Picture Super Mario Kart, but less cutesy and more attitude.
Start your engines
You know it was bound to happen. Sooner or later Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA) was going to throw their hats into the racing foray. I know, I know, Gran Turismo; that's not the type of racing I'm talking about.
SCEA was clearly going after the Mario Kart audience when it created ModNation Racers. They wanted something easy to pick up and play. Not too difficult, but they didn't want the exact same thing that Nintendo has, so they took the idea of LittleBigPlanet and merged it with Mario Kart to create what could be considered one of the most customizable racing games out there; in fact, I'll say it's the most customizable.
Coming in with a bit of moxie, ModNation Racers throws you into the action immediately. It wants you to know that it's about 'fun' before it's about 'customizing'. That's important to gamers. If you're not having fun with the racing game then what's the motivation to customizing? That's how LittleBigPlanet made its move through households, it was fun as hell. Once gamers established how much fun they wanted to express themselves through the game.
ModNation Racers is no different. You're thrown into a very easy to handle racing gig where you're asked to have fun on very creative, sometimes wacky, racing tracks in a single player mode. You have to maneuver yourself through twists and turns while avoiding hazards such as pushing blocks, exploding barrels, gravity defining jumps and, of course, weapons from other cars. On top of this, your own car can be equipped (temporarily) with weapons that can counter anything your opponents throw at you. Also included, which should have been included in Mario Kart eons ago (damn blue shell!), is the opportunity to protect yourself with a shield. That's a small touch from Sony that speaks volumes about their intentions for strategic racing styles and encouragement. Finally, you also get a booster attached to your car that fills up when you perform really cool tricks on jumps (ala Tony Hawk). The booster meter also acts as a shield meter (see, what did I tell you about the 'strategic intentions'), so be careful how much you use because you may not be able to protect yourself against competition.
With all of these things said, the game itself is a blast even if you don't participate in the extra folly that the game permits. Like I said before, the game is incredibly easy to pick up and play. The tracks range from medium to long with each race lasting no more than five minutes at a time. They are quick bursts and the amount you get to play in the 'Single-Player' mode will have you well fed enough on entertainment that once you're through you'll start again without a bit of boredom.
What's particularly interesting about each race is that it has its own set of goals. For most single-player racers you're asked to at least get third place. You're also asked to get first place and certain goals (such as destroying your opponents during the match) are set for you, but not required. For example, there are activation buttons on some tracks that trigger blockades and/or traps for other players. You might be asked to trigger three of these activation buttons during a match before you can move on. Another example is during one of the more less protective stages, where you can fall off the edge of a road easily, you might be asked to stay on the road for three laps (which is the entire duration of the race). If you complete these goals you're given a bonus or a trophy.
These might be small things, but they make the game even better.
Now as for the weaponry, it has good and bad points to it. The good points are that each weapon that you obtain through red orbs located on the track has three levels to it. For example, if you get a rocket launcher for your car you can get two more additional orbs to make that rocket launcher really powerful; it will launch multiple rockets at level 3. Having this type of simple leveling for weapons speaks volumes on how much thinking will have to go into the weapons you obtain.
The bad points of the weaponry are obvious. There are a limited amount of weapons you can use during the game. It's nowhere near the amount of weapons that Mario Kart offers gamers. So, when you plan on using them you won't have to think too much because the list is so short. The other issue is that once your car is hit by another player's weapon you lose your weapon completely. So, if you've been saving that level 3 rocket then you better protect and use it at all costs. Finally, another flaw of the weapons is that if you're in first place and you decide to use your weapon you're either going to waste it or have it turn on you. You should never be punished in a game for being in first place. It's almost as annoying as the blue koopa shell. I want to be able to shoot rockets at the cars behind me, but regretfully I can't.
Give credit to Sony as they do allow you, with some weapons, to drop mines for people to crash into, but it's not enough to make up for some weapon flaws.
This is basically a summary of what to expect with single-player mode.
You better customize!
The real reason why people will buy this game comes in three:
1. Customizing Karts and Drivers
2. Creating tracks and sharing
3. Online play
Customizing karts and drivers
First of all, don't judge me (says the critic that is judging Sony). While I'm not a huge fan of customizing players or things in a game, I found this process to be simple and fun. My kart was a tricked out black Rolls-Royce looking monster. I had nice racing wells and a gigantic USSR symbol right on the hood (no, I'm not a communist, but it was too badass not to use). As I won races in single-player mode items for my car and driver became available. There are literally dozens of default bodies waiting to be unlocked for your car. That's not counting the custom bodies you can create yourself. Wheels, steering wheels, brakes, shocks and even hood ornaments can be added to your vehicle and customized. A lollypop almost made it to my hood; I couldn't take that away from Schardein.
