By Leo Stevenson
LitleBigPlanet Karting has some serious pedigree. Coming from United Front games - makers of the brilliant ModNation Racers - and Media Molecule - the folks behind LittleBigPlanet - LittleBigPlanet Karting is perfectly situated to be a great addition to the kart racing genre. It's not a flawless experience, but it is more than a Mario Kart clone and to dismiss it as such is simply incorrect.
Like many mascots before him - Mario, Sonic, Crash Bandicoot et al - Sackboy has hopped into the driver's seat of his very own go kart. The "imagisphere" is perfectly suited to the karting genre and once you play the game you'll wonder why it hasn't happened sooner. The attention to detail in bringing the identity of LittleBigPlanet to Karting is what has made the game work so well. From the opening cinematic - voiced sublimely once again by Stephen Fry - to the adventure and create modes, the essence of LittleBigPlanet is firmly intact.
As with most other kart games you have one button to accelerate, one for powerslide/boost and one for weapons. The system works well and like they say "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". Of course this wouldn't be a LittleBigPlanet game if the mechanics felt slightly off from what you expect. Like it's platforming cousins, the driving in Karting is floaty and takes some getting used to. At first I tried to corner like I would in Mario Kart and found myself veering wildly off the track and swiftly in last place. Once I had the feel of it down though, it was very natural and naturally LittleBigPlanet.
Most Kart games have to tread a fine line to get the balance right - something I don't think Mario Kart has managed for some time - to ensure the races are difficult enough to challenge the player while still remaining fun. LittleBigPlanet Karting comes close but falls down in a few areas. The A.I. of you opponents often feels quite cheap as you watch them take a perfect line around the track and speed off, or get the deadliest weapons over and over until they catch up and overtake you. It is really frustrating to be way out in front by Lap 2 and be reduced to 6th or 7th place by Lap 3 for what feels like simply being too far in front.
The weapons in LittleBigPlanet Karting are where the game has the biggest balancing issues even considering a very cool and innovative defense mechanic. Simply put, weapon drops are far too frequent and far too damaging. To combat being hit - cleverly - if you have a weapon you are able to press down on the stick and when a blue shield icon appears press the Square button and defend against the attack. This works a treat, but when you are in first or second - or for that matter even 6th - and everyone is gunning for you, you can only block so many attacks before you succumb to the barrage. I understand that weapons are an integral part of the experience, but in this case I think they need to be toned right down. As it stands, many races descend into a tirade of foul language as I am bombed again and again and put squarely in last place.
Karting wouldn't be a LittleBigPlanet game without a create mode. This is perhaps the game's single greatest strength. The create mode means potentially infinite tracks to race on. Only a few days after release I found many Mario Kart recreations as well as a whole bunch of fun and original tracks. Create mode works the same as in previous games, so veterans should have no problem, whilst the ever present tutorial videos will help out the newbies. My favorite part of creating a track was the actual track design. Instead of fitting together straights and corners etc you are given control of a giant roller and just paint out the shape of your track. You're able to raise and lower the terrain and even use auto-pilot to finish if you're struggling. I am not usually the biggest fan of creating my own content but in Karting I spent a few hours making tacks, tinkering with them to make them perfect and then racing on them to get my best times.
With over 100 tracks shipping with the game and the possibility for endless user generated content LittleBigPlanet Karting is certainly value for money. Add to that the usual charm, community and multiplayer features and racing mechanics that - after coming to grips with - are a blast I'd recommend LittleBigPlanet Karting to those looking for a kart racing fix or fans of the genre in general.