It’s been nearly ten years since PlayStation’s lovable Sackboy last stepped outside the constraints of the 2.5 dimensional world with LittleBigPlanet Karting. While that game didn’t set the world on fire, it was intriguing to see the undeniably endearing world of LittleBigPlanet portrayed in full 3D, and it certainly left fans of the franchise feeling like it could be a precursor to something much bigger one day. Well, that day is here, and we finally have that much bigger thing. Sackboy: A Big Adventure is the first true 3D platformer for Media Molecule’s hand-crafted world and the lovingly stitched-together characters who inhabit it, and I’m happy to report it pretty much totally works out just like you’d think it would.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure has a story you’ve undoubtedly seen before, and it unfolds exactly the same way you’ve seen it unfold. An unassuming hero, Sackboy, going up against seemingly insurmountable odds to defeat the vile villain Vex, rescue his friends, and save the peaceful Craftworld from being transformed into a land of nightmares and chaos. If you’ve ever played a video game, then you’ve definitely seen this story in one form or another. Good vs evil, defying expectations, rising to the occasion, etc. While this set-up does weave nicely into the LittleBigPlanet universe, and a nice handful of well-performed charismatic characters keep it from feeling too generic, it would have been nice to see something a little more unique patched in to match the creativity of everything else. That said, it works fine in giving this game an excuse to exist, and it fleshes out Sackboy’s world just enough to feel like a meaningful step forward for the franchise. It’s not the reason you’ll want to buy the game, though.
"Sackboy: A Big Adventure is the first true 3D platformer for Media Molecule’s hand-crafted world and the lovingly stitched-together characters who inhabit it, and I’m happy to report it pretty much totally works out just like you’d think it would."
Like all games in the LittleBigPlanet universe, the hand-woven tapestry of Sackboy: A Big Adventure wastes no time letting you know you’re in a game from Media Molecule’s iconic IP. Thanks to the steady hand of Sumo Digital and a complete devotion to the LittleBigPlanet twine-spun aesthetic at every turn, the world that Media Molecule created all those years ago has never looked better than it does here. Different fabric types like satin, wool, canvas, and other materials are all woven together with countless zippers and stitches making each level feel like what an extremely creative free-spirited child would come up with after going nuts in a craft store. Running around in each of the game’s levels with the freedom that a true 3D platformer allows is a unique one in an old genre that usually feels exhausted of new ideas.
Much the same, for the LittleBigPlanet series, Sackboy: A Big Adventure injects a much-needed dose of vitality, as the side-scrolling games have largely done all they can do at this point. It’s a really gorgeous game in all regards. The level designs that have Sackboy being flung across large chasms and traveling large distances make the levels feel comfortably large, yet the shallow depth of field keeps your immediate surroundings feeling adorably small at the same time. It’s an interesting balance that I don’t think any other platformer series has ever quite struck. If you like the look and feel of previous LittleBigPlanet games or the criminally underrated Tearaway, then you’ll be happy to see it turned up to 11 here.
While admiring the way the many levels of Sackboy: A Big Adventure are lovingly designed is a nearly faultless exercise in visual appeal, actually playing through them isn’t quite as consistently smooth. Sackboy’s jumping and fluttering have their trademark floaty animations, and while that felt distinctly fitting for the previous games, it makes precise platforming here fairly wonky at times, especially later in the game when the big generous surfaces are replaced by smaller, often moving platforms. Leaving the ground and coming back down just isn’t as clean and decisive as most 3D platformers make it.
"Sackboy’s jumping and fluttering have their trademark floaty animations, and while that felt distinctly fitting for the previous games, it makes precise platforming here fairly wonky at times, especially later in the game when the big generous surfaces are replaced by smaller, often moving platforms."
There’s a reason why Crash Bandicoot, Mario 64, and the vast majority of the other classic 3D platformers have simple, straightforward jumping arcs; it’s instinctively easy to process and predict, which lets you focus on timing the jumps instead of memorizing multiple key frames of animation. Combine that with all the overly-flamboyant animations of the enemies that can, at times, make it unnecessarily hard to tell what exactly they’re doing, and you end up with a lot of cool looking animations that ultimately get in the way of the gameplay more than they complement it. I definitely would have preferred to have seen this dialed back a tad for a 3D game as it does lead to occasional hits and deaths that feel uncharacteristically cheap for the series.
That said, if you can push past those speed bumps, you’ll find a wealth of interesting levels that always seem know when to mix things up with wall-walking, auto-scrolling sections, platforms that you control by tilting the controller, rhythm-based levels with licensed music, and other gameplay devices that really demonstrate Sumo Digital’s ability to make fun games and why they were chosen to steward this beloved IP. The fact that up to 4 players can go through the levels together is also a nice touch and ensures that there will always be a good reason to come back to them well after you’ve completed them on your own.
I would have liked to have seen a bit more challenge throughout the experience. While it is obviously true that this game was designed with accessibility, the same is also true for games like Ratchet and Clank and Knack, yet those games still aren’t afraid to put up a good challenge from time to time. Sackboy rarely does anything even remotely challenging. In fact, I don’t think I would have lost more than a single life or two in my entire playtime had it not been for the aforementioned wonky jumping and convoluted animations of Sackboy and his foes. It’s easy to appreciate the variety throughout the game, but variety can only go so far to keep things interesting if the game hardly ever presents me with anything I can’t breeze through on the first try. The knight challenges and bonus rooms can give you a little bit of a chance to test your skills, but imposing a challenge on yourself to get a better score isn’t quite the same as encountering organic difficulty throughout the game.
"That said, if you can push past those speed bumps, you’ll find a wealth of interesting levels that always seem know when to mix things up with wall-walking, auto-scrolling sections, platforms that you control by tilting the controller, rhythm-based levels with licensed music, and other gameplay devices that really demonstrate Sumo Digital’s ability to make fun games and why they were chosen to steward this beloved IP."
Sackboy: A Big Adventure clearly takes inspiration from the best that the platformer genre has to offer. It’s levels being contained in thematically diverse hub worlds, a healthy variety of level types, and a story that, while refusing to deviate from the beaten path, still unfolds in a steady way all harken back to what games like Mario 64 got so right as the genre was being created. But it also doesn’t forget about the core tenants of the past LittleBigPlanet games with plenty of customization and a fun, arts-and-crafts style so full of personality that it perpetually spills over the edge every chance it gets. If you’re looking for a challenge in platforming precision or an evolution of the 3D platformer genre, this adventure might not be for you. Sackboy’s take on the 3D platformer gains little ground in doing much new with the genre other than making an LittleBigPlanet version of it. But if you just want a good excuse to jump back into the world of LittleBigPlanet on your PS4 (or PS5), Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a great choice.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Sackboy's adventure breathes new life into the LittleBigPlanet series with a mostly graceful and well-executed transition to 3D.
The game relies on combining LittleBigPlanet elements with 20-year-old 3D platformer ideas and not all of it works out.