If ever there were two franchises destined to work together, it was LittleBigPlanet and ModNation Racers. We all dubbed ModNation as the next step in Sony’s plan to manufacture games based around creation, but for some reason the series never gained the same level of popularity. Now, United Front Games has buried the ModNation brand and delivered what we all thought would eventually happen. LBP ideas and skins are now married to their kart racer, rebranded with Sackboy’s smiling face, complete with tongue hanging out. What we end up with is an interesting mix that feels both progressive and conservative.
From the minute you boot up the game you can sense the LBP inspiration. This feels exactly like Media Molecule’s franchise. Everything from the central hub, to the cushiony menus, to hearing Stephen Fry narrating your adventure feels like Sackboy and company. You have a pop-it menu to customize your Sackboy, kart and hub decorations. Everything in the game is done from this core menu, much like previous LBP games.
You have a story mode again that allows you to move through themed tracks and unlock side missions, trials and games along the way. There is a bevy of content to be found, but it doesn’t come without a price. The entire menu system on the planets is messy and confusing. You sometimes wonder which spot is your main race and which are actually sidequests. This leads to a lot of trial and error on picking items. It is really a mess.
It is also worth noting that all online races are handled from within the same menu. Instead of having a dedicated online menu system, the game instead has you pick the world, then the track and finally decide if you want to race with other players. Once the race is over you all get to vote on the next track, or you can exit back to the main menu and do it all over again. It is a needlessly complicated process that introduces unnecessary problems.
Once we get to the actual karting mechanics, LBP Karting keeps things inoffensive and simple. If you have played a kart racer, you will pick it up fairly quickly. You have a drifting mechanic that allows you to gain boosts, and a plethora of weapon pick-ups to take down other racers. We all know kart racers are far from balanced. It is not uncommon to take a hit down the final stretch after leading the entire race, just to finish dead last; I get that. What makes LBP Karting frustrating in this aspect is its design.
You collect weapons, and again they are confusing at first as to what they are. Then you have to make a choice. You see, you can block attacks with your weapons instead of having the block mechanic like in ModNation. This leads to you holding on to power-ups during certain races just to feel safe. The AI is also devious. More often than not, you will be hammered coming into a sharp turn, only to regain speed and immediately be hit by another. The AI seems to focus on you, and you alone, making the game’s single player more frustrating than it needs to be.
Going back to the online portion of the game, I cannot stress how much it feels like an afterthought. The menu system aside, the sheer level of progression and competition is simply not there. You really feel like online races are simply diversions from the story mode of the game. Personally, I love to have competitions with friends and trash talk in kart racing games. These experiences are nigh impossible, because you rarely want to fuss with actually getting an online game going.
Of course this wouldn’t be an LBP title without creation tools. Again, in what seems to be a theme about LBP Karting the tools are a struggle at times. Probably the most offensive omission is ModNation’s auto-populate feature. You can no longer simply lay down a track and let the game fill in details. Instead you now have to do it all manually. You still build the track by driving around, which is really cool, and makes it much easier to design. With the level of creations online now you can see the frustration caused by the editor. Tracks are not nearly as inspired as those found in ModNation. It just seems like LBP Karting took more shortcuts in its design than the two games that make up its core.
I don’t want to sound overly down on the game because it is a solid karting experience. There is just a certain level of expectation when you combine two games that do what they do so well. There is so much missed opportunity here because of questionable design. Still, if you love kart racers and the LBP world, this is a no-brainer. ModNation is overly ambitious for some, while others simply cannot get enough Sackboy. If you can deal with the game’s shortcomings, there is a lot to love about LBP Karting. I hope Sony continues to lead these franchises forward, as these are the types of games that build character franchises. LBP Karting may not be the best in its class, but it definitely gets the fun part right.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.