Looking to join the A-list of video-game stars such as Mario and Lara Croft is … Sackboy?
At first glance, the burlap-skinned mascot of the anticipated new Sony PlayStation 3 game LittleBigPlanet lacks those predecessors' panache. But Sackboy exhibits an engaging Everyman appeal, from younger players to experienced gamers, in the groundbreaking title due Oct. 21 ($60, rated for all ages). "Sackboy is not just a little cute character. It's actually you," says Kareem Ettouney, art director of Media Molecule, the U.K.-based developer of the game.
Sackboy's small shoulders bear huge expectations. A wide-appeal hit could help the PlayStation 3 gain momentum in the console game wars currently dominated by the novice-friendly Nintendo Wii. Since both systems were released nearly two years ago, the Wii has outsold the PS3 by more than 2 to 1 (11.9 million vs. 5.2 million), according to market tracking firm The NPD Group.
"This is huge for (Sony)," says Adam Sessler, host of X-Play on the G4 video game TV network. "It runs a little contrary to what the PlayStation image has been in the past. At the same time, this is fresh. It gives something very distinct to the PS3 that is not available" on the Wii or Microsoft's Xbox 360.
Mario has a trademarked look; you get to customize and accessorize Sackboy. "It is really like having a little dress-up doll," says Ricardo Torres of video game news site GameSpot.com.
At first, players direct Sackboy — running, jumping and swinging — through a homespun world of Rube Goldberg-like contraptions. After playing through initial levels, they also can begin creating new scenes and levels for Sackboy to roam, and upload their creations for other players to explore — revolutionary advances in user-generated content similar to the new PC game Spore.
"It's a huge step forward in user interaction and creativity potential on a console system, that's for sure," says Rob Smith, editor in chief of TheOfficial PlayStation Magazine. Sony is "basically putting high-end game design tools in the hands of users."
The game's inviting arts-and-crafts look is meant to spur creativity. "Everybody growing up had an experience of going in the basement, grabbing some cardboard boxes, drawing some windows and you have got a house," Ettouney says. "I didn't want to go, 'You have a set of Baroque architecture motifs, now go (create).' "
Media Molecule created about 10 hours' worth of levels for the game's release, using the exact same creation tools that players get with the game. "The only way to create those tools in the first place was to apply them," he says.
As players go through the developer-created levels, they earn items for their creative inventory: objects such as wigs, hats, bottles, boxes and shoes — as well as devices such as pulleys and gears — that can be deployed in their own levels.
But players who do not want to create anything do not have to. They may simply download new levels created by others, says Media Molecule creative director Mark Healey. "There are so many games out there about running around and killing things. There is a place for those, but we just thought it would be nice to balance it out."