Games 10/29: LittleBigPlanet, Fallout 3, World of Goo

For: Playstation 3
From: Media Molecule/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief, mild cartoon violence)

Show of hands: Who saw this coming? In this era of fully-realized 3D worlds, who could have imagined the season’s most paradigm-shifting game would be a 2D platformer?

At its absolute core, that’s what “LittleBigPlanet” is. You star as a burlap action hero named Sackboy, and your objective in each level is to reach the goal in as little time as possible while uncovering as many secrets as you can during your trek. Your efforts are scored accordingly, and every level has a worldwide leaderboard for bragging purposes.

What separates this core gameplay from the likes of, say, “Super Mario Bros.,” is a heavy infusion of physics. Objects move and topple realistically, and Sackboy can use anything that isn’t nailed down to reach faraway areas and uncover the secrets that hide within. Be it a rope, a pyramid of cardboard boxes or a Sackboy himself, everything is weighted in accordance with real-world physics.

Were you to enjoy “LittleBigPlanet” on this level alone, there is plenty of fun to be had. The game looks amazing, plays beautifully and is saturated with charm, humor and a style all its own.

But to enjoy the game this way also is to miss the point where things shift gears from evolutionary to revolutionary.

A few levels in, “LittleBigPlanet” pulls back the curtain on its level designer and community features, each of which allows players to indefinitely extend the game’s replay value for free.

The level designer, in particular, is an extraordinary achievement: It’s remarkably easy to use, and the planetload of available objects, physics and adjustable gameplay laws gives it a similarly endless degree of flexibility. Making something truly ingenious will take time, but the tool is so fun and user-friendly that it’s awfully hard not to give it a shot. Best of all, you can share the workload: Up to four players (offline and eventually online, pending an imminent patch) can design simultaneously within the same workspace.

The sky-is-limit philosophy of the creation tool makes “LittleBigPlanet’s” community features, which allow you to share your creations and download other players’ work, that much more exciting. During the game’s brief beta period, players fashioned everything from basketball games to space shooters to “Super Mario Bros.” homages using the available toolset, and it’s anybody’s guess what a larger community will be able to concoct with the complete game. User-created levels enjoy the same co-op and leaderboard support the out-of-the-box levels receive, and you aren’t obligated to create anything of your own to enjoy the riches the community provides.


Fallout 3
For: Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC
From: Bethesda Game Studios
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language, use of drugs)

Like an increasing number of games sophisticated enough to do so, “Fallout 3” trades in conscience, delivering one moral quandary after another and letting players tell the story on their own terms.

On paper alone, it’s impressive. Bethesda claims “Fallout 3” has more than 200 possible end scenarios, and it’s easy to see why. Your playing field — post-nuclear Washington, D.C. and surrounding areas — is gargantuan, and while a few linchpin characters are off-limits for storyline purposes, the overwhelming majority of them are fair game for whatever degree of good or evil (including death) you wish to impose. Between the lengthy main story and the ridiculous bounty of optional side missions, it’s a given your character has so many possible fates.

But while other games may boast more thrilling storylines, no game breaks the wall between player and character quite like this one. A bond is established before you’ve even touched down on D.C., and you shouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself compelled to make choices based on your real-life conscience. Similarly, don’t be shocked if the occasional moment of desperation drives you to do something you’ll feel bad about later. Surviving a post-nuclear wasteland isn’t for the meek, and you just may have to dirty your hands along the way.

Happily, “Fallout 3” handles this ambition without too much fuss. Bethesda has tread this ground before with its Elder Scrolls series, and anyone who played 2006’s “Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion” will immediately understand most of this game’s intricacies, which are numerous but remarkably accessible.

Though “Fallout 3” resembles and feels like a first- or third-person (your choice) shooter, it is, like “Oblivion,” a role-playing game first. Your character’s abilities are dependant on your accumulated stats and abilities, and that includes your shot aim, which might fail you even when you target an enemy perfectly. It’s an odd disconnect, but it makes sense and is easy to figure out with practice.

“Fallout 3” mixes this real-time combat with a limited-use V.A.T.S. system, which allows you to freeze the action and queue up a small handful of automated attacks that target specific areas of an enemy. Mixing the two attack styles sounds impossibly clumsy on paper, but it’s surprisingly effortless and fun in practice. And because you can employ the two styles on the fly and in tandem, it quickly becomes second nature to do so.

With the good comes the bad, and “Oblivion” vets will recognize “Fallout 3’s” warts straight away. The game’s environments look fantastic, but the characters appear slightly lobotomized, which certainly would explain their occasional ability to simply forget prior sins you might have committed in their presence.

Given “Fallout 3’s” outrageous scope, though, these occasional lapses are to be expected. And because they never break the game, they’re also easily forgiven.


