Sackboy: A Big Adventure Review – A Platforming Delight
Now that Media Molecule has now gone all-out with making games that can make games, what’s going on with LittleBig Planet? It had two sequels and a kart racer spin-off, and Sackboy is a great mascot for a platforming game. A proper one, one without the focus on content creation.
And that’s why we have Sackboy: A Big Adventure. The little bundle of joy finally has a 3D platforming game he deserves. And being a PS5 launch game that’s also on PS4 (which is the review is based on), I expected this to be just another game to fit the launch quota. A decent one if we’re lucky.
I am dead wrong. Sumo Digital (specifically Sumo Sheffield) has crafted a platforming delight. This is one amazing game.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure has a lot of charm, as you’d expect. The world is all based on cardboard, fabrics and other real-life junk brought to life by a whimsical cast of characters. You would have seen this vibe in many other Nintendo platformers recently, but it’s good to see one on a PlayStation as well.
Even on PS4 Sackboy runs at 60fps, and is graphically competent. You can spot some slow-loading textures, the graphics might get blurry at times and there’s horrendous clothing clipping. And cutscenes sometimes don’t hit 60fps. But other than that, it is still a gorgeous looking game, even on a PS4.
But the star of the show, unexpectedly, is the music. The music is absolutely phenomenal.
You know the cliche upbeat songs you hear in trailers? Somehow, Sackboy makes those kinds of songs work in context with of the game. Each level has a unique song, each of them dynamically ramps up or down as you progress. Already on the first level, the soundtrack gave me goosebumps, it has this world music vibe to it.
And then I discovered levels that use licensed music. Some as clever remixes, others are straight-up that song you’ve heard on the radio. My word, it was an experience.
The LittleBig Planet series have always had licensed music before, but something about the choice of music (a lot of them are very mainstream) and how it’s tied to the levels in Sackboy makes it a world of a difference.
The use of songs in some levels are also paired with visual splendour. In the musical levels, various environment pieces pop in rhythm with the beat. While other levels effectively use music to sell you on a big moment. Expect to hear some samba and smooth jazz too, among other musical genres in the soundtrack. You’ll definitely find at least one level that you will just vibe to until the end. The audio team is killing it.
Sackboy is an audio-visual tour-de-force.
Sackboy or Sackgirl is still a mute protagonist, outside of the usual grunts, whims and death screams. But throughout your adventure, there are characters you meet. They are all splendidly British, so expect many dry humour. And puns.
Side Note: Amazingly, all the level names are cheeky puns, alluding to the level gimmick or theme.
LittleBigPlanet was not known for tight platforming, in fact the controls are rather loose. So I’m glad to report that Sackboy: A Big Adventure is not like that, it’s actually a competent platformer.
Controls feel tight as you wanted in a platformer. And what better way to avoid camera issues than by having a fixed camera. You are glued to the top perspective, which can zoom in and out depending on what the level wants you to do. Issues of depth perspective can happen. I had my fair number of frustrations where I can’t tell a thing I need to grab is above ground or just on the ground. And grabbing with the R2 can be a bit hit-or-miss when precision is required.
But overall, it works better than I’d expected.
Sackboy has a simple moveset, but a deep one. He can run, jump, flutter a bit in the air instead of a double jump, roll, slap, grab and throw stuff. Seems simple enough. But then the depth kicks in. You can also roll in mid-air to further reach a platform. You can slap or jump on enemies, but some enemies are easier with one method than the other. Sackboy may feel slow, but you can also infinitely roll and move faster that way.
There’s a dedicated trials mode that tests your platforming skill, as well as time trial levels. And it’s bloody difficult. That’s how good the platforming is.
On that note, don’t expect a Lego game stroll in the park in Sackboy. Simple enemies can become harder to deal with to the point it’s better to just run and avoid. The platforming bits can be tricky, especially when you are working with time constraints like in auto-scroll levels. And you also have a life system to work with- only 4 max per level, but if you lose lives, you can gain more.
(There is an option to have infinite lives in the options menu without any penalties.)
Sackboy is designed to be played co-op with up to four players, and the levels regularly have two parallel paths to go through. It’s absolutely possible to play the game solo, though you will need a buddy or three for the co-op only levels. There’s only couch co-op for now, but later this year an update to add online multiplayer (including PS4-PS5 cross-play) will be made available.
Oddly, Sackboy suffers some occasional bugs, but not minor ones. One time, the game screen just goes black after I discover a secret area. In another, after dying on the last jump to the finish area and respawned, the finish area didn’t appear as it should on cue. Both of these really are sore spots on an otherwise polished video game.
Levels in Sackboy is short and sweet, only 10 minutes long on average. But they are memorable enough as each of them have specific gimmicks or theme.
There are ten mandatory levels you have to play through for each of the five worlds to complete the game. And each level has your usual set of platforming collectables. Orbs unlock main story progress and can be tucked away in unexpected parts of a level. “Collectabells” are used for buying new cosmetics (which you can mix-and-match to make the perfect costume or an absolute fashion disaster). And lastly, bubbles are your score- you’ll need enough to hit the gold prize that unlocks a cosmetic item. Dying will significantly lose you bubbles.
The previously mentioned trials will test your platforming skills to the limit, and it’s a great challenge and practice should you want to 100% each level.
There are also special and secret levels off the beaten path, and optional levels in some worlds. And also co-op-only levels.
Depending on how thorough you are and how good you are with platformers, Sackboy: A Big Adventure can either be a quick breeze or a completionist challenge.
Like any good platformer of its kind will do, there’s still more stuff to do after the credits roll, and an incentive to go back and collect the missing orbs.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure is just a bundle of fun. Even the main menu screen it’s already showing off its playfulness, by taking a page from LittleBigPlanet. You can just have your Sackboys and Sackgirls mess about on-screen doing goofy poses, move close to the 4th wall or just jump around to see the title logo bounce around.
Every little bit of interaction you can do in Sackboy made me feel giddy. There’s the visual-audio oomph the game has going that makes the most simple of actions satisfying and fun. On the PS4, I probably am missing the haptic oomph that may be included in the game, but even without that, the game still feels good.
And then you have the awesome set-piece levels that just amazes me at how far a level can go with its gimmick. It’s jaw-droppingly glorious to see.
And the most important of it all: it may be wholesome and fun for the whole family, it’s not a game made just to cater to kids. Sackboy demands skill. It doesn’t mess around with its difficulty. Kids playing Sackboy to death will emerge as competent gamers of the future.
This is exactly what I want to see: not every cool, well-received game need to have guns or realistic dudebros. And I’m happy Sackboy isn’t playing around- it’s a competent video game that happens to be family-friendly.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a platforming delight. The mascot now has a flagship platformer to their name and it’s a great one, even on PS4.
Don’t sleep on this one, Sackboy brings a phenomenal, unforgettable experience with every bite-size level. Bring a friend or three, this is one amazingly good platformer.
Review based on PS4 played on base PS4. Review copy provided by PlayStation Asia