GOONL!NE Review: ModNation Racers (PSP)

Developer: SCE San Diego Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Also on: PlayStation 3
Format Played On: PlayStation Portable
Release Date: May 21st 2010
Age Rating: ESRB: E

[This is our second review for ModNation Racers, you can find our review of the PS3 version here.]

It’s impossible not to compare ModNation Racers to Mario Kart and LittleBigPlanet. ModNation Racers really is an amalgamation to the two. Fortunately that’s no bad thing to aspire to considering both games are extraordinarily good fun to play. ModNation Racers on the PSP very nearly achieves this level of fun but it does falter along the way.

The core of the game comes in the form of its career mode. It’s an entertaining series of races with a scattering of cut scenes to explain the story of Tag and the ModNation Racing Championship. It might not be overly memorable but it’s good fun and will at least make you smile. The tracks are also typically wacky with more than a passing resemblance to Mario Kart-esque racing. There are plenty of opportunities to jump and drift your way around. The same can be said of the power-ups/weapons on offer to give you an extra edge against your opponent.

Fortunately these weapons feel more balanced than recent Mario Kart offerings which is refreshing to see. It’s a pity they’re not stackable like they are in the PS3 version. There’s also the ever useful turbo meter which allows players to boost past their opponent, having built their meter up through drifting, drafting and spectacular jumps. The turbo meter can also be used defensively as a shield which makes it particularly useful if you’re out in the lead. Annoyingly, much like other games of this ilk, there’s a lot of rubber banding to be seen with opponents never seeming to be too far behind you no matter how perfectly you’re racing.

Each of the races in the career mode offers a series of objectives to achieve. Some are simple ‘place higher than 3rd’ type objectives but others are a bit more involved with the need to use weapons at certain points in the game or to drift for a set amount of time. Some of these work well but others are a bit frustrating and I did sometimes wish I could just finish the race conventionally. The more objectives you complete the more extras you unlock for the customisation options which gives you great impetus to persevere.

The customisation options are ridiculously vast which is great to see, although it is an annoyance that the game doesn’t inform you what you’re unlocking upon completion of each race. The customisation on offer is bordering on overwhelmingly so with the ability to customise your character, kart and create your own tracks. It’s all very easy to learn, with even track development very simple to figure out. It’s too early to say what kind of online community will be built around this but hopefully it’ll catch the imagination of many players and there’ll be some great inventions appearing soon. Completionists will be here a very long time if they intend on unlocking everything that the game has to offer.

With no ability to try out the online multiplayer segment of the game as the servers were still down, I still found a fair amount to do. Besides the career mode there are also a few other single player modes. There’s the typical Action race which forms the usual single track formula, but also Pure Race which removes all power-ups and the self explanatory Last Kart Standing. The latter looks to be particularly enjoyable when playing online adding a nice, frantic edge to proceedings.

Controls are fairly simple with the choice of either the d-pad or analog stick to manoeuvre. I found myself preferring the d-pad but that’s just down to the position that my fingers tend to rest. Controls are fairly responsive regardless of the method. ModNation Racers isn’t the prettiest of racers, even by the PSP’s standards, but it maintains a nice appeal to it. The characters all look suitably charming and distinctive.

Final Thoughts: For the most part ModNation Racers felt like a game that would really excite younger gamers: a market that seems to be all too ignored by the PSP. As a PS3 and PSP owner I can’t see why I would choose the handheld version over the similar PS3 version. I’d rather play a racing game on a big screen and I suspect the online world will take to the PS3 version much more so than the portable equivalent. The single player side of things is excellent fun though, providing you can resist throwing your PSP after losing out to a sneakily close opponent overtaking at the last second.

Story: 8 - A racer doesn’t really need a deep story but ModNation Racers is fun and charming. The career mode ensures that it’s not so long that it outstays its welcome.

Gameplay: 8 – There’s an excellent difficulty curve here with nothing too challenging, at least not until the later stages. Best of all, it’s solid fun.

Graphics: 7 - Not stunning to look at but the characters and tracks have a cute appeal about them even if there are a few jagged edges around.

Sound: 8 – Excellent voice acting throughout, although the in-game tutorial voiceover does grate after a while.

Overall: 8/10 - If you want to relive your Mario Kart days, you could do a lot worse than ModNation Racers. It’s fun, frivolous but has a lot of potential to be a great multiplayer title too. It might not be as innovative as it’d like to be but it’s good fun which is all you can ask for really.

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