A Big Adventure For A New Console Generation
Back in 2008, Playstation unwittingly paved way for a new mascot to join the Bandicoot-sized shoes left behind in Crash’s wake. Media Molecule done a fantastic job bringing Little Big Planet into the fold, boasting intuitive creative tools, a unique aesthetic and some challenging platforming to boot. While Little Big Planet 2 expanded that idea with more levels and customization, Little Big Planet 3 felt like a step back for many fans.
With Media Molecule moving over to work on Dreams, Sumo Digital picked up the sack-shaped rights and produced a much broader title, one that introduced a slew of new characters but didn’t do much else to expand what we’ve seen before.
As a new console generation lays before us, Sumo Digital return for a much more streamlined experience, cutting out the create modes of old and producing a good ol’ fashioned platformer – Sackboy-style. Level design has always been one of the strengths for this series and Sackboy: A Big Adventure is no exception. This is an excellent platformer that takes everything we’ve seen before and streamlines it into a cohesive, challenging and enjoyable title.
The story is pretty simple and revolves around a megalomaniac stitched puppet known as Vex. Determined to take over Craftverse with his super-powered weapon known as the Tospy Turver, it’s up to Sackboy to collect the Dreamer Orbs and stop Vex before it’s too late.
This simple narrative ultimately acts as a foundation for the platforming levels to take shape. Throughout your 6-8 hour adventure, the main slew of story levels are presented on a simple map that feels like it’s been ripped right from Mario. At the edge of each world are level gates which prevent you from reaching far-away worlds until you collect a certain amount of Dreamer Orbs (more on that later).
Visually, the game nestles amongst all the same quips and ideas we’ve seen before from this franchise. There’s a distinct arts and crafts aesthetic which includes cardboard animals and monsters flailing in the background, lots of stitching and other little artsy details to feed into the feel of this being set in Craftsworld.
Strangely, the game does feel somewhat muted at times, most notably during the levels that take place inside. Within most of these dark and dingy areas, the same sort of colours tend to crop up and rely heavily on neon-lit walkways.
Given the abundance of material in Craftsworld, at times it feels like only a few different variants have been used to build everything together which is a bit of a shame.
Thankfully the main story levels are fun enough to look past this and that’s before mentioning the slew of side content too. Multiplayer levels are the real gem here though and rely heavily on teamwork. There’s a great aspect of comradeship and with the ability to have up to 4 players joining the fray at once, there’s some lovely puzzles that force everyone to team up together despite some mid-game shenanigans that inevitably break out.
You’ve also got your standard races called Remix levels, complete with a race against the clock and handy time deductions to try and secure the illusive gold on each of these across the worlds. These ideas extend out to the Knitted Knight Trials, which work similarly to the arcade levels on Moving Out, stripping out all aesthetic detail and relying heavily on speed and precision to beat the clock.
Fans of the franchise will be right at home with the controls but for those unaware, Sackboy eases you into all the different mechanics pretty quickly. You’ve got your X for jump, R2 for grabbing, square for punching and a few combinations for special moves, including a headbutt into the ground (X then Triangle) and a spin attack (O and then Square).
It’s a pretty simple set-up but one that’s cleverly expanded on through the game as several different power-ups become available.
These come in three different flavours, with a jetpack allowing you to hover for an extended period of time, a boomerang to take out foes and tough-shelled obstacles and a grapple gun to reach far-away places. These power-ups are level-centric and are nicely spaced out throughout the adventure.
Adding further variety to proceedings are a variety of mini-bosses, chase sequences and specific obstacles that are contained in one specific world. These range from schools of fish and see-saw tipping crabs through to fiery vents and portals.
The most notable of level type though comes from the music-themed segments. In fact, the soundtrack itself is easily one of the strongest this year in gaming with a number of pop artists lending their music to the adventure.
From Britney Spear’s Toxic to Jungle Boogie and Uptown Funk, each of these work in tandem with the obstacles in a level. Everything pulsates and moves to the beat, with collectables, monsters and even flames jumping and dancing to the music. These are a lovely treat and break up the action nicely through some of the more tense platforming – especially late on.
In fact when it comes to platforming, Sackboy really shines with its performance. There’s some very imaginative and challenging levels that feature everything from portals and runaway trains to the deliciously deceptive un-fairground to close out the game.
Where Sackboy slips up a little though is in its boss sequences, which feel quite monotonous and rely heavily on the same ideas rehashed again and again. Vex, for example, has three different boss sequences that use the same mechanics; jumping over neon spikes and waiting for him to throw a bomb before flinging it back. Rinse and repeat.
While there are a couple of deviations to these mechanics the other times you face him – including a deceptive little jump that throws you off-balance – for the most part these feel uninspired. No doubt, they’ll have you itching to get back to the fray.
Those seeking to collect everything will undoubtedly be in their element here. There’s a lot of collectables to be grabbed throughout the levels; some well-placed secrets that require both patience and tenacity to pull off.
The levels also include your usual “Aced” stamp seen in LBP games of old (complete a level without dying), a bronze, silver or gold trophy for reaching a certain score and an added marker to show whether you’ve collected all the prize bubbles in that level.
Of course, without a create mode these prizes no longer revolve around items to use in your creations. Instead, the collectibles are strictly aesthetic and are simply used to bolster out your wardrobe with a host of different costumes.
To be honest, it does become secondary and unlike games of old, grabbing these collectibles doesn’t quite fill you with the same wonder and excitement it once did – despite the iconic pop sound effect that makes its return.
Paying for any of these wardrobe accessories comes in the form of collectabells, a special gold orb that you grab through levels alongside the usual white orbs, albeit rarer than the latter. There’s some little mini-games hosted by Zom Zom (your resident vendor that crops up through the different world map ) and completing those will bag you anywhere between 80 and 200 collectabells depending on how adept you are.
Toward the end of the game things do become a little grindy too, with the level gates eventually requiring upwards of 200 Dreamer Orbs to unlock the post-end-boss content. To get to Vex during the final world though, you’ll be looking at 160 orbs to unlock.
With each level giving anywhere between 3 and 5, depending on the length and difficulty (and those orbs certainly not easy to grab), there may be some grinding involved for those who have raced through to see the end.
Thankfully the aforementioned side content and multiplayer missions play a big role in bolstering out these numbers so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to reach this target. Given the amount of content here, those looking to hit 100% will probably be expected to double the usual 6-8 hour run-time to grab everything.
As an introduction to a new console generation, Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a big, bold, colourful platformer that makes up for any visual shortcomings with some excellent level design and a killer soundtrack.
Although Ori and the Will Of The Wisps and Crash 4 will likely remain the strongest platformers of 2020, Sackboy is a worthy contender right up there alongside them and an excellent way to celebrate a new console release.
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Verdict - 8/10