Kart racing games hasn’t truly evolved, heck, since the ultra popular pioneer, 'Super Mario Kart,' well that is until now. In the hands of the Canadian based developer ‘United Front Games,’ Sony has issued a drivers licence for a new kart racer, and the result is the adorable ‘ModNation Racers,’ the latest game under the "play, share, create" marquee.
Ambition isn't usually a quality associated with Kart racing games. Over the years there has been dozens of kart racers. However, very few try to innovate past the basic sprinkling of new power-ups or new characters. 'Mario Kart' is the one that kick-started the "kart racing" genre, and as a whole, it hasn’t changed too much over the years. Thankfully, things are starting to change as 'SCEA' expands its ‘play, share, create’ concept into a Kart racing game. Finally, we have a new kart racing savoir-faire with a brand new attitude behind the wheel.
Is ‘ModNation Racers,’ (MNR) the future of kart racing? Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but it is a step in the right direction. The label of "Future of Kart Racing" might be a little too boisterous. ‘ModNation Racers’ is a great game, but it’s not perfect. Despite all its innovative tweaks, ‘MNR’ still has room to grow. Where 'MNR' needs room to grow is in its feel. In the most crucial spot of a racing game, 'ModNation' seems to be trying a little hard, and looses some of the charm and simplicity of controlling a Mario-influenced kart.
'MNR' puts an emphasis on drifting, which shouldn’t be surprising given every current racing game seems to be all about the drifting. The problem isn’t directly related to the drifting, but more on how the drifting controls. In ‘MNR’ the drifting is needlessly complex and will likely throw off the younger crowd looking for a 'one-button' type deal. The main issue here is the controller layout. It simply feels unnatural and uncomfortable, leaving your fingers twisted. Drifting requires you to hold down the trigger whiles holding down a face button and moving the analog stick. It is a little tricky and when you add in all the other factors like the other buttons (boost, weapons, and shields) it becomes needlessly frustrating... and that is without the stress of oncoming attack. It’s really too bad, ‘MNR’ doesn’t quite capture the feel like we expected, although it seems like a minor nitpick (the control scheme) it really affects the game. Don’t get me wrong it isn’t impossible to handle, it works, but it could have been smoother.
Sackboy Never had it This Easy
So, the controls could have been tweaked a little more, something that will likely change if we see another ModNation racing game. Aside from that diminutive side-bump, 'ModNation Racers' is a stand up game that tries to push the player into creating their own unique content, and therefore into an expanding community to share their creations. Unlike the last title to share this innovative concept, 'LittleBigPLanet,' 'ModNation' eases you into this role better. Implemented right from the career mode you will learn to modify your character, create your own rides, and even build your own tracks. Weaving creation into the story is cleverly approached and works like a charm. Even those who didn't think too much of these features in 'LBP' would likely be hooked with the creation tools in 'ModNation.' Things have definitely been refined-- streamlined-- and simplified.
Welcome to the Modspot
In ‘MNR’ you will always be driving and this even affixed to menu system. All the action happens in the sharply designed ‘ModSpot,’ basically a general lobby/menu system that can be constantly connected to the PSN. Being connected allows other racers to drive around in a shared lobby to enter any of the game modes. The ‘ModSpot’ is your gateway to the competitive section of the game that includes multiplayer events and the career mode. It also hosts the ‘Creation Station,’ the spot that allows you to create mods, karts and tracks. Continuing there is a shop where you can share and spend credits you win in-game. There is a top mods, kart and track section, a coming attractions billboard, and a few other nice selections. It is definitely loaded up and impressive when you hop into the game. It seems like ‘United’ took a cue from 'Playstation Home' and added their own twist. Nicely done.
Grip the Wheel, Young TAG
Before we get to the creating tools, lets jump into the career mode. Surprisingly the career mode makes an impression. I’m sure for those who have played ‘LBP,’ expected a similiar progression system -- Jump level to level, participating in a few races -- well, it’s like that, but there is also a storyline attached that is actually entertaining. The story follows TAG, a younger racer busting into the ‘ModNation’ racing circuit. TAG is surrounded by a cast of instantly loveable characters who have a tremendous amount of personality ringing out of their pint-sized bodies. The supporting cast (dastardly villain included) helps to bring out a fun vibe that makes the recycled plot of racing to the top, enjoyable. I wouldn’t say, ‘MNR’ is a gripping success story, but it hits all the right cues, delivering more than was expected. Look to spend a good amount of your time racing through each challenging level, taking down all the rivals who step up to challenge your on track dominance.
Meet Me Online
The other portion of your time (when not creating) will be spent racing online, or via the four player supported split-screen multiplayer. ‘MNR’ is a lot of fun against human opponents and as you can speculate a lot more challenging. Online there is a ranking system that is based on your in-game performance. It increases the more you race and depending on how you perform, it can jump up extensively. All races don’t have to be tied to XP, you can simply opt for a casual race, but most gamers will want to earn more than bragging rights for their troubles online. The online racing supports 2-12 players with the casual mode summing bots. There is also a lobby system that works here, however it kicks you out after each race, which is a pain when trying to have a few games with friends. A consistent lobby system would have worked much better. Lastly, you also have the option to play hot-laps online, which is also very satisfying, these work flawlessly without lag while supporting multiple ghost tracks. Racing against the clock might not be as fun as other humans, but it's a pleasant diversion to pass the time.
Look what I made
The “play, share, create” brand is an electrifying prospect for Sony, and like ‘LittleBigPlanet,’ ‘MNR’ makes it fun to create and share content with the public. In ‘MNR’ you are effortlessly able to create your own characters, vehicles, and tracks. The tools presented to the user is the same tools the developer used to create the world, so anything is possible, and better yet, simple to use. ‘MNR’ track creator would be the major concern here, however it is so simple that anyone can make an awesome track in minutes. Compared to ‘LBP,’ this is a breeze.
Worried about not having enough content? Don't be. The 'ModNation' community has already filled up the servers with an unimaginable ton of downloads. The pool of content is rich and filled with familiar faces and vehicles from film, comic books, gaming, and more. You will love the cute look of these adaptions and will likely be boasting someone else creation without shame. ‘United’ really went out of their way to improve all the troubles found in ‘LBP’s connectivity, 'MNR' is much more accessible. Until another 'MNR' is released, 'MNR' will always feel fresh given the steady rate of content being added. If 'LBP' has shown us anything, people love to create and share their ideas with the rest of the world, and the rest of the world loves to embellish them. If you have ever had a creative bone, you will be intrigued with this concept and 'ModNation Racers.'
‘ModNation Racers’ is an innovative take on the simplistic mechanics of kart racing. By adding in the outstanding ability to generate and share your own content, 'ModNation Racers' stands out in a crowd. Sure, there is a lot of room for tweaking, and who knows maybe all our control concerns could be patched. Even so, ‘ModNation Racers’ is still a sold racing game that has a fast gowning amount of content to explore. One aspect to keep in mind, is the online nature of the game, so offline only gamers will be missing half the fun. If you are not hooked online, it might be time to get some service. Creative minds, kart-racing fans, ‘ModNation Racers’ is a must have.