It is no secret at this stage that Sony have a bit of a mascot crisis on their hands. Through the generations, this has been particularly tricky for them to pin down. Firstly, it was argued that Crash Bandicoot was the Sonic and Mario killer, that was until Activision hoovered up the rights. For the PS2 you had either Rachet with sidekick Clank or Jak and Daxter with their so-so series of platformer/ racing titles that didn’t quite hit the echelons that they were aimed for.
When it came to the PS3 it felt that Sony were onto something with Sackboy and the LittleBigPlanet series. Here we had a character that didn’t quite have that star power of the big two platformers but made up for it with expression. Sackboy was as much of a canvas for the imagination as he was a charming entity himself, allowing the player to project their identity or style onto this blank slate to match the world of creation that he would run and jump through. While the LittleBigPlanet series has wavered somewhat over the years with people becoming disinterested with the core LBP formula, yet Sackboy as a character has endured despite this.
With Media Molecule turning their ‘Fine, you make it’ efforts to Dreams, Sumo Digital have instead taken up the reigns to keep Sackboy alive. This is something they have done successfully over the past few years already, with the release of LittleBigPlanet 3. Not only did they create a successful entry into the well-loved franchise, they were able to keep up the challenge of maintaining the servers full of player creations open, while keeping the community happy with further patches and content on a regular basis. It makes sense then, that the team behind LBP3 would then move on to create Sackboy’s big PS5 debut, even if it isn’t the kind of game we would have expected from the stitched superstar.
Instead of being a game about creative freedom in a series of 2.5D user made levels, Sackboy: A Big Adventure is focussed as a pseudo 3D platformer with a heavier emphasis on story. You play as Sackboy, who’s equilibrium is broken when a villainous jester-puppet named Vex arrives in Craftworld, stealing Sackboy’s friends away, putting them to work on a contraption that turns dreams into nightmares. To overturn this great misdeed, Sackboy must traverse through five worlds of the imagisphere. From icey, yeti filled regions to the dastardly, carnival-like world where you catch up with Vex.
It’s a setup we have seen a few times before and platformer genre players will be quite familiar with how all of this works, especially if they have played the likes of Super Mario 3D World, of which this game clearly takes inspiration from. Levels can range from typical jaunts through platforming stages, some based on a particular powerup or boss arena’s, with either a large creature to defeat, a rush of smaller enemies or both. Throughout these stages, you must collect orbs of various sizes to either help you progress, push towards that completion percentage or to customise Sackboy to your liking with new costume parts. Two of these are completely optional, the ones you need to focus on are the blue dreamer orbs which allow you to progress through the storyline.
In terms of variety, there is a decent level of this, despite how it may seem on paper. This is thanks to the themes of each level and the sense that you are progressing through each to get to the next. One such level saw me on the back of a submarine while a Scottish crab was piloting this through the depths of a watery cavern. While the main goal was to defend the submarine and survive against the hordes of enemies that jumped aboard, I also had the goal of collecting treasures which counted as dreamer orbs for my progression. The end of the level clearly leads into the next, even with an overworld break in between.
There are also the music-based levels which have partially climbed over the fence from Rayman Legends. I say partially, as it takes the core idea of a level being based around a recognisable licensed track and instead of making the action a mad dash so that your character keeps up with the tempo, the level will instead wait on beat progression until you get to the next portion of the stage. These feel a bit mixed for me. While I love it when games do this and would kill for a Rayman game that was comprised entirely of that rhythm based platformer structure, the fact that Jungle Boogie won’t get its funk on because I am exploring a level that is clearly designed to be explored can make the experience a little flat. Regardless, these levels should bring a slight smile to most with levels based on David Bowie’s – Let’s Dance and Britney Spears – Toxic coming to mind as personal favourites.
Oddly, these musical motif’s carry on to some of the other stages, however in a more ‘stylised cover’ type affair. You know, the kind of cover you hear at theme parks that want to set a stage with familiar sounding melodies, only with thematically appropriate instrumentation. In Sackboy: A Big Adventure, this plays out a few times, with a bloopy version of Madonna’s Material Girl to set the scene of a bubble filled water stage, or an analogue version of Junior Senior’s only hit which plays in the background of a stage in which you round up animals into a pen. These can either be smile raisers or messy pastiche’s depending on your musical palate and can be more distracting than they are fitted to the experience. These music stages aren’t a deal breaker though and there is plenty of content to get sunk into if you find yourself liking the game. Thanks to the normal levels, the Knitted Knight challenges and a whole host of secret levels. There should be at least a few among the lot that you and up to three friends can enjoy in single player or co-op mode (Which i was unable to sample due to the online component not being available at the time of this review).
There are few areas in which Sackboy: A Big Adventure comes into its own and lets the LittleBigPlanet franchise charm seep in, but two elements of this comes in the form of the overall level design and the admittedly great voice acting. While the themes of each level play out generically enough, with water levels providing a blue hue or the space world providing robotic undertones, each level is made up of various detritus that you would see in your everyday life, especially if you live in the UK. Spaceships are made out of milk crates; cardboard cut-out aliens fly by in the background and AUX cables provide a technological looking backdrop that suit each area well. It certainly helped remind me that I was playing a game based on LittleBigPlanet which previously saw these objects as building blocks in which I could create levels.
The voice work comes from some well known and lesser known celebrities. The best performances come from Dawn French and Richard E Grant, who play Scarlett, the aging adventurer and Vex, the villain respectively. They are clearly having a lot of fun with their roles, not just reading from a script and bring home that decidedly British performance that made the LittleBigPlanet games so memorable (no Stephen Fry though.) One of the performances I wasn’t expecting came from Simon Greenall, who is an actor that you hear on TV daily, thanks to his work as Sergei, the meerkat from the Compare the Market adverts that you may love or hate (or both). Again, it is not something that makes or breaks the experience either way, but it is at least fun and clearly a hallmark of the LittleBigPlanet that has made its way over.
There is no real single element that breaks Sackboy: A Big Adventure. There is little wrong in the game and it plays well. Sackboy runs at a brisk enough pace and feels fine to control, making for some easy to grip platforming, with a minor level of depth to the action if you can finesse some button combinations. Such as rolling into a punch for a spinning attack or extending jumps with a roll and a punch. The game performs very well, with a solid 4K 60FPS throughout the adventure, non-existent load times and some gorgeous graphics work to look at.
Ultimately, it all just feels a bit too safe and doesn’t cast a lasting impression compared to other platformers, with a challenge that rarely shows its face until the main story’s final moments. Sackboy: A Big Adventure may be overshadowed in core gamer’s eyes by the fact it isn’t Demon’s Souls or Spider-Man: Miles Morales. For Me, it is even overshadowed by the free Astro’s Playroom, which is a minimal, free experience as opposed to this comparitively expensive and not nearly as inventive package.
+ Well designed levels, with appropriately scaling challenge as you progress
+ A great deal of content for a platformer, easily ten hours’ worth for the main single player, with more to do after the credits roll
- Weird system level issues, odd crashing and disappearing vocals
- Some repetitious areas, most notably in a recurring boss fight