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It’s been a few weeks since the PlayStation 5 released and we’ve seen a wealth of praise thrown towards arguably two of its biggest titles in Demon’s Souls and Spider-Man Miles Morales. Sadly however, there’s another title that launched with the console deserving of recognition, and while platformers are not as celebrated as they used to be, this one should be. That game is Sackboy : A Big Adventure.
Sackboy was developed by Sumo Digital (Little Big Planet 3, Sonic Team Racing) for the PS4 and PS5. Instead of the mixed-approach taken by Little Big Planet between player creation and platforming, Sackboy instead is purely a 3D platformer. Sackboy as a character can be customized to your heart’s content, and the game worlds still have a crafted feel to them, but otherwise this game has more in common with a title like Super Mario 3D World than Little Big Planet.
As with many platformers, you’re introduced to the antagonist immediately and his or her plan to ruin the universe. In this instance his name is Vex and he’s aiming to destroy Crafted World. To combat him, Sackboy will need to battle hordes of Vex’s minions while collecting Dreamer Orbs. Got it? Good, because now we can get to what makes Sackboy one of the best platforming games in years.
The game world structure is similar in ways to a title like Super Mario World. There are five core worlds, each with different themes, and within them are a vast array of levels including a few secrets. Each level has multiple objectives to complete which not only increases the challenge, but adds to the game’s replayability. To progress the main story, you’ll need to collect the Dreamer Orbs as I noted above. But there is also a Bronze/Silver/Gold tier reward based on how many bubbles you collect (the easiest comparison here is coins in Mario), a reward for completing a level without dying, Knitted Knight Trial levels to find (more on that shortly), and outfit customization pieces.
The level design is far and away the star of Sackboy. As with many titles in this genre, the first few levels are relatively straight forward as you learn the mechanics. But as the game progresses, you’re introduced to not only a far greater challenge, but more creativity than I’ve seen out of any game in recent memory. From the backdrop designs, to the characters, and the sheer variety of the levels themselves, it’s truly incredible what Sumo Digital has put together here, and an absolute joy to experience.
Accompanying the incredible level design is a soundtrack that is both fitting and memorable. You’ll find yourself nodding your head and humming along as you explore the world, and many of the levels incorporate choreographed actions on the screen with the music being played, a nice touch. Most impressive however, is that some of my favorite levels are built around licensed music ranging from Jungle Boogie, to Britney Spears’ Toxic, to Uptown Funk. To call them brilliant would be underselling it. I can say, without hesitation, that they made me smile and laugh more than any other game this year. Here’s just a small taste…
One interesting choice by the developers, was to use a fixed camera perspective. Traditionally 2D platformers have a distinct advantage over 3D platformers as having a player manage a camera, while navigating challenging platforming, don’t go hand-in-hand. In this case, Sackboy removes that obstacle entirely and I believe it to be better off for it. Instead, the camera generally remains at an isometric/overhead angle above you and the levels move you through them. While there were a few areas where I felt it was tough to manage my location, overall I had very few issues. And not having to move a camera constantly truly frees you up to focus on the beautiful levels themselves.
Switching up the traditional levels are “Knitted Knight Trials” which are unlocked via a hidden collectible you can find in specific levels throughout the game. There are 15 in total and unlike the core gameplay, they are timed, race-like levels where you’ll need to be fast and mistake-free. Conquer all 15 and you will unlock the ultimate challenge. Titled “The Ripsnorter”, it pieces together all of the prior 15 trials into a singe, mammoth level which you will still need to beat in one go without dying to complete. It’s one of the craziest challenges I’ve seen in a platforming game.
All of this fun can be had with up to three friends as well as the game supports online co-op. And several levels are designed specifically for two or more players to work together. Thankfully you don’t need to complete these levels to be able to finish the game, and you can also use matchmaking with other players online should you be so inclined. Be aware however, if you are a trophy hunter, you will need to play co-op at some point as several of the trophies are only attainable in multiplayer.
Sackboy A Big Adventure is the biggest and best surprise of 2020 for me. I’ve always loved platforming games, but I had no idea this game would be so charming, so full of joy, and so well designed. It stands tall in the genre and is my favorite since the modern Rayman games (Origins and Legends). It’s easy to overlook titles like Sackboy when there’s new console hardware launching, and a wealth of big budget, AAA titles to play. But it would be a crime to do so. Sackboy is one of the best games of 2020.