(SACKBOY: A BIG ADVENTURE is out now exclusively for the PS4 and PS5. Distributor provided review copy.)
A brave new world
Going against Mario isn’t an easy task. Many have tried, and countless have failed. When Sony introduced audiences to Sackboy in 2007, few could have guessed the button-eyed and perpetually excited puppet would quickly rise to the task. While never gaining the kind of pop-culture empire that the Italian plumber has, Sackboy has grown into a mascot comfortable launching his own games – and now, consoles.
When playing SACKBOY: A BIG ADVENTURE, it’s not hard to see why that’s the case. Finely crafted and pleasing for all ages, this is the kind of game that’s easy to recommend for anyone. Breezy and fun, with just enough challenge to keep even the hardened veterans happy, and with character to spare.
As far as stories go, A BIG ADVENTURE is nothing remarkable, but it doesn’t need to be, either. After the evil Vex attacks the world of imagination, it’s up to Sackboy to set things right again. With three friends in tow, the group must journey into other planets around the make-believe-galaxy to fix the damages and find a way to stop Vex once and for all.
Instead, the focus here is squarely on adventuring and platforming. Every level is a cornucopia of color, gadgetry, and collectibles. While highly linear, the routes are just diverse enough that they don’t feel monotonous, and there’s a good emphasis on co-op gameplay even when it’s not the main focal point. The levels aren’t particularly long, which feels like a decision made to keep the younger audiences entertained, but there is a wealth of hidden secrets to find.
Similarly, the combat and platforming aren’t challenging, though they’ll probably require a little bit of aid for the youngest family members. Boss battles range from easy to, well, more leisurely, but they’re also not the main draw. And while there is combat, it’s more wild, comic flailing than anything troubling, which makes for a nice change of pace like other family-friendly games out there.
The treasures reward players with new outfits and clothing that can be mixed and matched at will. While they don’t affect the actual gameplay, these additions are great for letting your Sackboy stand out from the pack. Especially with friends, it’s a joy to see what your collective adventuring team ends up looking. During my time with the game, I found myself going back more than once to revisit old levels to collect more points just to unlock wackier outfits.
Visually, A BIG ADVENTURE is the perfect launch game for the PS5. It’s consistently inventive, celebrating the yet-untapped processing power of the new generation. Backgrounds are wildly animated and alive, effortlessly surprising players even hours into the journey. It never feels cluttered, either, as the art direction always goes for clarity over fussiness, and even the most obscure secrets make sense when you look for them.
This is helped by the precise controls, especially when combined with the incredible pressure sensitivity of the DualSense and inventive puzzles. Ropes feel heavier when you pull them thanks to the new technology, and it’s still ever so wild to feel every pebble and droplet of water as you run over them.
I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the soundtrack, which is so foot-tappingly catchy it will live in your head, rent-free, for months on end. The compositions are like the game, poppy, upbeat, and thoroughly charming.
A BIG ADVENTURE feels like a breath of fresh because of how traditional and self-aware it is. It doesn’t need to prove itself, so instead, it focuses on doing everything exceptionally well. So while grappling, gliding, racing, and running through various levels is familiar, it’s also exciting because it feels like a perfected formula.
If you could bottle wholesomeness and sell it, it would probably look and feel like SACKBOY: A BIG ADVENTURE. Spinning off from the massively popular LittleBigPlanet series, it’s a brilliant step into its own identity. It’s as impressive for a launch title as anything Nintendo has released with a particular moustachioed repairman.
Your move, Mario.