There's a new darling in the video game world: Sackboy, a little emotive rag doll made out of a virtual burlap sack.
Sackboy (or Sackgirl) is the star of LittleBigPlanet, a game developed by Media Molecule for Sony's PlayStation 3. It's a classic platformer, where you direct your little sackperson to run, jump, and leap to explore this highly interactive world.
But the game is so much more than that. It also provides you with the tools by which to build your own video game levels, and then allows you to share your creations and explore others online. With Sackboy leading the way, you'll play, create, and share.
This revolutionary new video game is so good that, for some, it could be the reason to get off the fence about buying a PlayStation 3. Since it's a PlayStation 3 exclusive, if you want to explore this game you've got to do so on a PS3.
When entering LittleBigPlanet, a magical place where everyone's dreams are stored, you start in the story mode. The story takes you to eight different worlds with over 20 levels of creative 2D platform puzzles. Your goal is to figure out how to move through each environment. These environments are filled with crazy contraptions and fascinating scenery made from craft materials, much of which reacts to your movements.
You will quickly realize that this is a real-world physics environment that can be manipulated. Your sackperson can run, jump, and even grab hold of and move objects in this world. You will also find tons of objects to collect, which are hidden in bubbles that you pop. Those collectibles become important in the second part of the game because they're the building blocks of game creation.
Tutorials abound, told by the characters or shown through hilarious videos. Each world has a different cultural flavor reflecting different parts of our real world, so in one, you'll be crawling up African animals and, in another, scrambling over temples. Up to four people can explore these worlds together.
After you have made it through the first world's three levels, you can visit the "MyMoon," the place to create user-generated game levels.
The objects you collected in the story mode will appear in your "goodies bag," and they are now available for use in creating your own game level. By going through tutorials in this part of the game, you earn even more goodies, including shapes, craft materials, tools and stickers.
Starting with a blank canvas or an existing template, you put together objects in a variety of ways using string, glue, bolts, rods, winches and more. Depending on your interest, you can create something quickly in under an hour, or spend days tweaking it to earn bragging rights with friends. Once you are finished, you can upload your level online to share.
The online sharing aspect of the game is accessed from the "InfoMoon," which unlocks at the same time as "MyMoon." From there you can select "quick play" to be whisked away to a random level where up to three other online players join you. This is also where you can explore the online community of user-generated game levels. You can search for levels by game creators or by using keywords like "brilliant" or "easy." You can rate other levels and view the scores and comments of others. "Little Big Planet" uses a community monitoring system called "griefing" where anyone can report content that is inappropriate.
What makes this game so good is the combination of the three parts: playing, creating and sharing. The platform gaming is unusual and at times brilliant, but it isn't perfect. The controls are a little floaty, so you will fall off things when you don't expect to and die. When you die, you are "respawned" at the closest checkpoints. For each checkpoint, you have a limited number of lives, so occasionally, when you have hit a particularly challenging section, you may use up all of your lives and have to replay the whole level again. This is not a major complaint, particularly because there is so much to see in this funky colorful world. The bottom line is that the story mode is good enough to justify buying the game, even if it's all you play.
The building area is likewise fascinating and deep -- a wannabe game designer's dream. However, it may not appeal to children and casual gamers who don't have the patience to work through all the tutorials. But that's OK, because the user-generated content is there to explore, which will provide endless possibilities of new levels.
Parents: Since the some of the user-generated content is being created by imaginative and sometimes naughty teens and adults, if your child or 'tween wants to explore this part of the game, you might want to join them so that you can avoid inappropriate levels that have yet to be caught by the "griefing" process of monitoring.
RATING: 5 stars (out of 5) Best for ages 8-up From Sony, www.littlebigplanet.com, $59.99, PlayStation 3.
Jinny Gudmundsen is the kid-tech columnist for USA Today.com and Gannett News Service, and is also the editor of Computing with Kids.