Sackboy: A Big Adventure may not be the most anticipated release in the PlayStation 5 launch lineup. Miles Morales is the headliner! Demon’s Souls has an enthusiastic core following! But Sackboy is doing something very different, and for many, very useful: offering family-friendly co-op.
The development team at Sumo Digital is clearly well-versed in the genre. Sackboy: A Big Adventure feels a lot like the pillars of family-friendly platforming. The world and level design feels reminiscent of Super Mario 3D World. The level of texture and detail, as well as the aesthetic trappings, are a lot like Tearaway. The combination of the two, and the technical tricks used to make these textures look good? They feel like Yoshi’s Crafted World. (And you basically have Yoshi’s flutter jump!) Sumo’s team has borrowed elements it likes and smashed them together.
And fairly competently, too! It took the Tt Games crew a few installments to make the Lego games’ constant collection so polished and fun. Instanced puzzle rooms and multiplayer whimsy were present in the first Skylanders, but not that fun without a few tries. The game doesn’t control as well as Mario — nothing does — but in a world of imitators, it compares favorably.
That said, the genre has some inherent compromises. Like 3D World and Lego, Sackboy: A Big Adventure offers wide levels with multiple on-screen paths to the same destination. If you’re a solo completionist, it can be kind of a hassle to get everything. If you don’t have lots of players on-screen poking and prodding at suspicious areas for secrets, they’re harder to find. (And you’ll have to source those players locally for a while.) It’s built for a laid-back vibe, and that’s great for kids! And maybe their parents, too. It’s the anti-Demon’s Souls.
If there’s one thing Sackboy: A Big Adventure isn’t, it’s LittleBigPlanet. You may be controlling a familiar character, but that’s about it. Gone is the physics-based platforming that many loved and many hated. You’ll grab things and spin things, but if you’re hoping for momentum, you won’t get it. There are benefits to this, though! You’ll lock onto ropes as you cross them. You’ll have predictable arcs to your jumps across gaps. It just, to a degree, comes at the cost of what made those old games special.
Level design also feels very different. Though much of LittleBigPlanet‘s appeal was in its user-generated fare, even the built-in campaign was about the wonder of imagination and creativity. Sackboy is inventive, in its way, but in a more traditional sense. You’ll like how it uses moving platforms, and how many ways it uses the grab button. You’ll like how it introduces a new gameplay concept, then plays around with it in different contexts over the course of the level. There’s less whimsy and carefree jaunting. There’s more repetition and cohesion and a sense that this world is real, rather than a child’s diorama.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure‘s best touch is its music. When you play through a level, the background tunes evolve and grow, adding instrumentation and shifting styles. These games have always had a catchy track list! But the bespoke game nature of this one, a result of that shift away from created content, allows for curated touches like this.
Technically, there’s not a lot here that makes it stand out at the PlayStation 5’s launch. That makes sense: it’s not an exclusive. We wouldn’t be surprised if the game started life as a PS4 game, then took advantage of the benefits of the PS5 hardware where and when it could. Still, it stands in stark contrast to Astro’s Playroom, its competitor in the platforming space and a literal showpiece for the controller tech. It doesn’t feel or look as good as Astro. That’s just true. But for the game’s core demographic of kids, it offers a longer, more varied experience. And, like, hey: maybe you’re all stuck inside for months on end and the holiday game release schedule doesn’t have a heck of a lot to offer younger players.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure, developed by Sumo Digital and published by Sony, is available now on the PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4.