Sackboy: A Big Adventure is the perfect PlayStation game for the holidays

An infectiously charming platformer with fantastic co-op support

One of my first-ever PlayStation 3 games was LittleBigPlanet (LBP). With its lovable sense of charm and remarkably robust level creation tools, my friends and I were captivated by the game — and its 2011 sequel — for hours upon hours on end.

With the franchise being dormant since 2014’s LittleBigPlanet 3, I admittedly haven’t thought much about LBP lately — until now, that is. In comes Sackboy: A Big Adventure, a spin-off of the LBP series and PlayStation 5 launch title starring the adorable titular fabric creature from the original games.

However, this time around, the franchise is shifting to a 3D platformer in the vein of Super Mario 3D World while doing away with the user-generated content of the LBP games. But while Sackboy loses a bit of his identity in this shift in direction, I’m happy to say that the changeover is overall quite successful.

Super Sackboy 3D World

It really can’t be understated just how much Sackboy: A Big Adventure owes to Super Mario 3D World. Everything from the core fixed-camera, isometric level design and four-player co-op support feels directly lifted from Nintendo’s acclaimed 2013 Wii U game. This, on top of the decision to forgo LBP‘s signature user-generated tools, makes Sackboy’s latest adventure feel less unique.

With all of that said, it’s hard to hold the game’s fairly derivative nature against it because it’s simply so darned charming. Developer Sumo Digital has commendably adapted everything else that made LBP so special. You see this on display as early as the main cutscene, which quickly sets up the main conflict. One day, Craftworld is sucked away by the villainous Vex (voiced by Oscar nominee Richard E. Grant), forcing Sackboy to travel to different worlds to stop. While the plot is thin, I was consistently entertained by the colourful cast of characters, including Vex (brought to life through a committedly animated Grant) and the ever-helpful mentor figure Scarlet, voiced by Dawn French. Having said that, Sackboy himself is oddly noisy, making all sorts of childish grunts and cries, which removes some of the charm of the Lego game-esque pantomime from LBP.

Sackboy A Big Adventure chase

This premise also lays the groundwork for a variety of levels for you to visit, which, in typical LBP form, are bursting with creativity. That’s because they’re cleverly designed with all sorts of containers, cardboard and other household objects to give the world that tactile, picturesque look. On top of that, they each have their own quirky and rewarding gimmicks, like finding keys in a larger area to unlock a door or herding together little anthropomorphic creatures into a pen.

All the while, A Big Adventure makes good use of the series’ classic cosmetic system, allowing you to find outfits in levels to customize Sackboy or purchase other items using collected bells. I enjoyed running around one level as a Ninja Sackboy with a frying pan and Elvis Presley-esque rockstar in another. Even if the gameplay in A Big Adventure can at times feel somewhat basic, these endearing design choices ensure there’s never a dull moment while playing.

But there are other, deeper areas in which A Big Adventure stands out nicely from Mario or even other games in general. Early on in the 10-ish-hour campaign, I came across a level with a familiar funky beat on loop. As I took a few steps into the level, the song started to progress, and I was surprised to find out I was listening to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.” I quickly realized that the entire level was set to the catchy tune, with all sorts of colourful background creatures and even the platforms I had to jump on moving to the beat. While I don’t want to spoil the rest, there are several other levels featuring different licensed songs (mixed in with a compelling original score, no less), and I was pleasantly surprised to come across all of them. As well-designed as Mario games can be, you’ll likely never see them get this delightfully wild, and A Big Adventure is all the better for it.

Come one, come all

Sackboy A Big Adventure co-op

Perhaps the best part of Sackboy: A Big Adventure, though, is its drop-in co-op support. At any time, up to three other people can join you, with levels being thoughtfully designed to accommodate that many characters. Only local co-op is supported at launch, but Sumo says online support is coming in a patch by the end of the year. Still, with people likely holed up with roommates and/or family amid COVID-19 related lockdowns, A Big Adventure is the absolute perfect co-op game.

This is where the game’s simple, Mario-esque design really comes in handy, as it opens up the game wonderfully accessible for gamers of all skill levels and age groups. Even my mother — a great litmus test for this, given that she’s in her ’50s and hasn’t played a controller-based video game since the early 2000s licensed Disney titles — was able to pick it up and (with some initial struggles learning the controller) actually really enjoy her time with it. There are co-op only levels as well that further encourage playing with a friend or family member. These levels feature intuitive co-op specific design elements like alternating between activating walkways to let your buddy progress, throwing your friend to reach higher places and even objects that can only be destroyed with two people to give you a reward.

The PlayStation 5 edge

While Sackboy: A Big Adventure is available on PS4, it is, of course, best played on PS5. The tech gurus over at Digital Foundry have an excellent write-up on the specific platform differences, but suffice it to say that the PS5 version looks much crisper and features more detailed levels. Even better, the game makes brilliant use of the PS5’s unique feature set. The DualSense controller’s haptics are used very effectively, such as the remarkable difference between the sudden metallic ‘clang’ you feel as you punch a screw. Meanwhile, the adaptive triggers help emulate the feel of pulling a rope or grabbing onto a spinning wheel.

Sackboy A Big Adventure blowout

Elsewhere, the PS5’s rapid SSD ensures that you’re loading levels in mere seconds. Adding to that is a rather smart implementation of the Activities dashboard feature to let you jump into specific levels right away. If I booted up the game and was feeling like I wanted a break from the campaign, all I had to do was select a different mode and I could hop into it almost instantly.

One of these other modes, the ‘Knitted Knight’ time trials, also benefits from the PS5, as you can instantly pull up leaderboards to see how you stacked up to others with a simple tap of the PS Button. Further reducing the number of screens you have to navigate is the PS Plus-exclusive ‘Game Help’ functionality. This allows you to view developer-created videos guiding you on specific collectibles you might have missed and even place them in picture-in-picture while playing, which is extremely helpful and saves you having to go onto YouTube or find a wiki.

While you ostensibly get the same experience on PlayStation 4, the litany of PS5-only enhancements is incredibly impressive.

The perfect comfort food

Not every game has to reinvent the wheel; sometimes, it’s fine to stick to what’s tried-and-true. That perfectly describes Sackboy: A Big Adventure. It’s an endlessly lovely and feel-good game filled with creative design flourishes and outstanding co-op implementation — a perfect game to play during the holidays. Whether you’re a returning LBP fan or series newcomer, it’s hard to go wrong with Sackboy: A Big Adventure.

Sackboy: A Big Adventure is now available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

Image credit: PlayStation