The 21st of May was a rather exciting day gamewise - Red Dead Redemption was finally hitting the shelves, and a kart game that followed on from Little Big Planet's 'Play Create Share' ideal was also coming out. "I'll blast through Red Dead in a couple of days" I thought, "and then I'll try out some karting!"
So, a week later and I've played 2 hours or so of RDR - partly because of that lovely spell of weather we had over the weekend, and partly because ModNation Racers has far exceeded any of my expectations and has taken up pretty much all of my gaming time! I was lucky enough to have a chance of playing the beta a few months back and was intrigued by the mixture of karting and creating, however I have to say I was a little under-awed by the karting aspect, it just didn't have that Mario Kart spark, yet I couldn't put my finger on it. However I'm happy to say in the full release racing is pretty much on a par with the obvious influence that is Mario Kart, I don't know what they did to make it better, but they did. What takes this game to the next level, above and beyond Mario Kart, is the HD graphics and creation tools at your disposal.
So, firstly the driving - as mentioned, influence is heavily drawn from Mario Kart. Controls are simple - accelerate, brake and drift, you're either going flat out or you're stationary because you've hit a wall/been blown up/fallen off a bridge (this is no driving simulator!) Drifting around corners builds up a power boost bar that can be used to either go faster (by holding down L1), or as a shield to protect from attacks (by pressing circle). These attacks are just like Mario Kart - small pods are dotted around tracks, you drive over a pod, and you gain the ability to attack your opponents in different ways, like with rockets, or by electrocuting them. Run over another pod or two and this upgrades your weapon, and if you hold square instead of pressing x to fire a weapon, you can instead lay a mine-style trap to blow up people on your tail. As mentioned, the control is simple and smooth, kart control is quite easy all things considered. Tracks feature big jumps and all-round craziness, it really is a PS3 Mario Kart. There's all sorts of other interesting things, but I wouldn't want to spoil anything. There are many game modes, like career (where you take part in one player races where by winning you unlock items to use in create mode - just like LBP!) There's also split screen racing and of course online racing, both competitive (for XP) and casual races. All options are accessed through the 'ModSpot', essentially like a chat room with wheels, you drive your cart around and other online players can come up to you to challenge you to races, and you can drive about to the different areas to decide what style of race you want. Here is where you also find the Creation Station...
When it comes to creation, much like Little Big Planet, this is where Modnation Racers really comes into its own. Like LBP, it is a fun game in its own right, however the creation tools on offer propel this into 5 star game territory. There are three main areas of focus when 'modding' - tracks, mods (your characters) and karts. For the tracks, items you pick up during career mode can be used to populate your tracks, and there are numerous different settings (like desert tracks, alpine tracks) where your track can be based. Where Modnation is different to LBP is in its creation simplicity. I have made 2 LBP levels, both pretty good (my 2nd has 5 stars and over 50,000 plays!) and I'm quite proud of them. However, I've had LBP since release and both levels took 50+ hours of creating, tweaking and correcting. In some ways this is good, however with Modnation Racers building a track (you simply 'drive' and lay the track as if you were moving your kart over the landscape) is so simple, pretty much anyone can create a professional looking track in less than an hour. It still takes something special to elevate your tracks to the top levels, just like in LBP, but it does mean that Modnation is so much more accessible when it comes to creating. Mod and kart creations are similar in approach to each other, in that you have preset items (for example on the Mods you can choose hair, glasses etc) and you can also apply stickers. Stickers work a bit like photoshop, in that you can build up layer after layer to create new shapes and designs, so it really is a case of where your imagination can take you. Already I have seen A-Team karts, Optimus Prime Mods, all sorts. Anything you make can be shared with the community for download, and conversely anything the community puts up you can download and, in an interesting twist, 'remix' to improve or adapt different ideas. The original creator still gets credit, but it means that you can go further for inspiration.
It's hard not to think of Modnation Racers as a cross between Mario Kart and Little Big Planet. Even the look of the game packaging looks like it was lifted straight from a design Media Molecule would come up with if they made a kart game, with it's stickers and bold colours. However, firstly this comparison really isn't a bad thing, and secondly United Front have put in enough to ensure this is more than a game which relies on its influences - this is Modnation Racers, game it its own right, effortlessly fun, incredibly enjoyable and a creation mode that is as in depth as you want it to be. One criticism is that I found it a bit frustrating to play my friend online, as you have to both go online and then one of you invites the other to your Modspot, and if there are too many people already in your Modspot, it says they can't join you. I'd like a simple way of challenging people on your PSN for a race directly. Also, as other reviews have noted, the load times are a bit on the lengthy side - nothing horrific, but they do drag out a big. However, these are minor, patchable setbacks, not gamebreakers. If you like either of Mario Kart or Little Big Planet, this game will appeal, if you like both, you really owe it to yourself to give this a TEST DRIVE! Heehee, test drive, because it's a karting game! Yep...5 stars!