Sackboy: A Big Adventure (virtual photography by Marty Friedel)

Sackboy: A Big Adventure

Published November 28th, 2021

I love a good platformer - and Sackboy is just so adorable. You should see the Special Edition Sackboy plush sitting on my shelf - too cute! And was my first PS5 title to play and boy does it show off some incredible loading speeds (which comes in handy for quickly getting into and out of levels while perfecting your level goals).

The Little Big Planet series was known for its “create” mode - which is absent in Sackboy: A Big Adventure, but instead replaced with a 3D platforming adventure. And I’m fine with that: I never really got in to the creativity modes of the Little Big Planet titles: I want to platform, not make my own levels: it’s just not what I find fun, and each to their own of course.

A world full of levels, costume pieces and Collectabells (your in-game costume currency), there’s so much to see and explore as you jump, zip, climb, dive, bop, run, fling, float and spin your way through Craftworld. With a crafty visual style, it feels at times like a marriage of Little Big Planet and Tearaway, and even a hint of Yoshi’s Crafted World. Controls feel tight, and gameplay is incredibly fluid and satisfying - and stable at 60 fps, at least on the PS5.

As you complete levels - and complete them without dying and with Gold-standard high scores - you collect more costume pieces to dress up your Sackboy - and I do love the tiger look. Actually the frog too. Oooh the Shark. No, wait, I can't pick a favourite. The Digital Deluxe also includes some PlayStation characters including Deacon from Days Gone, Jin from Ghost of Tsushima and Sam from Death Stranding. Since release, additional costumes have appeared online including Ellie and Abbie from The Last of Us: Part II and a good old fashioned banana - because who doesn’t love a banana? I love this level of customisation - even if it is just digital - as you can really create your character - with ease and without fuss - to join you on your adventure.

Throughout craft world, you’ll also encounter levels that feature licensed music, and timed platforming to the beat. These are so well executed, and feel so joyous to play. “Flossed In Space” is by far my favourite of the music levels, featuring Houdini by Foster the People - but there’s also Toxic by Britney Spears and Let’s Dance by David Bowie too. Overall, the platforming just feels fun - and exactly what a game should be.

One area where the story itself falls down is the boss encounters, and their, well, total lack of variety. When you encounter Vex, it’s just more of the same: conveyor belts that move, bombs that get thrown - it turns the encounters in to more of a chore, rather than a challenge, and in some final boss levels (that just go on and on), some cheap shots do ruin the fun a little.

The other area that is, uh, interesting, is the difficulty ramp. There are five core worlds to the story (each beautifully themed too), and they start off incredibly chill - and are a great introduction to the platforming basics. As you progress through the worlds, the difficulty ramps up significantly: not just with finishing the level, but the ability to get a Gold score. In early levels, you could take a fall or two and still get Gold, but midway on, you need to nail every level, collect everything, and sometimes still only scrape through. I get that games need a bit of challenge to them, but the ramp up in difficulty takes it out of being a family friendly title to one that requires a fine degree of skill to complete - which for kids who enjoyed the start, may find frustrating. Sumo have at least added an infinite lives option that can be toggled on, so if you get totally stuck on one area, rather than replaying the same level again and again to find one hard part, you can power through and try try try again. And I’ll admit, this was useful in the sixth world to get that last Knitted Knight cube.

And I’m all for ramping up difficulty to show refined skill: my only criticism is the insane steepness that Sackboy: A Big Adventure does this.

There are some co-op levels to complete, and to earn the shiny Platinum trophy, needs a bit of a play with a friend for a few trophies. Co-op levels are ingeniously fun to explore - with some well-timed platforming and team work required: if playing online, a mic helps, and but a great Friday night couch game with a mate (with a good feed in between levels).

While you can complete the story without co-op levels, for all the trophies, you’ll need a friend to play with. While games forcing multiplayer I still find a bit meh, what is positive is that it’s a toe in the water of co-op: you don’t need to ace every level with a buddy to earn all the trophies. It’s more like “here, give this a try”, and “you’ll need to do a few more here” and you’re all set - so I can live with that. But if you’re wanting to play with casual gamers who may not be platform aficionados, it may actually become more frustrating than enjoyable, especially when paired with the game’s steep difficulty.

