Does ModNation Racers have what it takes to challenge the seemingly omnipotent Mario Kart?
- Has recognisable kart racing mechanics, good online capabilities, custom content can be shared with other players
- Ridiculously long loading times, characters lack distinctive personalities
ModNation Racers looks great and incorporates some solid kart racing mechanics. But the game is hindered by long loading times between races and lacks the 'soul' of Mario Kart
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ModNation Racers is a racing game that evokes Mario Kart (and Little Big Planet). However, it deviates considerably from the Nintendo kart racing stalwart.
While both games use pint-sized racers, ModNation is somewhat less fantastical than Mario Kart. Vehicles look more like real racing cars (well, as real as you can get with a kart racing video game) and the tracks looks less like they were created by babies vomiting sunshine and happiness — quite refreshing, really.
Because it's on the PlayStation 3 the game looks better as a whole than Mario Kart, and the graphics are as crisp as a shirt freshly ironed by your mum. The humorous commentary also gives a more ‘young adult’ tone to ModNation.
The game uses a lot of stock-standard kart racing mechanics but adds its own unique flavour to them. Power-ups come in four categories: speed boosts, sonic, missiles and lightning. The last three are used offensively and become more effective the more power-ups you collect.
Players start off as Tag, who — in our mind — resembles an Emo-looking Sackboy. After being thrown into a tutorial race, players can explore ModSpot: a place to customise characters, vehicles and engage some multiplayer action. When online, players from across the PSN network can interact to create and share downloadable content.
Characters and vehicles can be customised to death. Users can make celebrity look-a-like characters or familiar gaming figures — even Mario. These skins can, of course, be shared with other players.
You can also make your own twisted tracks filled with obstacles and props of your choosing, and test them on the spot.
ModSpot is also the place to enter online races with up to 12 players and split-screen races with up to four players. It’s up to you whether you want to be competitive to earn racer experience points or just get on for some casual fun.
If you want to fly solo, you can have quick races with AIs or play through the story mode to unlock content to pimp your ride and your racer. Just a word of warning: the AI is fairly challenging, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t come first every time.
One gripe which cannot be overlooked is the criminally long loading times. Racing games live off being quick to start, so when you glove slap your friend for an automotive duel you can just pick up and play to settle a question of honour.
While ModNation is insanely fun when you are actually playing it, the one minute plus static loading screen between matches sucks a lot of joy out of it.
Where ModNation really falls flat is, surprisingly, its level of character customisation. Players will probably have a ball trying out different skins for characters but might not form an attachment to the characters. To put it plainly, dress a lifeless mannequin up in pretty clothes, its still a lifeless mannequin.
Iconic characters like Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach, have distinct personalities which come through in Mario Kart. ModNation racers are all soulless, cookie-cutter creations with different flavour icing on top. What’s the point of using a Kratos skin when it doesn’t feel like Kratos? (Kratos should at least perform a limb-by-limb decapitation of all the other racers if he wins)
It’s one thing to watch your creation jumping around in a puzzle platformer (in Little Big Planet, for example), but in ModNation Racers you spend most of the time looking at the back of your character’s head; not a great way to form an attachment to it.
The online capabilities of ModNation are impressive and it has nailed the basic karting game principles. If you couldn't care less about Mario, Peach and Luigi and wished the cars handled a little more realistically, ModNation Racers might be the fuel you're looking for. But if you want character and soul, stick with the fat plumber.
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