Weekly Little Big Planet: the perfect time to panic

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My mission, should I choose to accept it, was to escort a gold-filled train through treacherous territory. Along the way I would have to knock out gigantic sticks of dynamite obstructing the track, take down a few tanks, sink a destroyer coming down the river, and blow up a few UFOs. All with my sackboy in a little toy helicopter.

One other thing. The characters driving the train are Buzz Lightyear and Woody.

This week I got to try out the Toy Story DLC for Little Big Planet 2. A friend of mine suggested I should give it a shot. For some reason he thinks I like the game. “But it’s probably just a bunch of goofy costumes and stickers,” he said. “So don’t get your hopes up.” I didn’t. I don’t really care for costumes (sorry Ken). It’s not that I’m not a collector, I’ve just come to be fond of the way I’ve kitted out my sackboy, so turning him into Slinky Dog doesn’t interest me. I gave the DLC a spin anyway.

It helped me win the Cold War.

After the jump, it’s a helicopter level! I know this!

Yes, you read that right. Last night I brought the Cold War to an end. Right here in my little office. With the help of a bunch of little Toy Story costume-wearing sackfolk. It was pretty sweet.

I didn’t check out the community levels of LBP2 all week, to be honest. This happens sometimes. I love the community and the way Media Molecule encourages and nurtures player level design makes me excited to fire up the game every week. Just to see what’s new. I might end up only playing for a few minutes, but it’s cool to go in there and see what’s cooking. Get surprised. It’s a small investment of time that gives me something every week. Or most weeks. There are times when the LBP community section gets a little stale, when it seems like every new level is a concept demo, or costume pack, or crappy cinematic, and all the “Cool Levels” or “Mm Picks” are things I played months ago. When I get in a cycle of that type of thing, and my focus is on another game, I spend little or no time exploring the community section. Which is what happened this week.

This week all I wanted to play was Toy Soldiers: Cold War. As I mentioned in last week’s column, I fell for this little XBOX Live Arcade game hard because of the tutorial level. Since then it’s all I’ve wanted to play. I know people who say they can only play one game at a time. I have other friends who are always playing a variety of games, and playing them hard. I tend to dabble. Play a little FX2 pinball. Play a little LBP2. Drum on Rock Band for a bit. Try a skirmish or two in Age of Mythology. My gaming week fluctuates. It didn’t this week. This week was all Cold War, all the time. I freaking love that game. I’m not, or rather haven’t been, a tower defense guy. I haven’t played a lot of them, to be sure, but I got so thoroughly smacked when trying to play Swords and Soldiers a few times at Shoot Club that I just figured tower defense wasn’t for me. Toy Soldiers: Cold War has taught me different. Now I will, at last, buy Plants vs. Zombies for my six-year old boy. He saw a friend playing it at a playdate a few weeks ago and started asking for us to get it on his mom’s iPad. All I could think was, It’s tower defense, buddy. You don’t know what you’re in for.

Turns out I was the one who didn’t know. Now I have an idea.

I can’t say that the one experience will be indicative of how the other experience will play out, for me or my son. I’ve seen a friend playing Plants vs. Zombies. I thought it looked cute. I played an LBP community level of it. It was fine. But Toy Soldiers: Cold War has helped me jack in to this escalation thing that tower defense does. Most games do that within their levels, of course. That’s natural. But this particular tower defense has such a great combination of escalation and ebb-and-flow that I find myself addicted. I just got addicted to playing it. I didn’t even really feel like watching movies this week, which is weird for me. All I wanted to do was mess around with this game. I loved every bit of it.

Until I got to the capitol.

Capitol Crisis. Stupid level. I just couldn’t beat it. It didn’t help that I all but stumbled into it, battered after beating the level before it, Monumental Defense. I have no idea how I won that battle. At some point the game informed me I was victorious when I thought for sure my toy box had been destroyed, and I got the sneaking suspicion that the game took pity on me and just let me through. As my scores and awards displayed I just sat there looking at the screen, thoroughly dazed, as though Montjoy had just galloped up to tell me the day was mine. I was tempted, for once, to turn my eyes to heaven and give thanks. Then I got dumped into Capitol Crisis.

Fail. Fail. Fail. I couldn’t keep tanks and cars out of my toy box. I couldn’t keep my anti-tank turrets running. I couldn’t properly deploy anti-air. I couldn’t make heads or tails of artillery. I couldn’t fly the fighter jet, which I didn’t even find until my fourth attempt–my fourth attempt–at all. I mean not at all. That was the most galling. I mean, great googaly moogaly, I use an inverted mouse! That’s one of my things. In shooters I use an inverted mouse! When I get my ass in a plane I should not be driving myself into the ground every time, goddamn it. Sheesh.

The only thing I could do was fly the helicopters. Aside from the minor issue of knocking down the Washington Monument every time I came in to the landing pad, I was good at that. I could do some damage with those helicopters. Wipe out entire waves of Soviet soldiers. Take down a murder of Russian MiGs. But I was hopeless with the level. Time to panic. Time to give up.

Enter the Toy Story Level Kit. Time to take a break.

My sackboy looks terrible up there, doesn’t he? All blurry. The resolution in that shot is horrible, isn’t it? Well, the thing is, he’s inside an Etch A Sketch. You use it to get him those collectibles at the top there. He draws a line on the Etch A Sketch, then he jumps into the Etch A Sketch and climbs that line. It’s one small moment in the nine new levels included in the DLC and it’s a little moment of genius that encapsulates what makes this DLC so great. The levels take no time at all to play, let’s be clear about that. They aren’t as challenging as similar community levels. I suspect the real value will be for those who actually design community levels, since there are tools in the level kit for that, as well as music tracks and costumes. I’m not interested in any of that. I just loved being in this Toy Story world for a little bit and finding these clever new challenges. Things that reminded me of the movies. Something that made me think of Lost Planet 2, weirdly enough. And something that helped me understand why I was failing Capitol Crisis over and over and over again.

I wasn’t paying enough attention to my anti-air and artillery.

I’d gotten pretty good at the helicopters in Toy Soldiers. Though the result was failure on the Capitol Crisis level, the fault did not lie with the helicoptering. Furthermore, a few hours cockpit time in the attack helicopter and the gunship made flying the cute little copter in one of the Toy Story levels (pictured, top) a breeze. As I buzzed around that level, easily dispatching tanks and boats and UFOs, I realized something. I had been ignoring other air defense in Cold War in favor of what I did best, flying the helicopters.

After resolving the Toy Story levels, I jumped back into Toy Soldiers. I still used the helicopters, but more judiciously. From the beginning of the level I started pumping up my anti-air and setting up artillery. I used my attack helicopter to wipe out early waves of soldiers, and set up anti-tank in all of the other spots. My helicopters and ground vehicles would have to do for machine gun defenses. Then I turned my attention to that fucking fighter jet.

It was not pretty at first, but when the final boss showed up, rolling around like he owned the place, I was glad I had that in my arsenal.

For there to be a day after, you must think in Russian. You must become war.

The game tells you that when you start the Capitol Crisis level. Thank you, Toy Story, for helping me grasp it.

Now bring on the co-op.

Click here for the previous Weekly Little Big Planet