This Month on Playstation Plus – February 2017

After last month’s somewhat underwhelming Indie-focused output, February marks something of a return to firm with a bona fide Triple A blockbuster

Little Big Planet 3 (PS4)

Little Big Planet is one of those games that I try very hard to love.

In the run up to the release of the original LBP on PS3, it looked like a can’t miss, instant winner. Lovable central character? Check. Challenging, inventive levels? Check. Insanely catchy, stick in your head for days soundtrack? Check.

And yet for all that, and despite completing it, I find my memories of LBP lukewarm with little desire to go back and explore the content that I missed first time round. The physics model the game uses is exceptional but there is something about it, perhaps its very realism itself, that I find rather frustrating to actually play. It is a game I admire far more than I enjoy.

Now then I find the third instalment has landed in my PS+ subscription and whatever your feelings on the game, there is no doubt that this is a genuine bargain.

Having skipped LBP2 I cannot speak to the incremental advances made in the series but superficially, little appears to have changed. The graphical style is the familiar mix of a paper-based craft world, Sackboy himself remaining a lovable, customisable central character.

The core gameplay mechanic is unchanged too. Levels are a combination of platforming and physics, Sackboy able to step in and out of the screen, clamber up ladders, cling on to swinging rollers and plunge to his death in all manner of ways.

There are some big changes from LPB too. For starters, the game now has a vocal soundtrack, beyond the narrative voice offered by Stephen Fry. In fact his old sparring partner Hugh Laurie pops up as a key character with other characters encountered on the journey similarly vocal. And this hints at one of the main changes, that of a coherent narrative to tie events together. It’s a load of old guff of course but it provides some structure to your antics.

Sackboy has also added some new strings to his bow. Sticker collection remains core however a stab of the circle button brings up  the contents of his pockets, which can house additional tools. In my brief playthrough I only experienced the air pump, which can either blow or suck (steady on at the back), allowing Sackboy to push or pull platforms, levers et al to access new areas, bringing a new dimension to the puzzles.

As with the first game, I find this a difficult experience to quantify. At 6 years old, my girls were fascinated watching it, eager for their own go. But the game is so fiddly that actually playing it is beyond them such that it’s an experience enjoyed almost more watching than playing. At its best, platform hopping, sprinting or being swept along at speed, this can be an exhilarating experience. But in between is a lot of frustration and fiddly gameplay that often leaves this feeling far less fun that it should be.

Not A Hero (PS4)

After the family friendly experience of Sackboy we move into rather more dubiously themed territory with this outrageous platform blaster.

The local mayoral candidate has enlisted your help to clean up the streets to secure election. And being the moral compass of society you are, how could you turn down the chance to sweep out the crime ridden filth from your beloved city?

Action is viewed side on with a real rough and ready presentation, like a mid-80s arcade cabinet. Characters can be unlocked as you progress but a basic level involves unlocking doors, sliding into the danger zone, unleashing hot lead and swearing your head off like a navvie.

Your standard pistol takes a couple of shots to rip through bodies whilst upgrades give you the ability to shoot through walls, unleash fire and all manner of other nonsense.

It’s gloriously dumb and terrific fun. Just remember to keep the potty-mouthed protagonist away from impressionable young ears.

Starwhal (PS4 / PS3)

After all that violence, what could be better than a sedate, calming swim around the open seas in control of a serene whale?

Sadly that’s all interrupted by the presence of three other ultra-violent beasties, all intent on smashing you into oblivion.

You control your whale with a swish of the left stick, stabbing X to drive forward. In the basic game mode you have to try and bash the guts out of the other whales before they do the same to you, the winner either the last whale floating or the one with the most health left before the time runs out.

Control is a little weird and floaty but you quickly get used to it. Game modes are varied, including a capture the flag variant, but all are based around the battle for territory or survival.

You can play on your own, the PS4 taking over control of the other 3 combatants, but I suspect this far more fun in local co-op.

Ninja Senki DX (PS4 / PS Vita)

It’s back to the old-school now with this 8-bit styled platformer.

Reminiscent of classic platform games of yesteryear, this riffs on Super Mario with a hint of Shinobi chucked in for good measure as your little dude leaps across platforms, collects coins and lobs shurikens at ghosts, for some reason.

Maybe I’m just crap at games but I found this insanely difficult. Combined with the mollycoddling I have become accustomed to with modern gaming, the thought of going back to the start of the level every time I so much as brush against an enemy just doesn’t appeal.

One for hardcore fans of the genre only.

TorqueL (PS4 / PS Vita)

We end the month with another platform game but this time a far more cerebral experience.

Set in a largely monochrome world, you control a bloke in a box. Your task is simply to get from your starting point, across the level and into the exit.

The gimmick here though is that movement is controlled by the box you are stuck in. Each side of the square is assigned to a joypad button, a stab of which emits a burst of appropriate coloured light that can shoot you up into the air. Progress therefore is achieved through a combination of rolling the box and timing button presses to achieve the elevation you need to traverse obstacles.

It’s a game that’s a little harder to explain than it is to play, the controls quickly becoming familiar to you as you begin to chain movements together, springing lithely around the screen and onto the next level.

Clever, original and challenging.

Also Available

PS3 owners can also pick up psychological horror puzzler, Anna – Extended Edition.

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