The customizing also is diverse, if not more so, with your driver. You can add helmets, skins, shirts, pants, goggles, glasses, hats, and pretty much anything else you want. You can add stickers (even upload them) to your driver and car. Same rules apply to drivers as they do cars, as you win in single-player you will unlock more features to mix and match. Again, it's very much like LittleBigPlanet in the 'customizing' respect.
I know how big LBP was because of these types of customizing and I expect ModNation Racers to follow in its footsteps.
Creating Tracks and Sharing
I have lived through Rollercoaster Tycoon. I've lived through about every Sim game known to man. The only game I had fun customizing anything was Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, but that was more of a sick fascination where I could draw visitors to an island of dinosaurs then cut off their escape and drop all the fences on the island; I'm smiling right now at that thought. So when I heard you can make your own tracks I wasn't too terribly excited.... until I actually did it.
Making tracks in ModNation Racers is incredibly easy. You have a limited amount of track to lay down and you can choose multiple environments to lay that track down onto. Once you put down the initial track you can go two ways: Manual or Automatic. As patient as I am, I chose automatic and what I got was impressive. The game fairly put in traps and beautiful buildings. They added appropriate spots where weapon orbs were located. They also put in shortcuts (yes, you have these) in places that were dangerous and incredibly fun. More importantly, by choosing automatic you still get a completely random set of features for your unique track and it's quickly put together.
Once you're done with your tracks, you can go and share them with the world. You can put people through pleasure and pain, and you can do it quickly. You pull up the track, name it and then 'publish' it. Not much to it. You can also do the exact same things from the exact same screen with your karts and drivers.
Can't make it much easier than that.
Accessing the 'sharing' system is done through your ModSpot. This is your 'lobby' if you will that United Front has created for you. The best comparison is the same type of environment that you would find with Playstation Home. It's a series of spots where you can access certain parts of the game. If you don't want to do anything specific you can just drive your kart around and jump off of well-placed ledges. At the ModSpot you'll find an upload center where you can publish all of your material to the free world. Again, it's easy to do.
Sticking with the ModSpot ever so briefly, you can also see the top three driver mods that people are downloading (they're on pedestals). As of this review the top three mods are Spider-Man, Mario and Luigi; someone has a sense of humor. In addition to this, you'll also have the top three mods for karts, a various amounts of informative spots and you have four places to race:
- Quick Match
These are small garages waiting for you to activate and participate.
Speaking of online....
A big selling point for this game is the online capabilities that it offers. About one hour before I started reviewing this game, I had been left out in the cold with trying to find out how good online play was. Thankfully a player named Pete_rx_420 (did you know that rx420 was a printer? Thank you google) came to the rescue so that I could experience some online action. It's fun, it's easy and surprisingly it's customizable. Apparently, if I understand this person's set-up as host, you can play on tracks that you've created and ones that are available by default through the game. There are several types of games, and they are broken into two specific categories: Casual and XP. Casual gaming is what it is, casual. XP allows you to gain points through races that will eventually unlock goodies and earn you trophies. You also get to participate in leaderboards, which is great (I know how big that is to a lot of people).
Anyway, it's everything you want from online play and potentially more. I only got to experience a little bit of it, so when the game releases I'll be happy to update this section of the review. I'm sure I'll get my ass handed to me by a 10-year old like I do in Madden, Halo, CoD, etc.
What a load
If there were one damning thing for ModNation Racers that SCEA and United Front have to fix that would be the loading time. I have roughly counted 86 seconds between matches. That is the amount of time it takes for my HD-DVD player (don't laugh, they're cheap movie machines!) to load before I can put in a disc. That is unacceptable especially since the game asks 3.2gb of install before you can play. What in the hell is the 3.2gb for?
Someone from United Front needed to give Santa Monica Studios a call and ask them how they skipped loading time with God of War III. It's pretty awful time and it's one aspect that really has to be improved in the near future. Hopefully there is an update coming that will help move this along.
Now, strangely enough the online play loads quicker. I counted 46 seconds for online play to load once the game is initiated. Odd stuff, but again something that needs to be fixed.
With all of that said, the game is still worth the $59.99 that you are going to pay for it. It has a load of fun sitting there that outweighs the enormous loading time. Frightfully, this game is good offline and even better online. You know that DLC is coming in the near future to make it even better. The endless amount of tracks and customizable stuff that people share is going to make the experience epic. There are so many good points and future good points that it's tough not to really like this game.
You will play this game over and over again. It will be your break from Red Dead Redemption, and a fun one at that.
I want more!
It's nice to see a different direction taken with a racing game geared towards a younger audience. Taking a simple racing game concept that has been done before and adding idea elements of customization that exists in LittleBigPlanet equals out to be a great experience that is both fun and captivating.
Now, fix the load times and you have a nearly legendary racing game sitting in front of you with an endless array of expansion possibilities.