October 4, 2022

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Sackboy: A Big Adventure Review

The adorable Astro’s Playroom may have stolen people’s hearts at the launch of the PlayStation 5 (no doubt in part thanks to it coming along for free), but any 3D platformer fan would do well to not leave Sackboy: A Big Adventure locked in the toybox. This spin-off (which is available on PS4 as well) is relentlessly charming, bringing creative level ideas to a familiar format with a focus on co-op play, even if it lacks the same precision and depth of the most-loved games in the genre.

While Sackboy may have been cut from the cloth of the LittleBigPlanet games before it, A Big Adventure feels far closer to the likes of Super Mario 3D World, both in structure and design. Levels are generally wide-pathed, isometric dioramas for you and up to three friends to run all over, grabbing point bubbles, beating up baddies, and hunting for collectibles as you do. It also drops the level editor or community sharing that have been iconic to the LittleBigPlanet series, instead focusing on telling a simple story about Sackboy trying to save Craftworld from the evil Vex.

The story is a cute if generic tale, but Sackboy’s sense of style and presentation is intoxicating – a nonstop slew of fun, feel-good stages made out of cardboard cutouts and other household objects. It’s all just so dang charming, and it was only the occasional frustration of a missed jump caused by an odd camera angle or unexpected landing behavior that stopped me from smiling the whole time. World themes range from yeti-filled temples to futuristic rocket labs that have you walking around on giant, interactive touchscreens, but they all share enough stylistic elements to gel into an eclectic but cohesive whole.

A huge part of their charm comes from Sackboy’s incredible music. That includes its original score, clever remixes and reworkings of recognizable classics (you might find yourself unexpectedly noticing the melody of Madonna’s Material Girl in the middle of an otherwise orchestral track), as well as its handful of explicitly music-centered levels. The latter reminded me of similar stages in Rayman Legends, having you jump and fight to the beat of songs like Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk – although, while they are undoubtedly a blast, these levels not being on rails like Rayman’s makes their use of those songs a little more repetitive if you’re taking your time to collect everything.

A huge part of Sackboy’s charm comes from its excellent use of music.

Most stages in Sackboy are relatively easy to get to the end of, but can be tricker to 100% – that includes finding all the cosmetic items, completing it without dying, getting enough points for a gold medal, and collecting all of the Dreamer Orbs hidden throughout (which are used to lightly gate off new levels as you progress). Thanks to a generous life and checkpoint system, I only outright failed a level once in my first run of the campaign, but I also rarely got everything possible on that first attempt. That made Sackboy feel accessible to complete while still having plenty to entice me back for repeat attempts. Later levels and time trials also amp up the difficulty a little bit, but still in a way where that challenge is generally there if you want it and optional if you don’t.

Not to overcompare, but the structure here really does feel derivative of Super Mario 3D World, and Nintendo’s platformer playbook in general. That’s not inherently a bad thing (it’s a good playbook!), but when put so directly in competition with a game like that, the spots where Sackboy falls short can’t help but stand out – specifically, the feel and depth of its platforming. This is undoubtedly a fun platformer, but its jumping can definitely be unexpectedly imprecise at times, especially when trying to bounce on enemy heads or certain objects. The little flutter you can do to stay in the air after a jump feels about half as long as I expect it to be, and Sackboy lacks additional techniques that could offer more nuance to his moveset like Mario has – you can extend your jump distance by using a punch and a roll midair, but that’s about it in terms of getting creative with movement options.

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