Downloadable Game of the Week

World of Goo
Reviewed for: Nintendo WiiWare
Also available for: PC
From: 2D Boy
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)
Price: $15 (Wii), $20 (PC)

While store shelves continue to flood with wave after wave of awful games attempting to cash in on the Wii’s mass-market popularity, the truly devoted have retreated to the WiiWare downloadable channel, which has become an unlikely source for the system’s best games this fall. The best of the best thus far is “World of Goo,” a physics-based puzzle game in which the object is to assemble an army of goo blobs into an elastic bridge that transports the blobs from point A to point B. The process — grab a blob, drag it to create a point on your bridge and release — is simple. Accounting for the bridge’s sturdiness, however, is not, and things don’t get any easier when “Goo” demands increasingly unconventional bridges while populating ever-stranger levels with specialty blobs and other surprises. Completing every last challenge will take some real armchair engineering prowess, but 2D Boy keeps the mood light by making it easy to reset, skip and return to levels that have you hopelessly stumped. This, along with some truly inspired graphics, music and humor, makes “Goo” a game that dares you not to love it both immediately and for a good while after. Why waste $50 when $15 nets you exponentially more gratification?

DVD 10/28: Gift Sets Roundup

As the holiday shopping season kicks into high gear, you’ll start to hear a lot of talk about cutting back, exchanging modest gifts and generally doing whatever it takes to survive the current economic climate and keep your shirt in the process.

At least, that’s what you’ll hear if you don’t subscribe to the DVD Studio School of Economic Prudence, which believes in no such thing. Recession or no recession, studios are churning out extravagant DVD sets at a more ridiculous pace than ever before, and what follows is a mere sampling of the sets crashing shelves over the next few weeks. Here’s hoping you’re not the squeamish sort: The sets are awfully nice, but they’re also priced accordingly.

“The Wire: The Complete Series” (NR, 2002, HBO): If you still haven’t witnessed one of television’s best and most underappreciated gems, this set, which contains all five seasons in brand-new packaging, is for you. And if you’ve seen the show, own all the individual season sets, and have some seriously disposable income burning a hole in your pocket, give those sets to a friend in need and pick this beauty up instead. Includes the original sets’ bonus content, as well as three prequel shorts and a new blooper reel. Available December 9. MSRP: $250.

“The Cosby Show: 25th Anniversary Commemorative Edition” (NR, 1984, First Look): “The Cosby Show’s” 25th anniversary party officially begins next year, but unless the powers that be move the holiday shopping season to early spring, First Look doesn’t want to wait that long. This 26-disc set includes all eight seasons and the extras — deleted scenes, bloopers, commentary, audition footage, montages and more — that appeared on the individual season sets. New extras include a new Cosby interview, a personal letter from Cosby, a Cosby photo print, a hardcover commemorative book and a photo gallery. Available November 11. MSRP: $125.

“The Sopranos: The Complete Series” (NR, 1999, HBO): Be sure to lift this set off the shelves with your legs, because as HBO proudly proclaims, this eight-season, 33-disc monster weighs in at more than 10 lbs. Extras include two new sit-down dinner roundtables with the cast and crew, a new interview with series creator David Chase, two CD soundtracks, a 16-page behind-the-scenes booklet and all the extras — deleted scenes, commentary, behind-the-scenes features and more — that originally appeared on each season set. Available November 11. MSRP: $400. (Not a typo.)

“Home Movies: 10th Anniversary Box Set” (NR, 1998, Shout Factory): One of prime time’s most underappreciated animated sitcoms gets a huge spoonful of that due appreciation thanks to this impressive looking set, which contains all four season sets (each of which already were chock full of eye candy in their own right). Naturally, the extras from those sets — commentaries, animatics, interviews, behind-the-scenes features and the 52-song soundtrack that appeared in the season four set — remain intact. Also included: A “Home Movies” director’s clapboard and tote bag. Available November 4. MSRP: $130.

“Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition” (NR, 1988, Shout Factory): This set — which contains four selections (“First Spaceship on Venus,” “Laserblast,” “Werewolf” and “Future War”) from the “MST3K” library — comes in a beautiful, lunch box-sized tin. Too bad you’ll probably ding the tin trying to free the contents, which are packed in pretty tight. Fortunately, those contents are worth whatever damage the excavation may cause. Extras: Three-part retrospective, 2008 San Diego Comic-Con reunion panel, mini movie posters of each film, Crow T. Robot figurine. Available now. MSRP: $70.

“The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus Collector’s Edition” (NR, 1969, A&E): For those keeping score at home, this is the umpteenth time A&E has produced a definitive “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” DVD collection. If you have one of the previous sets, just move on. If not, though, here’s what, besides all four seasons of “Flying Circus,” this set nets you: two discs full of live performances, two new behind-the-scenes documentaries, six “Personal Best” collections featuring each Python’s favorite sketches, an animation retrospective, galleries, bios, quizzes, behind-the-scenes features and a glossary. Amazingly, the packaging continues to grow more compact each time this set adds new features.