The boldest collectible throughout the game are the Knitted Knight cubes throughout select levels - there’s 15 of them to collect, each unlocking a Knitted Knight trial. Basically, a short mini level to face you off against a specific challenge: from rotating platforms to changing polenta-like chips, to lasers and fish and fire, there’s 15 of these to face up against, and rather tight timeframes to get the Gold prize for each. Practice. Practice. Practice. Thankfully with the PS5’s load times, retrying and jumping in and out of these trials is conveniently swift, so engagement stays high.

And just when you thought you were done: there’s Trial 16. The Ripsnorter. What happens when you take all of the trials of 1 through 15, join them together, give you a single life (where you can only take one hit - and on the second, you restart) and set a 10 minute time limit? Besides the sadistic nature of the developers being exposed, you’re faced with one heck of a challenge.

And challenge this is. But, there’s one saving grace: I actually feel this challenge is surprisingly fair.

Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s precise. But it’s also learnable. There are key points throughout each stage of this monster trial that trigger the next stage’s behaviour - such as spinning platforms or firing lasers. This means that every time you play, you can hit the same rhythm, the same path, and it does become a game of skill. Highly refined and well-practiced skill.

You fell off the edge? Well that’s on you. You got hit by a spike? That’s on you. The timing of spikes, enemies, platforms, is always the same. And while the challenge factor is high, this is fair in my book. It gives you the opportunity to, well, git gud. And I hate that phrase, but for this challenge, it’s true. I earned Gold in all of my Knitted Knight trials; I got to the end of six worlds; I just had one more to do: The Ripsnorter. But my play history in the rest of the game has already shown I have the skills to do this, at least in more bit-sized pieces.

Completing The Ripsnorter in under 10 minutes earns you a shiny Gold trophy, and no doubt is the blocking point for many earning the Platinum trophy. I honestly thought it would be for me. Until I gave it go. And yes, I failed pretty early. But I kept trying. And practicing. And when I found a specific stage that kept owning me, I’d jump back to that individual stage and give it a practice until I could find a smooth path through, without getting hit, and consistently finish the level.

Want to see how I did it?

Yes, completing The Ripsnorter took hours of attempts and practicing, but I have such an immense sense of accomplishment completing this trial. It truly is a reward for patience and practice, and one reflecting skill. It’s hard, sure. But it’s fair (mostly… those spiky bushes are sensitive).

Compare this to other end-game challenges: the Valkyrie Queen in God of War comes to mind. She is punishing, brutal, and gameplay gets bogged down in your hit animations. One attempt you may get 90% of the way to defeating her, but the next you get pummeled within seconds. God of War's inconsistency is infuriatingly frustrating: give me a consistent gameplay mechanic - one that you can reliably learn, like your rhythm in Sackboy: A Big Adventure - and while the challenge may be high, it's at least fair game: the goal posts never change.

While I’m in no rush to attempt The Ripsnorter again - I know those first few stages so well now - I’m so happy to have nailed it, and in that video above, without a single hit. Go me!

My advice for attempting The Ripsnorter:

  • if you keep stumbling at the same stage, practice that individual trial. And then do it again. And again. Find the path that gets you through, without taking a hit

  • Take your time: you have plenty of time, even though you need to hit under 10 minutes, the time you collect at the end can bring you back under 10 minutes

  • Turn on "Hold to Roll" - your thumb will thank you

  • Attempt when you're calm and level headed. You're going to die, so no controller throwing please

  • Be patient, and practice. You'll get there - I did!

Sackboy is such a cute little character, who goes on one heck of an adventure in Sackboy: A Big Adventure. On PS5, the game play like a dream, and offers a fun platforming experience, with an at times unnecessarily steep difficulty curve for main story levels. But this also gives you the ability to hone your skills and get that warm inner glow at improving and nailing a challenge that is as punishing as it is fair. Match this with gorgeous visual, sleek game play and a superb score (plus licensed music levels), and you’ve got a top-notch adventure to explore, carrying on the charm and heart of Little Big Planet with a fresh take on a beloved franchise.

Oh, and Sony, if you're out there, making the physical Special Edition be region-exclusive (and not available in Australia) is such a cheap shot. If you're going to play it that way, at least make the included codes redeemable in any region. You're lucky the stuffed plush is so adorable.

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