The recipe for success is in the box that contains ModNation Racers. Think about it. The game is a kart racer in the same vein as the classic Mario Kart. It has gorgeous visuals, spot-on controls and did I mention the greatest level editor for a game ever created? Yes ModNation is all about custom content and of course continues the trend of Sony’s Play, Create, Share mantra. What we end up with is a LittleBigKart in a sense, and that is definitely not a bad thing. Only a few haggling issues keep this title from reaching the classic status, but even so if you even remotely enjoy having fun, ModNation Racers is a must buy for all PS3 owners.
Let’s start with the bulk of what makes ModNation so special, and what separates it from the rest of the herd. Creation is at the core and United Front Games has given you plenty of options. You can customize your karts, your drivers and of course your very own tracks. You can also share these online with the world through one of the most intuitive interfaces I have yet to encounter. Navigating items in the sharing menu is so easy to navigate that finding some of the cooler and more original tracks is a piece of cake. As of press time there were already numerous creations scattered across the service, and I can only imagine what it will be like once the game hits shelves this week.
Now if you are like me and simply did not acclimate well to the LBP editor you are likely a little gun-shy about diving into the same concept. Well I can tell you that the editors in ModNation are so simplistic that you will be creating fun courses and characters with little to no effort. The developers have done an outstanding job of tailoring the editor to the logical sense of creating. In order to lay down track you literally drive around in the directions you want to go, using the right analog stick to adjust height. Then you can scatter items around the track, select themes or simply tap auto-populate to automatically create a lively course of your very own. It will be awesome to see some of the more advanced creations, but the simplicity of this editor means you are only limited by your imagination as far as new tracks go.
Tracks are not the only thing you can tailor to your style though. You can also customize both your character and your kart with just about any style you could imagine. You can opt to start from scratch or edit a pre-existing creation and make it your own. The sheer amount of options make most create-a-character modes look pale by comparison. You can change the texture of your skin, add funky colors and of course accessorize with goofy hats, ears and glasses. On the kart side things are no different as you can literally create some truly outlandish vehicles. Unfortunately this does not affect their performance on the track, but this is probably a good thing as it might give an unfair advantage to some players. This keeps things on a level playing field.
The creation aspect is easily the most robust feature in the game, and the simplicity behind it makes it much more accessible to a larger audience than pretty much any other game of its type. But none of this does anyone any good if the gameplay is not up to snuff. Thankfully ModNation will feel familiar and comfortable to anyone who has played Nintendo’s classic franchise. While perhaps a little looser as far as turning goes, the same core concept of drift, slide and boost applies here. Tapping the slide button brings back memories of classic SNES battles we used to have, and the alternate routes on all the tracks provide plenty of tricks to memorize before going online. Of course the real star of the competitive action is the weapons.
ModNation takes a different approach with the weapons in the sense of quality over quantity. There are only a handful of variations, but picking up multiple pick-ups will increase the power of whichever weapon you are currently carrying, for example the rocket. At first it is a simple, straight shot that nails whoever is in front of you so long as they don’t turn quickly. Power it up though and it becomes a homing missile of doom destined to take out multiple targets in a single swoop. This creates strategy when it comes to picking up items. Do you save them for the massive coup de grace, or simply spam missiles in a spray-and-pray approach? The choice is yours.
Drifting also awards you boost points that can be used to get a quick burst of speed around the track, but more importantly it also gives you the ability to activate a shield for protection. This is really the biggest change to the kart racing formula that United Front Games has brought to the table. Knowing when to boost and when to save up your shield are key to completing some of the later, and more challenging tracks.
The single player game is broken down into a series of races that fit the standard fare. The catch is that there are various extra objectives on each track that will award you new parts for your creations. The main hub world serves as a place where you can access all the content, both online and off. There are also video screens and other players roaming around giving the game a very community-driven persona. Everything can be accessed from here as well as a quick menu, which makes navigating various areas a breeze. There are cut scenes during the campaign mode which are quite humorous and even showcase your customized kart and driver.
In addition to the single player there is also a plethora of online functionality. As I mentioned you can create, share and download all creations through the simplistic menus, buy you can also race with up to eleven other players online. There are essentially two types of modes, casual and XP races. They are pretty self-explanatory and much like the rest of the game, extremely easy to get into. Everything is literally a button press away and it makes the experience so cohesive and confined that it is hard not to get lost in the action.
All of this doesn’t come without some truly annoying hindrances though. The biggest and most talked about problem are the loading times. The game has a massive initial install and still we are treated to load times that can last up to 45 seconds at a time. While that may not sound long in perspective, for a game that focuses on pick-up-and-play action, the wait feels that much longer. I know I found myself frustrated every time I had to change menus or start a new race because it meant I was going to have to wait to get into the action. We may be spoiled as gamers, and these quirks may be nitpicking, but it seriously is a matter of just wanting to get back to having fun as quickly as possible.
Visually the game is gorgeous on all accounts. Delivering a rock solid frame rate and a gorgeous array of colors, each level is even livelier than the last. While the designs are not quite on par with some of Nintendo’s creations, the ability to make your own more than compensates for that. I really love the way the game looks, and the sounds are just as impressive. Being able to listen to your own music is always a plus, but the included soundtrack is definitely not too hateful either. The dialogue is well-written and genuinely funny at times and the sound effects are definitely above the normal quality. Overall the game just reeks of polish and accessibility outside of the loading times, which goes a long way with this reviewer.
ModNation Racers is truly a work of art on so many levels. The creation tools are a snap to use, the controls really let you have fun instead of having to wrestle with them and there is simply so much packed onto this disc it is hard not to recommend it. Outside of the sometimes atrocious loading hiccups and minor balancing issues this game is about as close as non-Nintendo fans will get to the classic series. ModNation Racers is a must buy for anyone who enjoys a good time. I imagine that with the premise of construction of the game, it will only get better as time goes on.
Review copy provided by publisher.