Developer: United Front Games / Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment / ESRB: Everyone (Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief) / Played on: PS3 / Price: $39.99
Hi, I’m Rob Smith, and today I’m taking ModNation Racers from Sony out for a spin. This kart racer adds a significant layer of the Play. Create. Share theme unveiled as the backbone of LittleBigPlanet. So does it succeed in its double duty as family friendly racer and toolbox kart and track creator? We’ve got all the answers right ahead.
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Comparisons to Nintendo’s classic Mario Kart were not only immediate, but clearly justified when ModNation Racers was first introduced. This is no bad thing, since if you’re going to emulate anything, a best of class game like Mario Kart is as good a place to start as any. That’s exactly where ModNation Racers does start, but certainly not where it ends as the whole user-created content angle is deep, involved, and better yet, rewarding when a creative plan comes together. This is not just a decent start for a new franchise but an already well-conceived, well designed, racer that deserves a place in most PS3 gamers’ collections.
This is classic kart racing. Power-ups litter the tracks, racers bump and grind for position, and leadership can change in an explosive instant. Jumping in to the Quick Race option you choose from the tracks designed by the developers at United Front Games and get racing against up to 11 other kart-riders. I’d like to say that you quickly jump in to the game, but the loading times of each track, race, and back to the central hub are interminable. So, patience, and then the race starts. Naturally, learning the unique curves to each layout, while managing to control your kart means it may take a few races to figure how to best use the X button to drift around corners, time the use of your power-ups, learn the short-cuts, and give yourself a chance to win.
The career mode consists of five four-race progressions introduced in striking cartoon style with quirky vignettes starring bickering hosts. They generate more wry smiles than hearty belly laughs so you won’t miss much by skipping past them. The career progression also steadily introduces more advanced skills. Pulling off spins while airborne or flicking the right-analog stick to sideswipe jostling opponents fill the meter that then provides the juice to activate a shield, which is vital to protect yourself from incoming rockets or sonic booms fired by other racers in your wake. Achieving secondary objectives in these races and nabbing random tokens on the track then unlocks some of the extra equipment you use to customize your karts or your Mod.
The whole Play. Create. Share mantra proved enticing in LittleBigPlanet, but was too quirky to capture the mass mainstream audience many execs expected. It feels more focused here, though the Mod similarities with the LBP characters is readily apparently. But it’s more intuitive to carve out a race course than it is to stretch time-consuming creativity across those LBP levels. Really, a course featuring twists and turns, rises and dips can be carved out of a flat plain, then auto-populated with scenery in not more than a minute. Of course, then test-driving the track, refining, editing, placing additional speed burst ramps, power-ups, and various track decor can take ages. Controlling all these details is impressively straightforward. However long you take, you can save and upload your creations, and invite friends to test-race them, and make them available for public consumption–much of which is motivated by a slew of Trophies encouraging the Create and Share parts of the ModNation equation.
Customizing your karts in the Creation Station shares the simple-but-deep formula of track design, letting you use set prime colors, randomize body styles and sticker sets as you wish, but then dive deep into fine-tuning the look. These are fun-looking karts, so the process is pretty fun, too, and supported by a bunch of add-ons described, officially in the menu, as “silly” it’s pretty certain you’ll have an original luck on your vehicle. How many more karts will have a rootbeer keg as its engine, and a toilet seat as the steering wheel. That was my kart after unlocking just a few extra items.
ModNation Racers is all about its core, simple kart racing gameplay and the customization. Visually, its cartoon style works well, and with the whimsical storyline, establishes a broadly appealing flair that serious gamers won’t be embarrassed to play. Split-screen races with buddies on the couch encourage the kind of smack-talk that gives this a party-game feel, and if you’re more serious, online multiplayer for up to 12 racers is usually fun. Races that earn you XP that powers an online level-up progression are sometimes harder to find than casual races, which illustrates where many games are coming from to the ModNation experience. It’s certainly fun, easy to pick-and-race, and surprisingly fun to delve deep into the track design.