A solid racing title is one of the must-haves at any console launch, whether it be handheld or at home. This time I am not referring to a Ridge Racer game, no; this time I am referring to ModNation Racers: Road Trip! In order for a handheld kart racing game to be successful it has to possess the following features: accessible gameplay, fun in short bursts, and lots of stuff to keep you busy when you need it to. ModNation is a competent and entertaining kart racer and excels in all these counts for the most part, but still suffers from some unfortunate setbacks.
The original ModNation Racers hit the PS3 and PSP back in 2010, and now we have a brand new entry in the series for the launch of the Vita. The game utilizes all of the Vita’s new functions to great effect, while still maintaining the core of the experience. The game is comprised of five different circuits, each containing its own set of tracks. If you complete certain challenges within races, you can unlock tracks in the “Bonus” circuit for added content. This theme carries on throughout the game as the key feature: unlocking and utilizing content.
Each race will have different challenges to complete, for example: run over 5 boosts throughout the race, or knockout 3 opponents during the race, etc. These add a nice bit of added goal and variety to each individual track, instead of just trying to get first every time. On the track there are tons of different power-ups, each of which have three levels. These range from rockets, to mines, to boosts, and even to the ability to turn into a giant snowball and roll over your opponents. All of these power-ups combined with the frantic racing and intense set-pieces on each track make for some truly exciting races.
However, this also brings up one of the main issues as well: there is often too much going on. This presents two problems: 1) it makes the game frustrating because things get too crowded and ridiculous, making it less about racing and more about the random events and 2) The game does tend to slowdown a bit when lots of stuff is onscreen. To my first point, it is perfectly fine to have living tracks with lots of interaction from objects other than your opponents, but often times in ModNation it seems like the focus is not on the racing at all. This makes the game frustrating and often a lot less fun.
All of that aside the game controls well for the most part, and has tons of features even when racing on a normal track. Your meter accumulates over time as you drift, draft, and knockout opponents. You can use your meter to not only utilize a powerful boost, but also to put up your shield to deflect attacks. Each of these drain your meter, so you have to strategically conserve and use your energy throughout the race. Additionally, you can expend powers and convert them directly into meter energy, instead of wasting powers you don’t want. This is a really nice feature that adds a lot of strategy to the game. Furthermore, the right analog stick is used well as you can side swipe any contestant, stalling them and providing a nice boost to your meter.
Drifting is effective for sharp corners, and if you can sustain it for a long period of time then you can really increase your meter quickly. Drafting does the same as well, but brings up one of the games biggest problems: rubber-band AI. This is when the computer racers never really fall too far behind. If you are in first and continue to use boosts, and race perfectly the entire time, the AI will still be just about right behind you always. If you are on a straight-away, it seems like they always find a way to rocket ahead of you at the last second. It makes the end of races extremely intense, but only because you’re worried about getting ripped off by an NPC.
One of the game’s strongest features, of course, is the level of customization. I was truly amazed by the level of detail you have when creating your Mod, your Car, and even tracks. You can tweak and change ever little details. The touch controls really shine while creating tracks, as you can use the rear touch pad to specify raises in the terrain, and the front touch screen to drag, drop, rotate, and re-size items specifically. The game has a download center where users can upload all kinds of creations, so you are sure to find something to spice your game up that much more. Speaking of functionality over the internet…this game suffers from one glaring omission: online multiplayer. Both the PS3 and PSP versions of the game had online multiplayer, and with the Vita’s marketed WiFi and 3G functionality, I can not think of a reasonable excuse for excluding it from this game.
Graphically the game is capable, but not that impressive. In motion it looks worse as everything seems to kind of blur together, and for some reason the game puts a cap on how bright you can make the screen. This seems to hinder the graphics even more. The music is catchy, but does get a bit annoying after awhile. I’m not even sure if the tracks had music playing in the background, most of the time all of the other sound effects were too loud to really notice.
In general this is a good game, and has plenty of content to be worth your money. If you know someone in person that also has the game, at least it features ad-hoc multiplayer. But the frustrating races and lack of online support really hamper what otherwise could have been a stellar launch title for the Vita; instead, the game is a bit above average.
This review was based on a physical retail copy of the game purchased for the PlayStation Vita.