With a “new” Mario Kart instalment speeding through Nintentown every single home and handheld console cycle, one must wonder if there is any other arcade racing game on the market, preferably one that can compete with the polish that the MK series has mastered over several rehashes. Well, LittleBigPlanet Karting is a step on the accelerator in the right direction.
Unlike Mario Kart, you don’t play through the single player by playing through the grand prix three or four times on progressing difficulty. There’s a story this time. Basically an evil entity called The Hoard has been taking all the creativity from the LBP universe, which is the most awful thing as LBP’s staple is creativity. The story is told through cutscenes before various levels in the game, but most of it didn’t make sense to me so I eventually started skipping them.
I liked the variety in the story mode. Like Diddy Kong Racing (a game I fondly remember from my childhood), the racing levels are broken up by battle arenas and other challenges. Unlike Diddy Kong Racing however, there’s no hub world, which was nice in that game but isn’t something I’d call essential. LittleBigPlanet universe works well for a karting game. As you’d expect, there are weapons and items based on the games, as well as a superb line-up of aesthetic customisation for your Sack character and kart. The levels often have prizes in the form of extra customisation that the player can pick up on the track during the races/challenges, as well as earning them by winning the races. The track design is up to LBP’s usual high standards and I had heaps of fun playing them. They are thematically varied and are stuffed with obstacles, gadgets and alternative routes. Most, if not all of the story can be played with up to four players, and there are a handful of levels that require multiple players (but these seem to be based on single player levels).
As for the actual racing itself, it succeeds! The controls feel less heavy than Mario Kart, which isn’t a compliment or a criticism, it’s just different. This makes the karts a bit easier to control, especially in the air. The game does feel slower than Mario Kart, which may annoy some, but it wasn’t a big deal for me. This speed allows players to manoeuvre flips in midair to get boosts when you land and there’s also the fun grappling hook from the main games that allow you to swing across pits and reach distant paths and prizes.
The drifting is a mix between Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing. Like the more recent Mario Kart’s, you get a boost for holding the drift button around corners for a set period of time, and like CTR, you can get multiple boosts (up to four in LBPK).
There’s a good selection of weapons, and I liked that it’s quite simple to use them defensively too. However, sometimes it seemed like they glitch a bit, like that boxing glove that you ride had more than once led to me falling into a pit.
True to the LBP spirit is a level editor. I’m never any good at these things, but designing a simple track is easy enough. The designs by the community indicate that it’s very possible to make a very detailed and colourful track to compete with the game designers. Many of the most popular levels are based on Mario Kart tracks, but my favourite one would have to be the design based on Green Hill Zone from the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. The music in these levels can be chosen and even the look of the weapons can be customised, so I actually ran into ‘? Blocks’ on these Mario Kart clone stages.
The online mode works most of the time, but I’ve had some odd problems with it. When you do get a game going, the online multiplayer racing is incredibly fun and I hadn’t had any problems mid-race. The voting system for levels to play is flawed; you can’t just pick any level, you have to pick from a selection. This random card game kept coming up this one time and that’s when I stopped playing because it was really annoying.
The racing mechanics feel polished, but not up to the same standard of Mario Kart, but in fairness Mario Kart has had seven games to do so. A LBPK sequel on the PS4 (there’s nothing announced, I’m just hoping) has the potential to fix all the issues that I’ve talked about. I had plenty of fun with LittleBigPlanet Karting, and I think almost anyone can. It’s full of charm and creativity, even if much of the actual gameplay has been seen before.
P.S. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Mario Kart series, but none of the recent games have been a worthy step up for the series since Mario Kart DS. I don’t think this will change with Mario Kart 8; it will most likely be Mario Kart Wii with high definition visuals and an anti-gravity feature with little else.