Game Design Talk: The Controls of Little Big Planet

It’s been a while since I wrote about Little Big Planet. Since I wrote my initial impressions, I have played a bit of it, but for the most part, I’ve actively avoided it.

For a game that I liked so much to start, things went sour pretty quickly. As I continued to play through the game, it became readily apparent to me that the controls and character physics were not designed to handle this type of action.

As an experienced Super Mario player, the ‘feel’ of Little Big Planet can be really jarring. Walking and running feels a lot looser and jumping is more ‘floaty’. In the early stages of Little Big Planet’s story mode, this isn’t a problem. There are very few enemies and obstacles in your way, which makes the game a joyful romp through imaginative levels.

However, the game’s difficulty ramps up quite sharply. You soon have a ton of obstacles to overcome and precise jumps to make. If this game was running on the Super Mario engine, these levels would be awesome to play. Instead, they’re way more frustrating than they need to be.

Unlike Mario, Sackboy’s running movement is a lot looser. I’ve never had a problem making Mario stop moving in his 2D or 3D games, but with Sackboy, getting him to stop precisely where you want him to is damn near impossible. It’s almost like Sackboy encounters a patch of ice every time he needs to start moving, stop or change directions. All too often I’ll need to land on a small platform, only to have Sackboy land and then slide off the other end because of the momentum. This slipperiness is also troublesome when you only have a short amount of running distance, because Sackboy doesn’t accelerate fast enough.

The jumping in particular can break this game for certain people. It’s really hard to get a good feel for the jumping mechanics because the current systems in place feel ‘floaty’ and mushy. Jump height and distance can vary wildly depending on how long you hold the jump button. Jump height and distance is also greatly affected by your speed and the angle you’re running at. In particular, I have a lot of problems making short jumps when I’m jumping off an uphill platform because the game’s controls and physics seem to think that Sackboy can’t get two inches off the ground when he’s running uphill. Even after hours of play, I routinely fall to my death because jumping just doesn’t feel right.

Things really blew over for me during one of the race sequences in one of the Japanese levels. This sequence required me to jump across a series of narrow pillars with varying spacing between them. It was a nightmare. I was constantly falling off because I couldn’t build up enough running speed, couldn’t get a feel for how hard to press the jump button to achieve the right distance and I couldn’t land my jumps without sliding off the other side of the platform.

I want to love this game for all of the cool things it does. However, my gripes with stem from the very foundation of this game. How can I enjoy a platforming game when I don’t like how my character moves or jumps?

While I would love it if this game played more like Super Mario, that isn’t a fair solution to this problem. It doesn’t have to play like Mario for me to enjoy it. Had the game just featured tighter physics and controls, I wouldn’t be abandoning this game. I’m still looking forward to the sequel, but I’m hoping that the issues vie pointed out here will be addressed.

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