|System: PS Vita|
|Dev: SCE San Diego|
|Release: February 15, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 544p||Mild Cartoon Violence|
by Robert VerBruggen
ModNation Racers, Sony's answer to Mario Kart, ain't looking so hot these days. The company just announced that the Big Kahuna of its first-party franchises, LittleBigPlanet, will soon be invading the world of kart racing—a move that would render ModNation pretty much redundant, considering its main departure from the Mario Kart formula is a LittleBigPlanet-style focus on user-designed content. And if ModNation's Vita launch title, Road Trip, is supposed to convince us that ModNation is here to stay—well, let's just say it doesn't.
It's not that Road Trip is a bad game, per se. In fact, it does a great job of bringing over many aspects of the original Modnation Racers PS3 game. The steering controls feel amazingly tight, the addition of a second thumbstick makes other maneuvers feel more natural than they did in the previous PSP port, the cheery pop-rock music keeps your spirits up, and, most impressively, all the user-designed content from the PS3 is available for download. (More than half a million tracks!) If you're a kart racing fan and you find this game in the discount bin a few months from now, it could prove a perfectly legitimate way to spend a few weekend afternoons. But it doesn't do what a launch title is supposed to do: prove to you that your hardware investment was worth it—that the new console does a lot of things your old one didn't.
On Vita, ModNation Racers retains its basic racing formula of Mario Kart plus a little bit of complexity. You still race around, drift to acquire boost, pick up items, and attack other players, but you have other options as well. If you pick up a second item before using the first one, the item becomes more powerful; there are three levels of power total. You can flick the right joystick to sideswipe your opponents, and at any time you can erect a shield that protects against projectiles (this drains your boost bar).
The game also offers a full suite of customization options. You can craft tracks using the touchscreen and rear touchpad (though there's a bit of lag between your applying pressure and the game's response), design your own karts (though most of the changes you can make are merely cosmetic), and design a character to race as. The track-designing options are particularly detailed—you truly feel like an artist as you sculpt the contours of your track and add visual details. Before too long, Vita users should be adding thousands of their own tracks to the PS3 users' database.
The problem seems to be that in order to get the game ready for the Vita's launch, the developers had to pick and choose which features would be cut, which features would be half-implemented, and which would be included fully. The result is a game that doesn't even come close to showing what the Vita is capable of—a game that isn't a terrible buy for fans of kart racing, but that will be quickly forgotten. The developers should have taken their time and skipped the Vita launch.
You might have already heard about one feature that's missing entirely: online multiplayer. While you can play locally against other Vita players, there is no online functionality to the racing beyond the ability to download other players' ghosts and tracks. This is actually a step back from the PSN version, which is quite frankly embarrassing for Sony.
So, if you're in a one-Vita household (as I am), your main racing option is the career mode, a series of six five-race circuits. (You can also do single races and time trials, of course.) This is quite a bit of content—30 races in all. Too bad it's not that enjoyable to play.
The new tracks are decent for the most part, with plenty of twists and turns and insane jumps, but many have incredibly frustrating elements to them. Whereas Mario Kart's track designers are careful to strike a balance between randomness, difficulty, and playability, the people who made this game think it's perfectly appropriate to have you come around a blind curve, launch off a ramp, and crash straight into a tree. Plan to start memorizing tracks before you get halfway through the game—this isn't a fun learning experience, but rather a frustrating process in which you figure out how to avoid all the cheap gadgets that stop you as you try to race.