Media Molecule’s Little Big Planet was an enormous success for not only Sony & MM, but for gaming as well as it served as a way for players to show off their imagination by creating their own levels for others around the world to play in. At E3 2008, Sony revealed United Front Games’ ModNation Racers to the masses as another game in their “Play, Create, Share” genre of games that offers a way for players to have more control over their creations, similar to what Little Big Planet offered. But does ModNation Racers capture the same type of fun and unpredictability as Little Big Planet did?
ModNation Racers can be considered a kart racer wrapped in layers of delicious customization options. Before we get into the customization, let’s discuss the kart racing aspect. ModNation Racers’ driving mechanics, compared to the majority of kart racers, feels heavier than it should be. When you first play ModNation Racers, expect to accidentally bump into plenty of walls and opponents. Don’t feel discouraged as after its hour or so learning curve, ModNation Racers starts to feel more natural than at first drive. Players can even fine-tune their driving preference to allow for better handling, drift, speed, and acceleration. All of these tunes come at a cost though, so fine-tune with caution.
Each track in ModNation Racers is littered with boost pads, power-ups, ramps, short-cuts, and interactive surroundings that will keep even the most veteran of players on their toes. As you perform specific driving techniques such as drift, draft, spin, or perform takedowns, your boost meter will begin to fill up. The boost meter can then be used to fire off your nitro for an increase in speed, side-swiping nearby opponents, or shielding yourself from an incoming attack. Power-ups that are picked up during each race offer a nice variety of offensive and defensive tactics. Each power-up has three tiers of power, which drastically changes their effectiveness. Players can either use the first level of their power for instant gratification, or they can save up for a more devastating third tier power. It’s all up to the player and this can certainly change the outcome of a race easily.
ModCentral is where most of your ModNation Racers experience will take place as it serves as a central hub for anything and everything you want to do in the game. You’ll be able to check out popular mods, competitive race times across all tracks, as well as access to the Creation Station and Race Station where you can launch an online race with up to 12 players, quick race, split-screen with up to 4 local players, or story mode. If you don’t want to drive to each gate in order to access them, you can also pull up the game’s menu where all of the modes can be accessed. You’ll also be able to share ModCentral along with other players, to which you can directly challenge them to a race, or just hang out and show off your latest creation.
Online multiplayer was smooth and offered no lag during play and that’s saying a lot when you consider you can race with up to 12 players in a single race. You can partake in either a casual race or XP race. Casual race allows you to invite your friends to race on any tracks you wish, whether they be developer made, downloaded, or tracks you made yourself. You can even change the rules of the race to allow for more or less laps as well as making your race an Action Race or a Regular Race (one without the use of power-ups). XP Races have you jumping in with random opponents on predetermined developer created tracks. All XP Races are action races and the way you level up is by placing higher than your opponents, with bonus XP rewarded for how well you performed during the race. The more XP you gain, the higher your level, which will place you in future races with others in your own level range.
The Creation Station is where you’ll be able to create or edit your racers, karts, and tracks. The Track Studio, Character Studio, and Kart Studio offer an insurmountable amount of customization. If you have the imagination for it, then you will most likely be able to create it. If you lack imagination, then you can randomly create a racer or kart or edit pre-made mods to fit your taste. As you progress through the game’s story mode, you’ll unlock new pieces for your mods. You’ll also be able to purchase various parts for your mods as well as share your creations to other players in the Creation Station. Downloading other players’ mods is simple and rewarding as you can sort shared creations by popularity, number of downloads, and their creation date to name a few options. Once you download a creation, they’re sorted in a specific ‘Downloads’ section so you don’t get them confused with your own works of art.
ModNation Racers is visually amazing. The amount of detail that’s possible in each racer, kart, and track is mind-blowing and will satisfy the perfectionist in all of us. The visual art style was inspired by urban vinyl art, so everything has a very sleek and detailed look. I also noticed the game runs super smooth in the majority of its modes, except for when it’s playing a four player split-screen game, but that’s understandable considering how much is going on.
As much fun as ModNation Racers is, there are drawbacks. For one, its loading times. Jumping from race to race averages about a 30-45 second loading time, and in this current generation of consoles, that can feel like ages. And that’s for every single race. When you consider the majority of your time will be spent racing, then you can see why waiting around for 30-45 seconds can be an issue. Another issue I had was its online mode. ModNation Racers allows you to play online with up to two players locally via split-screen. If I receive an invite from a player and accept it without specifically telling the game I want to join an online game via split-screen it will place just the first player into the invited match by default. This is a minor issue, but it’s still an annoyance each time it’s attempted.
FINAL THOUGHT: Calling ModNation Racers “Mario Kart meets Little Big Planet” seems like an accurate representation of what ModNation Racers is. Not only does the game allow for customization of nearly everything, but there’s also a deep and rewarding kart driving game in there too. Players will lose track of time on racing, as well as discovering new racers, karts, and tracks to race on. ModNation Racers is a fine addition to Sony’s “Play, Create, Share” genre and as soon as the community gets behind it and starts creating, this already impressive package will be even more fun to play.