Too many bumps in the road
I love a good kart-racing game; in fact, Mario Kart 7 was one of my holiday highlights. Unfortunately, I never achieved that joyous and carefree feeling with ModNation Racers on the PS3. I hoped the tweaks made with the handheld follow-up, ModNation Racers: Road Trip would propel the game to must-play status, but I’m sorry to report that just isn’t the case.
For those unfamiliar with the ModNation Racers games, think of them as kart racing meets LittleBigPlanet. The core game is but a small part of the experience, as players are encouraged to create their own tracks and karts and share them with the ModNation community. I applaud this social and creative aspect to the game, and indeed it’s a great feeling to have one of your creations rated highly and downloaded frequently.
Those looking for a racing sandbox will likely be pleased. The Vita’s touchscreen and rear touch panel work well, and even my artistically challenged self was putting together tracks and tweaking them with ease. Placing and sizing objects is quick and intuitive, but laying down track is where the controls really excel. And once the track is drawn in, raising and lowering terrain feels perfect. If you’re one to obsess over details like I do, being able to make quick changes with the swipe of a finger is a pleasure.
Once you’re done, creations can be shared, and other players offerings downloaded. In one of the game’s cooler tricks, you can also download the entire catalogue of cars and tracks made for the PS3 version, which means 2 million offerings from day one. No one can say this game suffers from lack of content.
But once you’ve finished designing things and it’s time to play, Road Trip’s gameplay is littered with potholes. The controls feel tight enough, but for whatever reason, spinning around tracks just doesn’t feel good. At first, I thought I just didn’t care for SCE San Diego’s track design (which I don’t—more on that in a minute), but after trying dozens of highly rated downloadable tracks, I have to conclude that isn’t it. Maybe I’m just too accustomed to Mario Kart, but Road Trip never felt quite right.
This is compounded in the single-player mode by tracks that are designed to be as difficult and frustrating as possible. Once you get though the first half dozen or so races, the difficulty takes a turn for the sadistic. And since the game’s AI keeps races close, all it takes is one inadvertent obstacle at the end of the race to drop you from first to worst. If my Vita weren’t a mere week old, it might’ve gone sailing through a window.
Then comes the confusion of multiplayer. Yes, friends can race against each other…as long as they’re in the same room. For some reason, Road Trip doesn’t support online multiplayer. You can race against other players’ times and battle for leaderboard supremacy, but it doesn’t make up for not being able to face off against your nemesis directly.
For a game that emphasizes community, I find the lack of online multiplayer unforgivable. Perhaps the developers weren’t able to work around the lag issue, or maybe there just wasn’t enough time to get it implemented properly before the system’s launch—but whatever the excuse, it’s not something I can look past.
So, I’m left with single-player that frustrates me, limited multiplayer, and the ability to create my own cars and tracks. As I’m not particularly interested in the game’s creative aspects, the question becomes, “Why should I play this?” And once I start asking myself that, it’s pretty much game over.
SUMMARY: ModNation Racers: Road Trip features impressive creation tools integrated with a moderately enjoyable game. But with no online multiplayer and a single-player mode that becomes quickly frustrating, you must decide if the creative aspects are enough to keep you satisfied.
- THE GOOD: The touch controls make creation a snap.
- THE BAD: Clunky navigation makes doing everything a chore.
- THE UGLY: The soul-crushing difficulty of later tracks.
ModNation Racers: Road Trip is a PS Vita exclusive.