Project Spark Beta - First Impressions: The Xbox One's LittleBigPlanet

Technically, that headline isn't entirely accurate. While Project Spark is certainly reminiscent to LittleBigPlanet, insofar that you can create, build and play your very own game-created projects, it's actually a heck of a lot bigger than LittleBigPlanet and – using some of its more advanced toolsets – edges closer to the likes of 3D Game Studio.

Project Spark recently headed into beta for Windows and Xbox users, enabling gamers to dive into the creation tool and share those creations with others.

The beta introduces players to the basic mechanics of getting started; making a world, throwing in a character and getting some basic gameplay elements in place. If you decide to follow the more in-depth tutorial you can learn how to do more complex things, like changing how an object is controlled, or what it does or how it functions.

But let me slow down and better explain this for those new to this whole Project Spark thing. Essentially, it's a toolset that allows players to pick their setting, pick the kind of character(s) they want to play and design how they want to play the game. As I mentioned, it shares some similarities with LittleBigPlanet in the user generated content category, but it's so much more than that.

Unlike MediaMolecule's adventure-style series, Project Spark opens the door for a variety of custom game possibilities. While my own experience with the game creator was limited, I did download a few other “finished” projects that included a pinball game, a Monkey Ball-style bowling game, as well as a third-person platformer where you controlled a bunny. It felt like a nice throwback to the old-school days of the N64. But it's not limited to what was just mentioned. You can make RTS games, racing games, side-scrollers, adventure games, RPGs... the sky is the limit, literally.

The thing that helps separate Project Spark from a bunch of other creation tools out there is that it's fairly easy to use. Modifying or changing maps around is almost identical to the geometry deformation toolset from the Far Cry games, and selecting and changing attributes and events for objects is all handled with a radial pop-up menu via the controller. There's also keyboard support if you really feel you need it.

And even if you're not that creative, there are at least a lot of different forms of content to engage in to hold over you interest. I think the Xbox One just found it's real killer app.

Given that the app is free, there is a free-to-play style cash shop involved. It reminds me a little bit like Mania Planet's planet currency, but a bit more nefarious. You have tokens and credits. The credits are earned by using Project Spark, playing around in it, etc., etc. Tokens are earned with real money. You need to buy the tokens from the cash shop. You can use either tokens or credits to acquire some user-created levels or games.

Given that it's still in beta, I have no idea how necessary it will be to dump money into Project Spark. If it's the sort of thing that eventually gets out of hand, where every other feature is locked behind a paywall, then I can see how the cash shop can become burdensome. If there's a right proper balance to it all, then it may not be too bad. The verdict is still out.

For now, I kind of like what I see with Project Spark. I'm also impressed that it has some fairly good Kinect integration for some custom content. I'm curious to see how far that kind implementation will take the imagination of gamers, but it's looking promising so far. I'll keep you posted as the app is explored a bit more.

Will Usher

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend.