Everyone has one game that’s their guilty vice; it’s a game that doesn’t deserve the hours upon hours that are plunged into it, a fact that typically brings great shame upon the gamer plunging said hours into it. For me, that game is Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds – or Everybody’s Golf: World Tour as it’s known over here. After investing the best part of 2008 into it, I had thankfully managed to wean myself off it in 2009’s early stages.
Had being the imperative word, because in mid-April the withdrawal, cravings and overwhelming sense of emptiness proved too strong to keep ignoring. Fingers trembling and eyes blurry, I loaded up the game and played a couple of online matches to get back into the swing – pun unintentional. I soon realised that I’d missed quite a few changes in the Hot Shots world. Not only was there a new course (ooh), special events (aah), and online leaderboards (ooooh), but most notably of all there was a very familiar knitted fellow clubbing and putting his way around the game’s courses. Yes, it was of course LittleBigPlanet’s Sackboy, whored out by Sony to Hot Shots Golf as a playable character. Somewhat predictably, he appears to be very popular with this cutesy game’s cute-loving contingent; during my play sessions, I’ve found myself bumping into far more Sackpeople than, well, people.
Since its release, anything Sony-related has found its way through downloadable content into LittleBigPlanet. There have been costumes and items from Metal Gear Solid, Heavenly Sword, God of War, Patapon, Locoroco, Resistance 2, Killzone 2 and a whole host of other Sony games. I wouldn’t be surprised if the television Sackboy sticks his head through was a Bravia. There are plenty of visitors to chez Sack, but the Hot Shots Golf series has traditionally been more picky with its Sony icons. Fore! had Jak and Ratchet as guest player characters, with small guys Daxter and Clank helping out as caddies, while late last year God of War’s Kratos was made available as a DLC character for Out of Bounds. Honestly, there’s nothing more amusing than a half-naked behemoth of a man who’s covered in red paint, whirring above his head an enormous chain blade while leaping in the air and then punching the ground, all while screaming “I am immortal!”… to celebrate a birdie. Anyway, the point is that while this isn’t Sackboy’s only guest appearance to date (see Pain and Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic), Sackboy starring alongside such popular guest characters in Hot Shots Golf seems to confirm Sony’s stock in him.
When the small, Guildford-based Media Molecule first dreamt up Sackboy, could they have imagined he’d become Sony’s new mascot? That’s exactly what he’s becoming, as signalled by SCEA product manager Mark Valledor’s comments in an interview with Adage. Valledor said that Sony “want LittleBigPlanet to lead the charge into a new genre of gaming and turn Sackboy into the next emblematic character for the PS3”. Of course, that quote was in August last year, before LittleBigPlanet’s release, and Valledor did also say that Sony “have coined 2008 ‘the year of the PS3’ and are confident that with the launch of LittleBigPlanet we [Sony] will continue to see momentum build throughout the end of this year and on to the next”. Well, while LittleBigPlanet was received astonishingly well by critics, its critical reception failed to translate into commercial success for whatever reason, with worldwide sales roughly just above 1 million at the time of writing. So while Sony are pimping out Sackboy for all he’s worth, has his stock fallen as a result of his game’s uninspiring sales? Yes, Sony may be planning a PSP version of LittleBigPlanet as well as a sequel, but do they really think that Sackboy has enough in him to compete with rival platforms’ mascots like Mario and Master Chief?
Well, first off Sackboy’s a stronger icon than Master Chief because of his versatility. Microsoft barely transplanted Master Chief onto a Halo RTS game, and while he’s synonymous with the Xbox 360’s biggest franchise, I don’t think we’re going to see his karting game anytime soon. No, Sackboy is trying to become Sony’s version of Nintendo’s Mario, and I can easily envision a future that holds the excitement of Sackboy Kart, LittleBig RPG and Sackgirl PSP. However, Mario’s beginnings reside in the whirlwind success of Donkey Kong, and he was the first character ever to become a platform holder’s mascot. We’ve seen Sega’s Alex Kidd come and go, and then the same company create Sonic, a blue hedgehog that rose to a strong enough position to challenge the podgy plumber in the ‘90s. We all know how that one ended, sadly. Is there really space for two console mascots in the current market, and is Sackboy the man, er, boy, er, Sackperson to do it?
As far as I’m concerned, based only on my girlfriend’s initial gushing reaction to him, there’s no reason Sackboy can’t achieve world domination. I don’t think there’s been a video game character as instantly enamouring since a squeaky yellow mouse first hit our handheld screens. And so far, Sony are marketing him the right way, not least by keeping him absolutely silent in Hot Shots Golf – that’s how Sonic got caught out, of course. Well, that and the third dimension. Nope, I don’t ever want to hear the shrill voice of a Sackboy or Sackgirl – unless they get Hugh Laurie of House MD fame to provide it. Not only are you reuniting Fry and Laurie in the most bizarre of ways, but they could you make it that if you kick Sackboy in the leg, Laurie does an American accent. Add a bit of limping and you have Sack M.D. – job done.