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Friday, November 13, 2020

Review: Sackboy: A Big Adventure (Sony PlayStation 5)


Review by Matt S. 

A LittleBigPlanet game without level creation tools? I wasn't so sure about that. I mean, sure, Sackboy has become Sony's mascot for the younger players over the last decade or so, making him the ideal vehicle to sell the PS5 as an all-ages console, but his games have always been about facilitating the player's creativity. Sackboy: A Big Adventure does away with that and while the reasons for it are totally understandable (for the first time the game is a 3D platformer and that would have been difficult to make work as a creative toolkit experience), right out of the box this PlayStation 5 launch title did feel a little limited in scope.

I warmed to Sackboy quickly, though. Rather than being a full, free-form platformer, the game cribs its basic idea from Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U, with highly linear levels that allow for movement within it in 3D. And, just like Nintendo's own game, Sackboy really plays with this setup to challenge and charm players. Each level is bristling with hidden little secrets and plenty of energy. It's rare to come across a single section that is static, and all that bristling charm is given a patchwork aesthetic that cleverly evokes a sense of "craft" within the game. The marketing message goes a little hard on this, insisting that the levels are "handcrafted" (unless it's a roguelike, of course they are), but the whimsy and airy charm is undeniable.

Amazingly, though, it's the soundtrack that really stands out in Sackboy. The LittleBigPlanet series has always been known for its soundtracks (I actually discovered musician, Lisa Mitchell, and her Neopolitan Dreams courtesy of LBP, and she's since become one of my favourite folksy singers of all). Sackboy, if anything, ups the ante here with every single level, regardless of its visual theme or gameplay quirks, is so totally spot-on that the game feels almost dance-like at times, and as a result, you'll feel a natural desire to synch up movement and music as you play.


For a little guy that doesn't have all that many moves, Sackboy certainly gets up to a lot. The sheer variety of gameplay features that the developers have worked into A Big Adventure never stops being impressive. Every new level seems to add something that either adds to existing gameplay elements, or cleverly subverts them as a way of keeping the player on their toes. I know that modern platformer best practice is to consistently be surprising, and this is one of the better examples of that in motion. While I'm not a fan of the way progress is handled (there's a whole bunch of things to collect in every level, and some of them are devilishly-well hidden), this is one of the rare platformers that I've wanted to run through levels a second or third time to try and track everything down, because they're all so completely playful.

There is, however, a downside, and even after more than a few hours of play with Sackboy, I'm not sure if it's just my personal perception, but levels do feel long. There are multiple checkpoints per level, and with more than a few of these stages I did feel, as I got close to the final target, that the mechanics and quirks of that particular level were in danger of wearing thin. It never quite hit the point that I got bored with a stage, but I was happy to see the back-end of a level so I could move on (before coming back after a few more stages to see if I could find the treasures I missed). With that being said, I do prefer my platformer levels to be super-brief (blame a childhood of growing up with NES Mario titles), and I hesitate to consider this a criticism where the developers did still know not to wear out their welcome.

I also felt like the developers could have done more to bring in the creation themes from LittleBigPlanet. I understand that 3D levels made community creation for levels unviable, but other than playing dress-ups with Sackboy, there really isn't that much creative freedom in A Big Adventure. The costumes are great, and earned through play (it's sad that "it's not paid DLC" is something that has become something that impresses us), but it's still not "free" enough for something that carries the LittleBigPlanet name.


Multiplayer isn't much of a feature to sing about either. It's briefly fun to mess around with, and naturally, even when you're meant to be playing co-operative, trolling and spoiling is the name of the game, but in the main Sackboy isn't built around the multiplayer experience to any substantive degree. When you want to make progress, you'll be playing solo, and as far as the local multiplayer experience goes, Sackboy might be one of a few games native to PS5 at this stage, but then Sony has a big library of backwards compatible PS4 titles for that purpose instead.

I don't want to take anything away from Sackboy: A Big Adventure. Platformers are one of the genres I am least inclined towards, and were it not part of a (fairly limited) launch range on the PlayStation 5, I might not have been inclined to play Sackboy at all. I am glad that I did, though, because for pure whimsy and quality level design it's a real challenge to Nintendo at its best in this genre, and that's no mean feat. Just don't go in expecting the same qualities that made the LittleBigPlanet series itself so beloved.



- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb

The critic was provided with a copy of this game for review.

Review: Sackboy: A Big Adventure (Sony PlayStation 5)
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