Weekly Little Big Planet: ’bout the mansion and the thief in the night

, | Features

This week’s featured community level made me skeptical at first, thinking I was in for a cheap version of the first stealth game I ever played. But The Thief is not that. It is its own unique experience, and it quickly hooked me. It’s got two elements–in addition to the nifty music that plays throughout–to recommend it. The jumping dynamic is great. Actually, it’s more of a leaping dynamic, for in this level when you press L1 your sackboy executes great leaps from cliff to cliff as he makes his escape from the netherworld. I really grooved on that. The other feature is ladder climbing, which in itself is no big deal but I don’t recall running across it before, and the sound your little sackdude makes as he climbs is reminiscent of the clomp of horse hooves. Put like that it sounds annoying, but for some reason I found it oddly enjoyable.

The best thing about The Thief is that while it is a complete playable level, it is also a work in progress. The level linked above is the first chapter, and the designer (ALADCV) notes that Chapter 2 is 5% done.

Actually, this was a very good week for LBP community levels. Every couple of months Weekly LBP has a week like this, and given that and the fact that there’s been a minor clamoring for more LBP in this column, let’s stick with it.

After the jump, hint hint

As much as I liked what The Thief was going for, it’s not a particularly challenging level. Poetic, yes, but not challenging. When it comes to being challenging and creative, the award this week has to go to Quadratech Mansion. Damn I loved this level. I loved it so much I was able to get past the awful repetitive music that plays throughout, and that is no small thing.

Quadratech Mansion is a long level, because it is really four levels in one. That screenshot above shows four staircases, and each staircase essentially leads to a different level, but all are contained within the same game experience. There are no level links to transport you, like many designers do with sequels. Each staircase leads to a specific element challenge. The first staircase I chose was the “telekinesis” element. My sackboy’s special power was the ability to move platforms with his mind, something I’ve run into once before and was delighted to see again.

As you complete the challenge at the end of a particular staircase, your sackboy pulls a lever, a purple pie piece lights up indicating completion of that area, and then he is dumped back onto the landing that is the nexus of the stairways. I won’t reveal what the other elements are in Quadratech Mansion, because discovering them is part of what I liked so much about the level. That and the fact that this level designer, LFIERS, knows what he’s doing when it comes to giving hints.

Giving good hints, in games and in life, is an art. I’ve been learning this as a parent. Last night my son was doing his homework, a word search I created online to help him practice his second grade spelling and vocabulary words. As I worked with him through this, I had to find ways to guide him without doing the work for him, both because it’s his homework to do, and because solving the puzzle on his own is going to be more satisfying. What I ended up doing was helping him develop a strategy for searching the puzzle, and guiding him back to that strategy when he would lose his patience and start getting random in looking for words and letters.

Level designers like LFIERS understand how to help without solving the puzzle for me, and I appreciate this greatly. Others…

…like the designer of a level I played last week called Into the Wild(Plateformer), don’t quite get it.

While no other levels this week match the quality of Quadratech Mansion and The Thief, a couple are still worth recommending.

In Garden Trouble, your sackdude is tasked with ridding a weird little dude named Biff’s wife’s garden of the monsters that have infected it. This seems straightforward enough, except that I felt a little uncomfortable with Biff’s insistence that I finish this task before his wife returned home, so that she would never know about it. After a couple of puzzles it becomes necessary to rescue two little guys from cages. My sackboy and I hadn’t been warned about that, but no problem. We’re up to the task. Once we release the creatures we are informed that these are Biff’s children. Huh? You didn’t think that would be a pertinent detail to mention at the outset, Biff? That your kids were prisoners in your wife’s garden? What if I’d mistaken them for monsters and had shot them with my Gardenator hat? What then, Biff?

Speaking of prisoners, I happened upon a little level called Trapped in the Hourglass that reminded me of last week’s experimental contest level.

There’s not much to this level, and I didn’t quite get it to be honest, and it made me dizzy, but I liked the idea very much and can only hope the designer will figure out how to build a legitimate level around it.

I’ll recommend one more level here, though I’ll have to recommend it with reservations. Jurassic Park 3D: Part 1 was just okay. The gameplay is exceedingly meh. But I liked the images in it. For some reason seeing those logos and the recreation of a couple of the set pieces pleased me. In the end it’s what I feared The Thief would be, a flimsy homage, but it’s quick and worth a look.

Finally, the Fuck Off of the Week. That goes to the level 36 Jumps Can You Survive? I actually bear no ill will to the designer of this level, I just get incredibly annoyed with levels that use life limits, and this annoyance spikes into the red when that life limit is one (1). When that, in turn, is accompanied by the word “FAIL” in bright red letters, I pretty much want to strangle somebody. Look, I get it. You wanted to create an obstacle course challenge that was do-or-die. Fine. Except that your obstacle course is not an obstacle course, nor is it challenging in any meaningful sense. It’s just about learning how much or how little to jump. The repeated failure here is a function of figuring out the rhythm of this, and not a function of solving an intricate puzzle, which makes beating this level a chore. Hence this week’s award.

Good thing I have the next chapter of The Thief to look forward to in the future. Here’s hoping that future is near.

Click here for the previous Weekly Little Big Planet