|System: PS Vita|
|Dev: SCE San Diego|
|Release: February 15, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 544p||Mild Cartoon Violence|
by Robert VerBruggen
In 2010, ModNation Racers offered PS3 owners a glorious mash-up of Sony's LittleBigPlanet and Nintendo's more recent Mario Kart games. From the former came a boatload of intuitive, useful tools you could use to create your own characters, tracks, and vehicles. From the latter came the idea of a light, fun, addictive kart racer with high speeds, plenty of zany obstacles, and crazy track design. In other words, it was a kart racer and a sandbox rolled into a single experience, and it played beautifully. There was only one problem: The version hosted by the PSP, with its single nub instead of two joysticks, didn't fare nearly as well. It garnered a mere 73 on Metacritic to the PS3 version's 82.
Fortunately, developer SCE San Diego has set out to make everything right. The forthcoming PlayStation Vita console features two control nubs—not to mention touchscreen controls as well—and allows for the faithful recreation of the PS3 experience. As per the results of a naming contest, the new game will be called ModNation Racers: Road Trip.
In fact, the experience will be so similar that it will share a lot of the same content. The developer promises that all of the user-created tracks and vehicles from the PS3 and PSP versions will be available. There have even been rumors about inter-console racing via PSN, but there's no confirmation on that yet. If the PSP version let you down, or if you just find yourself wanting to play ModNation Racers when you're away from your console, this seems like the perfect opportunity.
There will be some new features as well. Most important, all the creation tools will be controllable via touchscreen. Want to see what's inside your car? Flick it open and then pinch it shut. Want to add a new feature? Drag and drop. Want to add mountains to a track you're working on? Tap on the rear touchpad. Want to fill the screen with random features and tweak from there? Shake the console. Some early previews indicate that these controls can lag, but hopefully any issues will be cleared up by the time Road Trip lauches with the Vita console February 15.
You'll see some new things on the racetrack, too. For example, there will be some new weapons, which fall into the color-coded categories Earth (dark green), Fire (orange), Ice (light blue), Mines (yellow), Bolt (light green), Guns (red), and Sonic weapons (dark blue). These accomplish a variety of tasks that Mario Kart fans will be familiar with, including creating hazards for your opponents, altering the track (such as causing a landslide), homing in on other racers, and giving you invincibility so you can run down everyone who passed you. Mines are now a weapon class of their own. As in the previous game, you can make a weapon more powerful—upgrading it to Level 2, and then Level 3—by getting another item before you use it.
You'll notice a few subtler improvements as well. Attacks will be less likely to bring you to a dead stop, and an "auto-correct" feature will help you get back into the race following a crash. Karts will be easier to control during drifting, and there's a new option to cash in items you don't want for boost. In addition to an audio warning, there will be a visual cue when you're attacked, which will help you time your shields. Most interestingly, there's an "amnesty shield" that takes effect whenever two players attack each other with the same weapon, which should discourage players from holding the best weapons until the very end.
The game also aims to recreate the PlayStation 3 experience visually; early trailers show detailed, fluid visuals, and those who've played the game report positive experiences. It's surprising that the handheld world has nearly caught up to full-size consoles in some ways—a combination of the long wait since the last console generation came out and the amazing power under the hood of the Vita.
Will ModNation Racers: Road Trip be worthy of your scarce gaming dollars come mid-February, especially given you'll need to drop $250 for a Vita first? It's far too early to tell, of course, but the early signs are that Road Trip takes a PS3-caliber experience, improves it, and then squeezes it down to fit in the palm of your hand, all without losing the graphical fidelity or the feel of the controls. That is an impressive feat, and I can't wait to see how ModNation Racers: Road Trip turns out.
Date: January 16, 2012