PlayStation 3



Add LittleBigPlanet to the short list of modern video games (Halo, World of Warcraft, Rock Band) that start a subculture. As a platformer (a genre always threatening to die out) is challenged in the current generation only by Mario Galaxy, offering some beautiful graphics and a gravity-based physics engine that's truly a work of art. LBP casts players as a sort of Beanie Baby-esque "sack person" in the game's terminology, navigating a surrealistic universe equal part Michel Gondry and Katamari Damacy.

Though you begin the game in plain unisex brown burlap, every aspect of your appearance is customizable   each level you play is like a trip to virtual Build-a-Bear, unlocking more costume options, from monocles and top hats to aviator glasses and basketball jerseys. Even your moods and facial expressions are instantly modifiable with a press of the D-pad. (And if you think that's an unnecessary feature, wait until the tutorial level teaches you the extensive control scheme dedicated solely to making your character dance for no discernable reason.)

Extreme personalization is a cool aspect of LBP's semi-lucid dream, but the waking-world-gravity-based physics engine (probably the best since Halflife 2) keeps the game from becoming a gimmicky fashion show. Trampolines, pulley-system elevators, and pendulous platforms give the game the feel of a virtual obstacle course that, despite the sometimes outrageous art direction, often makes levels seem like plausible final events for American Gladiators or Ninja Warrior. But, thanks to a refusal to go over the top with double jumping, flight powers (jetpacks excluded), etc., the game is often more difficult than you'd expect, given its child-friendly appearance. Parts of LBP, in fact, reclaim the platform genre from the kiddy-movie-tie-in ghetto it’s often relegated to these days, offering a difficulty and frustration level more reminiscent of the unforgiving games on the original Nintendo Entertainment System than the more recent plague of cartoon-movie cash-ins. Even the generous check-point system, offering a new place from which to begin the level every minute or so, probably won't stop you from throwing the controller and violently cursing your little animated sack person (my character, for example, often goes by a  nickname abbreviated c.s.m.f.)

But game play aside, the aspect that will make LBP a cult-spawning classic is the level editor.

Comprehensive and intuitive, the creation aspect enabling you to make your own game levels with a program very similar to the game itself, allowing you to navigate your sack person through a blank customizable level, adding parts accumulated through the game's standard story mode. You can also drawg and animate your own obstacles, enemies, and vehicles, controlling them with easily tweakable artificial intelligence or mobilizing them with engines or rockets. Create levels to share with other LBP devotees, a feature of the game almost guaranteed to lead to unhealthy obsessions. And, don’t worry parents — the game's creators do plan to moderate the online content, keeping it family friendly. There go my blueprints for a rocket-powered penis car.