May 17, 2007 - When [Register or Login to view links] debuted at GDC earlier this year there's no denying it stole the show, overshadowing Home and many of the other announcements Sony made at the event. Not bad for a game whose leads character is made out of sack cloth. But while the reaction to the game has been overwhelmingly positive and much has already been reported about what was shown, up until now one question has still remained unanswered - what's it like to play? IGN was invited to Sony's 3Rooms to get its hands on Media Molecule's quirky debut and, while the level shown was the same as the one unveiled at GDC, we got more of an insight as to how the final product will play.
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Sack Boy starts off naked so customise your look using the Pop It.
"We don't want this game to be complicated," explains Pete Smith, SCEE producer, at the beginning of the presentation. "Customising the game and the character should be quick and easy to do." He's not wrong as we discover for ourselves when we pick up the pad and take control of Sack Boy, who's standing there wearing nothing but a big grin. Hitting Square brings up a menu, nicknamed a Pop It, which is filled with costumes and items to dress your character with. It's packed with all sorts of weird and wonderful items of clothing, from cowboy outfits, ninja suits, ridiculous sunglasses, floppy hats - pretty much anything you can think off, with more to be added in the coming months.
Selecting an outfit is as simple as highlighting an item and hitting X; the sun was shining outside so we plumped for some beachwear, squeezing Sack Boy inside an all-in-one bathing suit and finishing off the look with a fetching mask and snorkel. Our fellow players - it's primarily designed as a multiplayer game after all - branched off in different directions, opting for an Evel Knievel helmet and catsuit, a samurai costume and, lastly, the get-up of a roman general.
At this point we were also shown how the player can change Sack Boy's mood, by pressing the d-pad to make him happy, sad, angry or frown. The change is reflected by the look on his face - he beams a big smile when happy and bares his teeth when angry - and also affects the way he controls, so he bounces along when smiling and lowers his head and lollops about when he's in a mood. To be honest it's not apparent what affect these mood changes will actually have on the game but it's a nice touch from an aesthetic point of view.
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The Pop It includes plenty of costumes so you're free to experiment.
However, while we able to tailor the look of Sack Boy to our individual tastes, a lot of the other customisation that will be in the final game was missing from this version. For example, we were given a taste of how players will be able to customise levels by opening up the Pop It and picking an item then dropping it in the background, but in the build we saw it was limited to sticking posters on the walls and other basic stuff. Ultimately, players will be able to create objects such as balls that will enable them to solve puzzles in different ways so it'll be interesting to see how that's incorporated into the game.
The number and type of objects a player can create depends - for now at least - on how much sponge they collect. These fluffy balls are scattered around the level, mostly within easy reach but occasionally hidden away. In the case of the latter, players must work together as a team to negotiate obstacles and pull apart the scenery to get to otherwise inaccessible areas of the level. A perfect example of this is early on in the level we played, in which a handful of sponge balls were stashed under a tower of building blocks. Holding R1 makes Sack Boy grab the nearest brick, enabling him to drag it out of the way. But to shift the larger blocks, two or more players must work together, pulling it as a team so the other players can get to the good stuff.