We find ourselves in an odd situation with Sackboy: A Big Adventure, a real brow knitter. You see, as a full-blown AAA 3D platformer it’s up against the unlikeliest of competitors on PS5 – a pack-in game called Astro’s Playroom. The latter had no business being as excellent as it was, but yeah, it’s kinda already looking like a victory lap over the boy of burlap.
Could it be true then? Has Sony’s most modern mascot been stitched up already?
If you go off the first handful of levels in Sackboy: A Big Adventure – indeed most of the first world of the initial five available – you’d think so. A Big Adventure is a damn slow burn that may unravel the attention span of some of you. I mean, the opening moments do yield something new – certainly a departure from the 2.5D platforming shenanigans of MediaMolecule’s yesteryear. And to be fair, the jumpy jump here has been tightened up considerably – it’s lost a lot of that waterlogged feel that LBP diehards swear by (and Mario fans scratch their head at).
Sackboy: A Big Adventure
All that being said, you’re going to need to have to put up with a ‘sew sew’ experience for a good 30 minutes or so. The basics are solid enough – a triple punch combo, a double jump, a faceplant stomp, a double-tap of circle to roll and R2 to grab onto objects. But so far so standard, yeah? Fortunately, things get progressively more interesting come World 2 when a host of level-specific power-ups are woven into Sackboy’s life.
All this title needs is some time to unzip itself and show you it has the right stuff(ing). In not too long you’re hucking a boomerang that snares and returns hard to reach collectables (plus it can teleport you completely if pelted at a special block). And then there are limited fuel hover boots + laser gun combo. Flinging yourself off jump pads and attaching to spinning sponges via a grapplehook becomes the norm as well.
The plot isn’t too shabby either. It centres on the dastardly Vex (a near-mythical being born of chaos and fear) who swipes your Sackpals and forces them to build his Topsy Turver – a most deadly diabolical device that will transform Craftworld from a fantastical land of pure imagination and innocent dreams… into a place of nightmares. We’re talking dogs and cats living together; charity muggers on every street corner. Mass hysteria.
On the plus side, you’re under the wing of Scarlet, a Sackmum who’s a tough old bird and a lore spewer about the Knitted Knights, Craftworld’s legendary protectors. Basically, you and up to three mates in local co-op can set off on a whirlwind adventure across the snowiest mountains, the leafy paper-based jungles, the treasure-filled underwater realms and some good old fashioned sci-fi shenanigans. As always, all of these locales and themes are recreated in the unique “antique store gone crazy” aesthetic that LBP is known for. New developer Sumo Sheffield do a damned good impression of MM wherever you cast your eye.
Heck, I’d go so far as to say that it upstages the original article(s), thanks to the insane attention to textural detail that the PS5 provides. Every real-world surface looks and reacts how you’d imagine it would. This diorama world looks so good it often became a die-o-rama for me, because my eye kept being drawn to lovely looking objects and backdrops.
Sumo is also to be commended for not only maintaining the soul of LBP (minus the extensive DIY level creation, of course,) but also shoehorning in some of their own cool ideas. Case in point: every world has at least one musical level where a licensed music track is integrated into the pace and flow of the platforming. I’m talking David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, Jungle Boogie, Britney Spears’ Toxic and a host of others. They’re the sort of levels you replay even when you’ve milked them completely of trinkets. Rayman Legends fans will know the score here.
Even without the aid of a kicking soundtrack, there are some properly fun and nefarious platforming sections in here. Sumo loves to whisk the terra firma out from under you with timed platforms. Other times you’ll be plonked onto a vehicle that must be saved from bomb assaults, or you’ll be lured off them for daring little runs to snatch items (before you miss your ride and die when the camera overtakes you). Speaking of, this is a fixed-cam affair, which can make for some deaths if you get too adventurous in your secrets snooping activities.
Progression is pretty simplistic stuff. You have an overworld dotted with levels that steadily unlock, purely upon hitting the finish line of the last one. Each World is made up of a dozen or more levels and each level holds a stockpile of 3 or 5 Orbs. The latter is important as they effectively unlock barriers put up farther along in the overworld – so expect to backtrack a bunch to hoard as many of these scarce items as possible. You’ll need to do that to the point where I think younger and novice players are going to require help if they hope to even come close to seeing a climactic battle with Vex (which will happen in about 10- 12 hours).
If you do have to carry another player like luggage, co-op multi has a few things in place that will make these moments more bearable. In “regular” levels somebody can click R3 to send out a flare and summon an Assistance Copter that effectively delivers them to the lead player. That said, all aids are out the door in a handful of specific Teamwork levels. If you have the right crew for these, they’re easily the most satisfying parts of this game. Hell, even if you have the wrong team they’re fun – the treacherous hijinks on offer is some of the best multiplayer fun I’ve seen on a PS5 thus far.
One small caveat to that last one, however. There are frustrating moments where Sumo decides that your collection of some of the incredibly precious Orbs are dependant on not killing or breaking stuff. Most times you belt The Thing That Should Not Die before you even know the opportunity to get your klepto on is even there. Other times you know what you’re about, but you only get one small window of opportunity to do a bounce-kill to leap up to your prize. Cocking it up means that enemy is gone for good. Full ten minute mission restart if you want another shot. It’s not ideal at all. Especially if you’re playing alongside somebody with bugger all restraint.
Beyond those curious level design decisions, Sackboy: A Big Adventure also makes a misstep with its boss encounters. The individual guardians of the Worlds themselves are all top-notch and require clever little strategies to overcome. Curiously, it’s Vex himself who is a bit of a dud. I’m not going to spoil the final duel (which admittedly is quite clever and different) but it has to be said that every other time he pops up to do battle it’s all a bit deja vu. It’s constantly this Conveyor Belt of Doom motif that’s, frankly, uninspired and a bit of a pushover.
Something else worth mentioning in regards to difficulty: once you hit the first end credits in about 10 hours, prepare for a sixth World of pure pain waiting beyond. All of a sudden you’re going to need lighting reflexes and every single Orb in the game up until this point (a number of which must be earned through a series of Sack-busting time trial levels). I estimate that 100 percenting this will take an especially skilled at least another 5 hours, minimum.
At the end of the day, I liked Sackboy: A Big Adventure. It’s hard not to be enchanted by the stunning visuals, rowdy multiplayer and the pitch-perfect recreation of that delightful LBP whimsy. Bonus props to Sumo for actually taking the time to integrate some lovely haptic expressions into their work as well (unlike Insomniac’s rather “barely there” vibrations in Spider-Man Miles Morales). I wouldn’t say what’s here is as mind-blowing as the DualSense showcase seen in Astro’s Playroom, but it’s in the ballpark.
Yes, I miss the ability to make complex levels with way too many obviously phallic structures in them. Who wouldn’t? But the spirit of hunting down an ever-increasing selection of costume bits for my surprisingly customisable and emotive Sackpeoples still makes for a great little game. While I don’t think the forthcoming Ratchet & Clank has anything to worry about at this stage, yeah, Sackboy delivers some damn good jumpy-jumpy material.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure was reviewed on PS5 using digital code provided by PlayStation Australia.