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Sony has thrown some weight behind ModNation Racers. With a release on PS3 and PSP it is easy to see why they are hailing this title as the next big thing to feature the “Play, Create, Share" ethos. It may be charming like Little Big Planet, and it certainly offers up some content creation goodness, but what about the gameplay?
This is essentially a kart racer with cute cartoon characters, roller coaster tracks, speed boosts and weapon pick ups to unleash on your opponents. There are a couple of tweaks to standard mechanics in the genre and one or two vaguely original ideas but you can’t escape the fact that this is an expensive Mario Kart clone.
By all accounts the PS3 version is a lot better than the PSP port. Ignoring the PS3 release and considering this as a standalone PSP game it’s tough not to be impressed at the magnitude of it. There is loads of content here and you can create characters, karts and tracks using an editor which is quick and easy to operate. The idea is to allow you to share your creations and this aspect of the game makes it infinitely expandable. Customization is good but is it enough?
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Race and Design
There’s a single player Career Mode which serves as a great introduction to the gameplay and the idea behind ModNation Racers. It will allow you to practice your racing and take you through the editing set up. The cut scenes are beautifully done and although the story is largely inconsequential the voice acting really adds some comedy and keeps things ticking along.
In addition to the Career Mode you can take on a Single Race with Action, Pure or Last Kart Standing options. The Last Kart Standing mode eliminates the last placed racer every 30 seconds until there is one winner. There is also the Community Race option which includes Ad-hoc or Online races for multiplayer racing against human opponents, which is really what kart racing games like this are all about.
You can access your creations or make new ones in the Design Studios and you can share them online via the Community option. The track creation is the best option and it features an intuitive system which allows you to knock up crazy tracks in no time at all. You drive to place the track out and then edit with banks and run offs, before adding props and dealing with the finishing cosmetic touches. You can also test drive and tweak it further before finishing off and saving it out to play on.
The character (Mod) creation is dull by comparison. You have a range of preset options for eyeballs, hair and clothing and most of them are locked until you progress in the game. The characters are cute but the Mod editor is a little blocky and many of the options are uninspired. It is also irritating that it doesn’t give you easy access to unlocked content only and you have to scroll through everything to see what’s available. The Kart editor is much the same as the Mod editor.
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It is easy to get lost in the creative side of the game and it certainly offers an incredible amount of customisation for a PSP title. The track creation is genuinely fun and if any part of ModNation Racers is going to take off and spawn a lively community this will be it.
Aside from some graphical blur the big stumbling block for ModNation Racers is the gameplay. The controls are just a bit awkward. It is far too easy to slam into the fencing or an obstacle and a big crash can wipe you out of the race permanently. Drifting is essential and it allows you to build up your boost bar but it’s not easy to pick up immediately. Hold X while turning to drift but use it sparingly on tight sections or you’ll hit the wall.
You can also build up boost by pulling off skate style tricks in the air but it’s very easy to accidentally flip the wrong way and land awkwardly. The fact that your boost bar can be used to fuel a speed boost, or throw up a dome shield round your kart, is quite good. There are also the familiar arrow boost sections on the track and the odd obstacle as well.
In short there's nothing particularly original on offer here when it comes to gameplay. In fact having a game of ModNation Racers makes you feel like playing Mario Kart because it is, quite simply, a better game.
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The array of weapons seems interesting, obviously it takes a while to learn the symbols and your first few outings will be exploratory. Many of them seem to require line of sight forward fire which leads to an irritating situation where you can get stuck in a pack as the leader pulls further and further away. Unlike Mario Kart you definitely want to take the lead in ModNation Racers and the earlier you do the more likely you’ll be able to build an unassailable gap.
In terms of speed and physical interaction with the course ModNation Racers feels lightweight. The boost effect is decent but there isn’t a great feeling of speed and the general movement as you take off from ramps or bounce to earth lacks feedback. The tracks are quite good and there are shortcuts to discover and tactics to be learned.
There is enough going on here to get you engaged and the overall style is good. On the other hand it doesn’t have that addictive vice-like grip that encourages you to play just one more game several times in a row. It is full of unlockable content and throws up plenty of reasons to keep coming back and it is likable but, when you are enjoying building a track more than racing on it, you can see where it’s going wrong.
- All references, cover art and screenshots from ModNation Racers for the PSP.