for me such as the creation component or additional game modes, but the base of the game seems extremely sound. It also appears that United Front is putting huge amounts of care and attention in the project to ensure that it’s the best so it hopefully won’t have as many issues as ModNation Racers did when that game first came out.  In the end I don’t know if the PS3 and LBP audience will instantly leap to LBP Karting since it won’t allow us to make every possible dream we have into a reality, but the one thing I know for sure is that it could reignite the ever stagnant kart racing genre and to me that’s a good thing.