“The Universe Collector’s Set” (NR, 2007, History): The title says it all about this History Channel show, which attempts to answer those pressing questions we have about our planet, our galaxy and what lies beyond. This 14-disc package contains the first (and, so far, only) two seasons of “The Universe,” as well as the 1999 BBC series “The Planets” and three documentaries (“The Universe: Beyond the Big Bang,” “How the Earth Was Made,” “Inside the Volcano”). Other extras: “Backyard Astronomer” feature, DVD-ROM content. Available now. MSRP: $200.

“Abbot & Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection” (NR, 1940-55, Universal): This monstrous but beautiful set doesn’t lie: Packed within are all 28 films Bud Abbot and Lou Costello produced for Universal Pictures, starting with 1940’s “One Night in the Tropics” and ending with 1955’s “Abbot and Costello Meet the Mummy.” Extras include film historian commentary on six films, a retrospective hosted by Jerry Seinfeld, a “greatest hits” montage, one behind-the-scenes feature and a 44-page illustrated book, “Abbot & Costello: The Universal Story.” Available now. MSRP: $120.

“Knight Rider: The Complete Collection” (NR, 1982, Universal): This somewhat oversized set — it’s on par with a world atlas in terms of dimensions — contains all 85 episodes of the show, as well as the “Knight Rider 2000” movie, three behind-the-scenes features, a photo gallery, a K.I.T.T. owner’s manual and a set of K.I.T.T. blueprints. Oh, and the box lights up and plays the theme song if you press the button in the lower right corner. That makes the excess size completely worth it. Available now. MSRP: $140.

“The Incredible Hulk: The Complete Series” (NR, 1978, Universal): Like the “Knight Rider” collection, this set, which contains all five seasons of the “Incredible Hulk” TV series — comes in a rather impressively-sized package. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t light up and play music the way the other one does. Extras from the original season sets — commentaries, episode introductions, two behind-the-scenes features, a photo gallery and a behind-the-scenes look at the recently-released “Hulk” film — remain intact, but the set brings nothing new beyond the pretty packaging. Available now. MSRP: $150.

“Sanford and Son: The Complete Series” (NR, 1972, Sony Pictures), “Good Times: The Complete Series (NR, 1974, Sony Pictures), “NewsRadio: The Complete Series” (NR, 1995, Sony Pictures): Finally, a DVD studio that understands the current economic climate. Each of these three sets, which include the complete contents of the previously-released season sets, can be had for a fraction of the cost of most every other complete series set listed above. Just understand that you get what you pay for in terms of presentation: Each set comes in a standard-issue cardboard box, and all discs are stacked atop one another on a spindle. One the plus side, the cram job keeps each set’s spatial footprint down to a minimum. Unless you’re hopelessly vain, this isn’t a bad trade-off at all. All three sets available now. MSRP for each: $60.

“American Originals Megaset” (NR, 2007, History): Some would prefer this set be renamed “Everything That is Wrong With the History Channel,” but this 14-disc set — which includes the complete first seasons of “Ice Road Truckers,” “Ax Men” and “Tougher in Alaska” — isn’t really for them. Also included: The “Ice Road Truckers: On and Off the Ice” special, the “Dangerous Missions” special, the “Truckers” pilot episode, five behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes and trucker bios. Available now. MSRP: $200.

“The Munsters: The Complete Series” (NR, 1964, Universal): Not much to say about this one that you can’t already glean from the title. Includes all 70 episodes, plus the unaired pilot, the two feature-length “Munsters” movies, a bizarre color print of the “Family Portrait” episode and four behind-the-scenes features. Available now. MSRP: $70.

“Will & Grace: The Complete Series” (NR, 1998, Lions Gate): This 32-disc set, which comes packaged in a nifty cube form, includes all eight seasons and the extras — commentary, cast interviews, behind-the-scenes features, bloopers — that appeared in each season set. New extras include a “favorite episodes” disc with commentary, themed montages and a photo gallery montage. Available now. MSRP: $250.

“Animal House: 30th Anniversary Edition” (R, 1978, Universal): Anniversary editions of popular films are hardly a holiday-only occurrence. Anniversary editions that come in a caricature-adorned box shaped like a house, however, most certainly are. The box’s functionality is barely justified given what little physical product it houses, but it does look pretty cool, and that’s half the battle right there. Extras: New feature-length making-of documentary, Scene It? game, miniature college yearbook, reunion feature and updates on the “alumni.” Available now. MSRP: $35.

“The 4400: The Complete Series” (NR, 2004, CBS/Paramount): In case you lost track of this one after the original miniseries aired and caught fire, this 15-disc, four-season set provides everything you need to catch up and see it to its end. Extras: Deleted scenes, commentary, series creator introduction, the pilot episode and two behind-the-scenes features. Available now. MSRP: $100.

“Fraggle Rock: The Complete Series Collection” (NR, 1983, HIT Entertainment):
This set contains the first three seasons, all of which were previously released separately on DVD, and the fourth season, which was not and is available only as part of this set. In other words, if you’re a devoted “Fraggle Rock” fan who purchased the first three seasons already, congratulations — unless HIT has a change of heart and produces a separate box set for season four, you just got hosed. Available November 4. MSRP: $140.