Electronic Theatre In-depth Review: ModNation Racers: Road Trip

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As a franchise designed to one-up Mario Kart with its own innovative design studio, ModNation Racers has had a bit of a rough time. Not only is it competing against one of the most cherished videogame franchises of all time, but it’s also receiving mixed messages from the publisher and as a response a mixed reception from the audience. And with the recently announced karting spin-off for LittleBigPlanet, ModNation Racers will surely become a redundant exercise.

ModNation Racers on PlayStation 3 was a wholly enjoyable debut for the series but suffered from a lack of community enthusiasm in the long run, whereas the PlayStation Portable (PSP) sister title was comparatively malnourished, but on the aging format was given a burst of life thanks to the distinct lack ofElectronic Theatre Image competition. ModNation Racers: Road Trip, as a launch title for PlayStation Vita (PS Vita), is sadly not the videogame to turn around the fortunes of the series, failing to imitate the successes of either of its older siblings.

The videogame is presented as a creation suite first, and a racing experience second. The division between custom karts, drivers and tracks is as elegant as ever, and combining creations from all three is intuitive. The track design has had the biggest overhaul, with players able to add alternate routes and mid-track obstacles – and much more besides – with skilled designers given the ability to create tracks as densely populated and challenging as any of those pre-built inclusions. Using the touchscreen and rear touchpad for building your personal creations isn’t as easy to grasp as it perhaps should be, but it’s only a small matter of practice before you can develop anything you can imagine. What’s more, sharing your creations is a simple process of a few button presses; far easier than it ever was on PlayStation 3, which is perhaps ModNation Racers: Road Trip’s biggest achievement.

In the racing part of the videogame itself, sadly things aren’t as well presented. That the development team has managed to squeeze the control system from the PlayStation 3 version down to size on the PS Vita is fantastic, but it always feels as though part of the puzzle has been missed. Electronic Theatre ImageDrifting, power-ups, boosts and ramming are all present and correct, and yet there’s still the nagging sensation that it just isn’t as absorbing as a certain Nintendo 3DS rival.

ModNation Racers: Road Trip’s Career Mode features five tours (plus a bonus tour) consisting of five tracks each. It may not take long to complete, but is merely intended to be an introduction to the world of ModNation Racers: Road Trip. Each map has five tokens to collect which can then be used in the Token Shop to unlock new items for your creations. The videogame offers driving assists that may be welcomed by absolute beginners, but anyone who’s every played a kart racing title before will quickly becoming annoyed at their arrogance: using boosts and engaging drifts without the player’s prior knowledge is a step too far. More successful is the track design, promoting hidden areas that can be accessed by hitting special triggers in addition to shortcuts, similar to that of Split/Second, or Wave Race: Bluestorm before it.

From a technical standpoint, ModNation Racers: Road Trip is hardly pushing the capabilities of the PS Vita to their limit. The draw distance is a little poor – on-track markings appear very late and backgrounds are lacking in detail – but the character models and vehicles have a nice solid feel to them,Electronic Theatre Image whether part of the default selection or the player’s own creation. The lack of online play also feels like an oversight, with only ad hoc matches available.

ModNation Racers is a franchise which has had frantic highs and drastic lows, and while ModNation Racers: Road Trip isn’t exactly awful, it’s hardly about to redefine what the series stands for. In fact, with the seeming lack of interest in the title, it could be the death knell for the series once-and-for-all. With Sackboy eager to muscle-in on ModNation Racers’ territory, this half-baked package may spell a premature end for a series that once showed so much promise. This is a shame, as while it may not be in quite the same league as Mario Kart 7 – or the other editions of the ModNation Racers series – as a handheld kart racer ModNation Racers: Road Trip sets a standard of entertainment that remains worthwhile investing in.

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