Dec. 1, 2008 -- "Little Big Planet" is, in a number of ways, puzzling on the surface. The player controls a tiny guy, seemingly made of a canvas sack, and bounds through cartoonish side-scrolling levels, outsmarting hurdles on its way to, well, the end.
The offline component of the game is somewhat boring but allows players to familiarize themselves with the controls, the objectives and the customization that is available up to that point.
But where the game's true genius lies -- and it is genius -- is developer Media Molecule's complete faith in the online community and in third-party generated input.
"Little Big Planet" allows anyone to create their own worlds, from the popular zombie- or pirate-themed, to pretty much anything they can dream up. From there, they can invite other users to try out and enjoy their levels.
Basically, "Little Big Planet" has nearly limitless potential and is only as good as players make it.
In a world of full third-party contributions to main stream technology -- third-party applications for the iPhone, anyone? -- Media Molecule made a bold move in designing "Little Big Planet" to target just that demographic as well as those interested in development, but without the technical background.
The tools for level creation are nearly boundless, but are somehow not intimidating to casual gamers.
One level may force players to find creative ways to navigate a series of lava pits. In another, several players must figure out how to make the massive pirate ship they are on move through the level and clear obstacles in its path.
The time commitment necessary to create a well-executed level could turn some would-be designers off, but a few hours of scrounging around in the tool box will be more fun for some than actually playing through the worlds.
In addition to playing levels created by fellow gamers, users can play them with others and team up against each level's obstacles.
Coordination between sometimes complete strangers required to hit a lever at the precise moment that a cannon ball flies to at a certain wall can be complicated, but it all adds to the wild fun and to a real sense of online community.
The 'Little' Things of 'Big Planet'
"Little Big Planet" really shines in its overall style. Nearly everything in the game is customizable.
If a player leaves the game on "pause" for a few minutes during a bathroom break and friends are in the room, it's likely that, upon return, he or she will find the little "sackperson" dressed in a tutu with a zebra mask and smiling wildly.
The "smiling wildly" part is one of the game's smallest contributions, but easily one of its most memorable. Tapping one direction repeatedly on the d-pad exaggerates sackperson's expression to hilarious extremes.
Such little touches, more than the exquisitely colored and stylized levels, keep the game feeling familiar to the user and, in turn, heightens the sense of community -- a feat few games have achieved.
Or maybe it's just the fact that the announcer/omni-present guide has a British accent.
"Little Big Planet" is rated "E" for "Everyone" and is available for the PlayStation 3 video game console.