Even if Sackboy: A Big Adventure had been released in the middle of the PlayStation 4 era, it’d been fair to label it a trifle unambitious. But as a PlayStation 5 launch title – up against Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, the Demon’s Souls remake and Astro’s Playroom, all of which seek to show off the next-gen console’s increased capabilities – Sackboy: A Big Adventure is almost too happy to just coast by.
It plays it safe at every turn, rounding off its own corners, avoiding any risky new ideas. Launch games are supposed to push the boat out, but Sackboy won’t even go down to the docks, afraid of getting his little sack feet wet. That’s not to say Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a bad game, however. Just that it does nothing at all to advertise the new power of the PS5.
Taken out of that context, it’s fun – if repetitive – and is clearly aimed at the younger market. There’s not a great deal of challenge on the surface, with weak enemies and extra lives handed out every other footstep making it difficult to ever hit a game over. However, with rewards for clearing a level without dying, time trials, hidden collectibles and co-op levels, there’s enough chance for you to make your own fun.
Catering to the young while adding enough content to keep more seasoned players interested can be the foundation of a great platformer. Super Mario Odyssey and the Spyro: Reignited Trilogy perfected this art. LittleBigPlanet 3, Sackboy’s previous outing, gave it a good go as well. With Sackboy: A Big Adventure though, it just leans a little too hard towards its target audience.
If this is your first ever video game, you’ll love it – and that’s not a backhanded compliment. It feels like it has been designed to be someone’s first-ever video game, and it fills that role better than most. For more experienced players though, Sackboy: A Big Adventure is probably a little thin on the ground, even with the extra collectibles on offer.
Platformers are, at their core, about repetition. The opening levels introduce mechanics to you, and the later ones push you to use them in more challenging ways. Sackboy: A Big Adventure, however, doesn’t know when to quit. The game’s first world comes with a solid variety of levels: There are some linear levels where you move forward, some levels with side-scrolling sections, a short exploration level where you need to find keys, a musical level and a level on a moving train.
It’s a good amount of variety, with each level utilising Sackboy’s limited skillset and repetition feels part of any good platformer’s healthy rhythm. The problem is, every world repeats the other ones almost beat for beat. There’s a rising difficulty, and some new ideas like wall climbing or throwable weapons come into it, but the levels still feel too similar, the differences too inconsequential.
There are very few levels you could look at in isolation and suggest they’ve been poorly designed. The collectibles are hidden but never unfairly, checkpoints feel natural, and the minute to minute platforming is fun. The problem is they all avoid taking chances, avoid pushing themselves to go weirder, to be more divisive, to risk something not working in an effort to make something new.
One level tasks you with tilting your controller to move Sackboy’s platform. It’s awkward and fiddly and frustrating, but it’s a unique idea. It’s wonderful when it finally clicks, the feature helps inject the game with a sorely lacking sense of personality. Unfortunately, as quick as this mechanics appears, it’s gone again, and we’re back to pushing X to jump between two ledges.
The characters fall victim to this risk-averse approach too. The humour is best encapsulated by the level titles; one section where you have to round up animals in a pen is called Have You Herd, another where you need to run from a yeti is called Ready Yeti Go. Everyone agrees these are jokes, but no one really thinks they’re funny. Character dialogue in Sackboy: A Big Adventure works the same way.
Sackboy himself has never been bursting at the seams – or zipper – with personality anyway. Crash Bandicoot, Pikachu and Stitch have all shown how brilliantly evocative a non-verbal protagonist can be, but Sackboy doesn’t even get close to their level. Though he has a very emotive face, it’s only ever really used to sell ‘cuteness’ and is let down by a paper-thin storyline and a supporting cast who offer little for him to bounce off.
In Sackboy’s defence, all of its flaws come from a failure to commit to an identity. There’s nothing all that wrong with it at all, and if you’re looking for an easier game as a palette cleanser to go alongside the Demon’s Souls remake, it’s perfect. It’s just fun, easy and colourful enough that it will hit its target market, while providing some depth to entertain more experienced players.
There are a couple of occasions where Sackboy: A Big Adventure does make bold moves. The music levels see platforms and ledges move in time with a beat, and while that alone isn’t a new idea, the music choices are inspired. Bruno Mars’ ‘Uptown Funk’ and David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ are both irregular choices, but they work perfectly and make those levels much more endearing. It’s a shame Sackboy: A Big Adventure didn’t keep this more ambitious attitude running through the whole game.
‘Sackboy: A Big Adventure’ is out now for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure is a perfectly competent video game, though perhaps not best suited to a launch title for a console that prides itself on speed and innovation. Each level is fun enough, but while the first world offers up variety, the rest of the game never really takes off from there. Despite having a handful of interesting mechanics available, Sackboy is never too interested in using them and instead opts to play it safe far too often.
- Lots of customisation
- Well-designed collectibles
- Music levels are a clear standout
- Too repetitive, even for a platformer
- Poorly written characters
- The game is too afraid to take any risks