LittleBigPlanet 3 opens with a delightful live-action video about the power of communal imagination, which is fitting for the franchise, but odd for a video game about innovation to start with something so rigidly fixed. It foreshadowed my experience of the game itself, since the game's creation tools are easier and more nuanced than ever, but the glaring flaws in the rigidity of design of the single-player campaign stultify the experience.
Once again the game is narrated by the delightful Stephen Fry, whose wry delivery highlights the game's inherently British wit. In Play mode, his narration is interrupted by Newton, a light-bulb-headed self-aggrandizing figure (voiced by Hugh Laurie!) who you may or may not curse for his sudden but inevitable betrayal. Newton guides you to Bunkum, a world where three locked-away Titans once stole creativity before being captured by three legendary sack-bodied heroes. Naturally, these Titans are released, and your Sack-Thing—for inclusivity, LBP3 seems to have dropped Sackboy as a name in all in-game references—has to round up these heroes to return creativity to Bunkum.
Each of the three heroes has different abilities based on their size and shape. Oddsock can run and wall-jump, Toggle can switch between a large heavy version of himself that can break glass and push down weights, and a light version with a higher jump and small size to fit through tiny passages. Swoop, a bird-sack-thing can fly and dive for added speed. Sackboy himself has a number of abilities tied to accessories, which can be equipped one-at-a-time. He can dash in any direction using jet boots, shine a flashlight, shoot himself to portals with a headband, fire a stream of air or suck in the opposite direction, or ride on rails with a hook-helmet.
The first half of the campaign flows very well, though there are the odd diversions to "challenge" side levels that have incredibly uneven design; some are great, and others are just totally flat. For these early levels, LBP 3 is simply delightful and a joy to play. However soon after you collect Toggle, things begin to bog down with sudden spikes in difficulty that don't match the prior progression. This is augmented by the game's inherent floaty, "iffy" controls that have been a staple of the series since its inception. It's especially bad if, as the entire presentation implies, this is meant to be a child-friendly title.
As a physics-based platformer, the LBP series has always had slightly ambiguous controls. Where something fired hits and where Sackboy makes a jump right on the edge of a platform don't always land perfectly or cleanly. This is a problem for the later levels of the campaign, especially those that require greater and greater precision. This makes the game unpredictable, which is incredibly fun when the level design is loose or creative, but punishingly difficult when it is rigidly fixed to specific timing and positional jumps. The endgame is essentially broken because of it.
This is brought into sharp relief when compared to a game like Mario Maker, where the plumber's controls are so precise that the character interactions with the environment never feel unfair—though a poor designer can certainly make an unfair level. LBP's iffy controls do not translate well to this style of platformer, because they lack the precision of play. Additionally, the autosave points have a limited number of uses, after which the player has to return to the start of what are often very long levels; this feels like it punishes the player for perseverance, especially in a precision-based platformer.
This is thankfully offset to a great degree by the game's creation mode. LittleBigPlanet 3 is the best in the series in terms of both level creation tools and their accessibility; you can even use the PS4's touchpad to do the work if you have nimble fingers. It has an excellent training mode called Popit-Puzzles that teaches the player how to use the designer tools within a world of puzzle levels that rivals the size of the single-player story. This and the creation mode are the heart of the game.
Creating objects and moving them through the three depth layers is practically effortless, and the tools are simple for creating, expanding, rotating, and deleting assets. A thermometer on the side monitors just how much content you can include in the level itself. The Popit-Puzzles quickly introduce not just the materials but also the moving and reactive elements of the levels, while the control interface is simple and easy to master. This is a great tool for learning how to build games.
Drop-in online co-op is fantastic when it works, but god-awful when it doesn't. It crashed the game twice (one of two bugs I encountered so far) but was more troublesome when there was a poor connection. Rather than slowing or stopping the level until the connection issue is resolved, LBP3's response to a laggy connection is to keep using the player's input, then play what they did in fast forward once the connection caught up, causing the game experience to be a weird rubber-banding time-effect where it was impossible to complete the challenges because you couldn't see what you were doing until the game sped up and you invariably died for movements and button presses you made while it lagged.
DLC includes new levels, outfits, and build content in dedicated packs that can be bought directly within the game, without having to leave to open up the Playstation Store. These include legacy content from previous games, themed content, and Disney-branded packs and levels, including ones based on Nightmare Before Christmas, Toy Story, Marvel Superheroes, The Incredibles, and Pirates of the Caribbean, with one starter pack available for free. However, due to a bug in the game, I have been unable to upload my online profile, or access my downloadable content, a major failing for a game where such content is a part of the basic gameplay model.
LittleBigPlanet 3 is a great creative experience packaged with an unfortunate single-player experience as its forward-facing section and buggy co-op play, both which significantly hamper what is otherwise an excellent creative experience and game-design as play. For people who want an easy entry into learning how to build games, it's a fantastic tool and highly recommended, but as a game its flaws (and game-breaking bugs) keep it from excelling.