LittleBigPlanet Karting isn't the game you might expect. While Karting comes from ModNation Racers developer United Front Games, it isn't just a rehash with Sackboy thrown in. In fact, it has the potential to improve upon its predecessor in nearly every way, making for a wholly authentic LittleBigPlanet experience.
It's easy to compare LittleBigPlanet Karting to United Front's previous efforts at first glance. The ModSpot (ModNation's customization hub) has been replaced by LBP's trademark Pod, now transformed into a gigantic cardboard spaceship that allows up to four players to customize their karts and characters at the same time. And while building tracks, dressing up characters and toying with basic racing mechanics like weapons and drifting feel familiar, what sets Karting apart is the world in which it's immersed. This game feels like LittleBigPlanet.
United Front collaborated closely with LBP developer Media Molecule (as well as Sony's San Diego Studio) to create a faithful iteration of Craftworld that looks completely at home next to LittleBigPlanet and its sequel. While playing the game, you'll find yourself comparing it more to LBP than to other racing games, and exploring each map is almost like playing a platformer rather than a kart racer. Score bubbles even pepper the track to lead players forward, just like in LBP.
Many maps exist as a homage to classic LittleBigPlanet environments, recreating settings like The Gardens with meticulous attention to detail. Driving past the castle or the king and queen makes you feel like you're right at home in LBP's universe, and even the game's karts are inspired by LBP2 themes like The Wedding or Victoria's Lab. The team at United Front describes the game as a "karting adventure" rather than a racer as levels are built around the platforming mechanics LittleBigPlanet is famous for.
On a track inspired by the World's Fair called Future Perfect, players encounter the Grappling Sponge that's traditionally used to traverse the world of LittleBigPlanet. At several key points during the race, players are required to grapple across large expanses, climbing through the environment to progress and occasionally even finding elevated shortcuts. Mechanics like this help the gameplay feel more like exploration than simple racing, recreating the sense of wonder that made LBP so fun to play in the first place.
More importantly, the game's controls feel natural, comfortable and less 'loose' than those of ModNation. Drivers are easy to keep centered on the track, even while drifting. In Karting's default control scheme, ModNation's controls have also been reversed -- pressing X now controls the gas and drifting is controlled by R2. (You can swap this from the pause menu.)
Like any good LittleBigPlanet game, Karting features a wide array of customization options, allowing players to create tracks, characters and even weapons from scratch. Customization is controlled through the same Popit menu found in LittleBigPlanet, and everything from steering wheels to horn sounds to chassis can be replaced while customizing karts within the Pod.
This is one example of what makes Karting unique. While plenty of games feature a track creator or allow characters to be dressed up, LittleBigPlanet Karting gives players access to the same level editor as the game's designers. Nearly every element of a course can be controlled, from the frequency of weapon spawns to the appearance of the track itself. This fits perfectly in a franchise famous for letting players build things from scratch.
LittleBigPlanet Karting also boasts new weapons, with projectiles including straight shots, seekers and multi-missiles, plus EMPs and grenades. Weapons can be fired both forwards and backwards and can even cancel out seeker missiles when fired in reverse. During races, players can pick up new boost items such as Autopilot, which turns your kart into a rocket-propelled boxing glove that pushes other racers out of the way, and Fast Forward, which skips you ahead to a later portion of the track.