Rating: ★★★★★

As a proponent of the medium, I find almost nothing better than listening to criticisms of gaming from those who rally against the activity. Misguided and uninformed opinions are often the loudest and most pervasive made via mainstream media, labeling videogames as gratuitous vehicles for violence and wasted time. Yet, it’s these very kind of slanderous attacks which don’t care to recognize and overlook games like LittleBigPlanet 2.

Well beyond a passive bit of entertainment, Media Molecule’s thriving franchise builds on a formula that didn’t really need much change with small tweaks and a few additions. It’s still not a perfect product, but thanks to its all-ages accessibility, quirky aesthetic and “PLAY, CREATE, SHARE” model, LittleBigPlanet 2 shows off how imaginative and interactive gaming can be, and why it should be an ambassador to show the mainstream public what it means to be a hardcore gamer.

More iteration than innovation, LBP2 is an evolution of a sequel when compared to the series’ premiere. Though most of the novel charm has worn off simply because the first game introduced so much new content and platforming ingenuity, LBP2 doesn’t fail to impress. Between a more story-driven direction and finely voice-acted cutscenes, the game comes together as a whole experience instead of a piecemeal collection of levels and mini-challenges.

This time around, Sackboy (sometimes referred to as a more gender neutral Sack-thing or Sack-person) finds a purpose in Craftworld by helping an alliance of Creative Curators (dubbed “The Alliance”) fend off an all-consuming evil force, The Negativitron. Hopping from one patchwork level to the next takes you across themed worlds culminating in a battle against the Negativitron itself. You’re still running from one side of the screen to the other to collect score bubbles, stickers and objects, but there’s more of a reason in doing so that fits in perfectly with the bright, varied and colorful decor.

While platforming is the mainstay, the new game engine allows for a change in perspective, making room for top-down and side-scrolling instances. LBP2 is easily a more comprehensive and nuanced action game than its predecessor, set to wonderfully amusing soundtrack.

To help get you to the final showdown, new gadgets continue to liven up the experience. A paint gun isn’t the Avatar Previously Known as Sackboy’s only tool this time around, as bounce pads, grappling hooks, power gloves, helmets that shoot anything but bullets, and lemming-like Sackbots create new ways to interact with the three-planed levels. Traversing the fore, middle and back grounds can still be a bit treacherous when pitfalls are involved due to some squirrely physics and automatic changes in plane placement, but the gameplay and gadgetry are anything but gimmicky. They also create a host of new possibilities in the game’s deeper, more involved creative side.

Fundamentally, playing LBP2 is much the same as the first outting, but creating levels and sharing them with a dedicated community is where the sequel really shines in its newness. Up to the game’s launch, Sony boasted there to be over 2.5 million levels created by gamers with LBP‘s in-game tools. It’s an impressive number with creations ranging from levels that play themselves to numerous “Star Wars” inspirations. More impressive, however, is all of that content can be accessed through the sequel and updated by their creators using its new tool set. Now, that entire level made just to play the Super Mario Bros. theme song can be consolidated into a single MIDI for an SMB themed level with a music sequencer using a range of instruments and a full scale. The game’s new engine also gives greater depth in visual fidelity and more textures to incorporate.

To find these user-created masterpieces, revamped interfaces are more functional in filtering through newly added, favorite, and featured content. Ultimately, it’s likely a day won’t go by where you can’t easily discover and play something fresh that’s made by someone not on Media Molecule or SCE’s payroll.

And just like its predecessor, LBP2 encourages friendly play. The addition of structured competitive and cooperative mini-games are obvious inclusions that may not be as addictive as, say, Fusion Frenzy, but they showcase what can be done. Not to mention, accessing these side-romps can require some partnering up in the story missions, which can be done with three other players either locally or through quick online matchmaking at a level’s entrance. Also, if you have a few extra Move units (five in total), you can play around with the PSN-released Sackboy’s Prehistoric Moves. More a tech demo of the Move with LBP, it’s easy to bypass, but not an unwelcome inclusion.

Between it’s age-appropriate concepts and deep creation mechanics, LittleBigPlanet 2 is the ideal family game—seriously. It’s possible someone out there could have issues with it, but how couldn’t a Sack-thing’s puppy-like grin break the staunchest of opposition? Fine, maybe those who didn’t find much excitement from the first game won’t be culled to the Imagisphere with this return to Craftworld, but even they should appreciate LBP2 for what it is and what it’s capable of doing.

You can buy the Standard Edition ($57.99, reg. $59.99) and Collector’s Edition ($69.99, reg. $79.99) of LittleBigPlanet 2 from Amazon.

Chris Matel