As in the old saw about Communism, LittleBigPlanet 2 works, in theory. Other games may have level editors. This one has world editors. Players have an incredible array of tools with which to create anything they can imagine — not just sidescrolling platformers, like the professionally made levels that come on the disc, but almost any game type. Racers, first-person shooters, retro arcade games — they're all here.
And they're terrible.
Surfing the endless waves of user-created content in this game reveals two fundamental flaws: a lack of aptitude, and a lack of imagination. The first is, perhaps, understandable. LittleBigPlanet 2 is a new game. It's going to take some time for people to master a toolset in just a couple of weeks, even one as user-friendly and robust as this one. Putting together a functional level in your first attempt is no great challenge. Putting together a good one, well — even the professionals don't always get that right.
But for a game that purports to celebrate the boundless variety of human ingenuity, it's depressing how many user levels are ripoffs. For the most part, LBP2 players are uploading inept renditions of other games. There was a Super Mario Bros. clone that looked perfect, but it played so badly that I wondered whether my controller wasn't broken. Someone had proudly shared with the world an interpretation of inFamous that featured one building to climb and 10 immobile enemies standing in a line. What is the advantage to playing this instead of the real, functional versions of those games?
And these were supposed to be the good levels, ones that had been rated high by other players! To find anything worth playing, you need to navigate to a special section curated by the game's developers, Media Molecule, called "MM Picks." Most of their selections do show flashes of wit and invention. But what does that do to the game's thesis that we are all beautiful snowflakes worth celebrating? It's an admission that we need gatekeepers.
Then again, how good could these levels be, given the game that serves as the foundation of it all? Say this for LittleBigPlanet 2's professionally crafted story mode: at least it has a coherent vision, unlike the user levels. But that's about all it's got.
Play control is physics-based — which is another way of saying that it doesn't control the way a video game ought to. Sackboy spends most of his time bumping into things, sliding off things, and getting stuck between things. A grappling hook, which should be a thrilling toy, is nigh unusable, but even basic movement is inept. If Sackboy is standing next to a ledge and you try to make him jump up and over it, he will bounce off the wall in the other direction. Shigeru Miyamoto just cried a single tear.
LittleBigPlanet 2 is up to 3.2 million user-created levels and counting. Remember every crappy garage band your buddies have been in, every cringe-inducing student film you've had to sit through, and every half-baked video-game review you've read. That's what you have to look forward to, a million times over. Even when someone pulls off something good, such as a shockingly accurate interactive retelling of the movie RoboCop, it's like listening to the dogs that bark "Jingle Bells." Sure, you're impressed that they can do it at all, but do you really want to listen to the entire song?