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Published January 4, 2010

The PS3’s LittleBigPlanet was a game about unbridled creativity. Anything was possible, so long as you had the patience to glue it all together. LBP‘s younger brother for the PSP shares its title but is too often about compromise. While the charm, intricate level design and adorable Sackboys have survived the transition, much of what made the original special has been sent to the scrapheap.

LBP is a classic case of “can we/should we.” From a technical standpoint, the game is a marvel. Just in case you’re not up to speed on the PS3 predecessor – something you need to rectify immediately – LBP is a sidescrolling platformer that allows users to create their own levels from scratch and upload them online. Everything is customizable, from motion-sensing switches to lighting effects to enemy movement patterns. The PSP edition retains this exhaustive level editor and bustling online community. You can download user-made levels on the go, and for that alone, the guys at Studio Cambridge should be patted on the back. I just wish these new worlds had some texture.

More than a year after its release, LBP for the PS3 still pops off the screen. Everything looks and “feels” like its real-life equivalent. Sponges, wood, fruits and other inanimate objects all have the right textures, making it seem as if they were cobbled together to form the ultimate block fort. In other words, the presentation is integral to the experience. I understand that this would be asking too much of the PSP LBP, but the bland presentation is still a letdown. Where once there was the grain of wood and the slick sheen of glass there is now just flat, dull colors. Decals and knickknacks help, but the vibrancy of the source material is lost.

It also hurts that you can’t rope in some buddies to “help” you complete the game. Multiplayer has been cut from the game completely, and while you can still share scores online, the world feels a little sparse without a few companions around to obnoxiously pull you into spiky pits.

Luckily, while Studio Cambridge’s levels lack visual punch and team spirit, they’re nearly as inventive as the original PS3 batch. They’re inspired by world cultures ranging from the Australian Outback to a Hollywood set, and there are enough clever gimmicks packed into each to keep things interesting. Some levels feature a few too many fetch quests – dragging oil barrels in a desert oasis comes to mind – but you’re guaranteed to find a few favorites.

Along the way, you may stumble a bit more often than what you’re used to, as the LBP games feature multiple planes and floaty physics. Those problems are compounded with the smaller screen size. You’ll find yourself getting your Sackfeet stuck in the environment because its harder to discern what’s in the foreground and background. Thank goodness that the third plane was dropped.

Of course, the pack-in levels are well-designed and intricate, but what will ultimately determine whether or not this handheld DIY platformer retains its spot on my memory card is the online community. Amateur level designers have been entertaining me on the PS3 since last fall, but here…the jury’s still out. All the tools are there, and I’ve already found winners, but few stand up well to the Cambridge creations. I’m also hoping that we see some of the console DLC that could add even more tools to the box – the paintball gun, water and dozens of new surfaces.

I’m a big fan of the franchise but torn on this particular entry. It’s still cute, it’s still ingenious and it’s still fun, but the magic isn’t quite there. The game is absolutely worth it if you don’t own a PS3 or just can’t get enough of the original (like me), but for everyone else, I suggest saving your money for the Pirates of the Caribbean pack and other add-ons for the big boy version.

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