karting

When Mario
Kart 7 released last
year to a
largely lukewarm response,
one fact became clear: the kart-racing genre was in dire need of a new
hero. The throne has been vacant, just waiting for a title with the
fortitude to claim its place as the rightful heir. So it is that United
Front Games and Media Molecule deliver LittleBigPlanet
Karting, a
would-be king with the idea of creation on the mind. Sadly, this bumpy
reign lacks the technical adeptness and design ingenuity to be anything
more than an average entry in a still-leaderless genre.

In a racing game with a
well-designed single-player component,
players should find themselves
just barely squeaking out a victory in a majority of the challenges. A
win without friction awards no sense of accomplishment. Likewise,
if I do end up losing a race, you want to feel like it was your fault, not
because of some deus ex machina that just happened to award first place
based on a digital whim. The most chronic offender in these arbitrary
tide-shifts is always the game’s arsenal of weapons, which is
predictably where a wealth of Karting’s frustrations stem from. The
weapons available to you are in LPB are as unbalanced and arbitrary as the
genre has ever seen. Mario Kart’s infamous Lightning Bolts and Blue
Shells have nothing on the WMDs that will undoubtedly make you want to
rip a Sackboy apart in frustration. Boxing Gloves appear that take control away from the player and oftentimes lead you right off a cliff. Rockets will oftentimes fail to lock on to a target, or even worse, turn around and hit the player instead. But the worst of all is the
Fast Forward power up, which ostensibly just warps you ahead about half
a lap. But the feature that really compounds this problem is the
frequency at which you can suffer at the hands of these obstacles. On
countless occasions, I found myself in spawn loops where I’d get hit by
an item, then before I could regain control of my kart, I’d be
bombarded by another.

Some of these balancing
problems could’ve been alleviated had Karting delivered a suite of
levels and challenges that inspired confidence in the game’s future
content. Sadly, this installment in the LBP series is entirely missing
the magic found in previous entries. The lack of creativity in the
levels included on the disc is disappointing when you consider how
great Double Eleven’s content in LBP
Vita was. The handheld
platformer contained some really interesting internal ideas that made
use of the Vita’s inherent strengths, whereas Karting comes packed
with a generic set of tracks and obstacles. Karting’s
races are largely banal affairs, with the occasional arena battle
thrown in as an attempt to mix things up. But regardless of how a
challenge is presented, they all come across as flat, uninspired
tasks. As is always the case with the series, the hope here is that
the community picks up the slack by using the game’s creation tools to
craft a fountain of interesting content. This makes sense in the
context of previous LBP titles, but how will audiences make the move
from 2D platformer to 3D racer?

It took me three installments,
but by the time the Vita version of LBP rolled around, I felt versed
enough in the grammar of the level editor to make my own stages.
Granted, those stages were by and large pretty awful, but I could
definitely see some players with a lot more talent and a lot more time
make some really amazing content. Hell, 1UP’s own Dub
Z was able to
crank out Emotionally
Unstable, a really great project
that feels more complete and fleshed
out than half of the Minis on PSN. But after watching hours of
tutorials on the nuances of building the next great race track, I felt
like a caveman staring at a wall of HTML. Seriously, learning how to
create a track in Karting feels like I’m back in college, minus the
massive debt and post-graduation unemployment. And without the
intuitive touch-screen functionality of the Vita, you’re left pecking
around the screen with your analog stick in a dire attempt to create
some semblance of meaning from the track editor.

karting

If by some miracle you manage
to gain comprehension of the editor, I applaud you. For those
well versed and somehow still entertained, plenty of time can be wasted
in LBPK. Completionists will find enough content littered throughout
the Karting world to occupy their obsession for quite a bit of time.
Tracks are littered with the series’ iconic bubbles containing various
elements for you adorn your character and kart with, but oddly enough,
all of these changes are aesthetic. No matter if you’re driving a
hovercraft or a monster truck, they all handle the same and have the
exact same stats. Developers claimed this was in the interest of
maintaining a fair and balanced game, which seems a bit silly
considering how wildly inconsistent the game’s AI and weapon structure
is.

Someday down the road, a game
will come along that reminds
us why we fell in love with these digital
soapbox derbies in the first place. Whether its from Nintendo in the inevitable Mario
Kart U, Sega in the upcoming Sonic
All-Stars, or a new challenger,
it’s
bound to happen. LittleBigPlanet Karting had the potential to deliver a
solid single-player challenge with a deep and intuitive system of
creative tools, but all of that was squandered by inconsistent design
and a wildly steep learning curve. I would love nothing more than to be
proven wrong by players who are able to make sense of Karting’s
hieroglyphics and craft a wealth of racing experiences that I could
only dream of. But until that dream becomes a reality, gamers will have
to come to terms with the fact that the kart-racing throne is still
looking for its rightful heir.

By Marty Sliva