The third game in the numbered LittleBigPlanet series in nearly upon us, but if you need a quick Sackboy fix to hold you over, Playstation Mobile has Run, Sackboy! Run!, a quirky 2D infinite runner high on charm, but definitely wants you to pay to play. The gameplay itself is fun, and it captures the lighthearted spirit of the LBP franchise better than expected, but the nickel-and-dime attempts at monetization rain on the parade.
Run, Sackboy! Run! doesn’t change up the basic infinite runner formula: Sackboy runs automatically, and you tap and swipe to help him avoid obstacles. You’ll collect bubbles on each play, and exchange them for costumes and power-ups when you die. Gameplay is just as warm and fuzzy as you’d expect from a LittleBigPlanet title, with whimsical music, colorful backdrops, and fun monsters reminiscent of cardboard cutouts and stuffed animals. Each level also carries its own theme, starting with a fanciful forest, then a high-tech world with electrified floors, a wild-west themed course with seeker missiles, and more. Each level adds a new type of trap to add to the difficulty and keep the challenge varied and exciting. Controls feel sharp and handle well, while the graphics look great and vivid. From a gameplay standpoint, it’s basically everything you could expect from a LBP runner.
Though Run! is a fun game, it’s also a prime example of how to do free-to-play incorrectly. Thankfully the game doesn’t do any time-gating; you can play as often as you want without worrying about running out of lives. But if you’re expecting to gather any of the game’s best power-ups, it’ll cost you in real money. There’s even a section of the shop menu which just shows off $5 boosts (“sack powers,” they call them), and some of the leveling objectives seem nearly impossible without them. Considering the price in bubbles of costumes, character upgrades, and “lucky chests” (random items which you’ll have to buy en masse to get the special Aviator costume), it doesn’t take a particularly gifted Sackboy to see that this game’s a cash grab.
Considering the impending release of LBP 3, Run Sackboy! misses out on a lot of tie-in opportunities by pushing free-to-play over connectivity. Sure, you can collect groups of stickers and unlock special items in the big game, but stickers show pretty infrequently without paying the $4.99 to make them appear 4 times as frequently. I’d have liked to see weekly tournaments which unlocked special costumes for LBP 3, or even just see all the costumes from Run! unlocked in the main game. It’d be especially cool to see some cross-play between the PS4 and the iPod Touch; possibly some asymmetrical gameplay where the mobile player runs on a course where the console player is dropping hazards or something like that. Then again, maybe some of these things will happen after the game’s full release. But that may not be Playstation Mobile’s goal with the game; considering there are $20 worth of power-ups only accessible with cash (aside from possibly paying for bubbles as well), it seems pretty evident where the company’s priorities lie with this title.
Admittedly, I feel a bit conflicted rating Run, Sackboy! Run! On one hand, the game itself is a well-crafted, well-executed runner with lots of replay value. On the other hand, the blatant pushes towards monetization spoil the game’s fun and make it take much longer to achieve objectives without shelling out cash. The correct answer would have been to make the game an outright premium title: charging $1.99 or $2.99 would have been more than reasonable for a title with this kind of quality, and I’m sure that LBP fans and others would have been happy to pay. Since it’s free, I’d recommend giving the game a quick shot if you love LittleBigPlanet, but until they address some of the pricing model issues, I’d say “Run! Run Away!” from this title.