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Posted by moonhead on Jun 2, 2010
Review: ModNation Racers / PS3 / Sony

Review: ModNation Racers / PS3 / Sony

Has Mario finally been deposed as the King of Karting?

Mario’s reign as the King of Karting has gone undisputed since his début in Super Mario Kart on the SNES all the way back in 1992. Since then he has remained undefeated and many would say that this also goes for the various Mario Kart sequels we have seen in the last 18 years leaving the original as the best in many peoples eyes. Nintendo’s little fat plumber has reigned supreme even to those who owned consoles by other manufacturers. Many games have tried down the years to imitate and beat him but never really succeeded.

So up step United Front Games and Sony’s San Diego studio to try to see off the funny little Italian once and for all. And do you know what with a few pinched ideas and a whole raft of new ones they might just nick it.

The whole game plays out around a flimsy little background story. You are Tag, a Rookie trying to get a spot to compete in the ModNation Racing Championship (MRC). You end with a grumpy pit crew chief, who was a former MRC winner as well as other hangers-on, all of this is just the backdrop excuse for the racing. Each race in the MRC is introduced TV style by Biff Treadwell and Gary Reasons, they try to be funny in a kind of ‘Anchorman’ way but really its just very tired, clichéd and unfunny. There are also other characters that come in  and out of the story but they are all as forgettable and are they are just there to set up the main event the racing.

Graphically the game is exactly what you expect for a Kart racing game. It’s a bright vibrant colourful cartoon world that, like the characters described earlier, is a touch clichéd and generic. There is nothing particularly wrong with it but compared to its peers in the genre (namely Mario) and it just lacks that certain charm. The sound, music and voice acting is all of a good standard and sets the tone for the racing. As mentioned before though the script for the TV style intros and other characters  is more-than-a-little corny, not funny and completely unnecessary.

Fortunately none of the above really matters though as the game plays really well and does a really good job of aping its peers whilst also bringing new tricks to the party.  As soon as you start to race you immediately get the sense of fun and speed that has always been the staple in the Mario games. The right trigger accelerates, the left trigger breaks and the X button starts you into a drift which you control by steering in and out of the corner. It’s a well copied and implemented system and is huge fun.

So whats new, well the weapons are different, there are only 4 different weapons and each of those has 3 different power levels. They power up by holding on them instead of firing them by pressing square. They get more powerful by collecting more red weapon orbs so what was a simple straight firing rocket at level 1 becomes a barrage of 5 homing rockets at level 3. Also you have a boost bar which grows as you drift, not wholly original I know but the boost bar has 3 different functions. Firstly by pressing L1 you get the obligatory speed boost. Secondly with a swipe of the right stick either left or right you can sideswipe other Karts when you are alongside them throwing them off course. And thirdly with a press of the circle button a shield which lasts for a few seconds and if timed right will deflect your opponents weaponry. These little additions add a decent amount of tactical depth and allow decent players to not succumb to cheap race loses by being blown away just as they get to the finish line. Add in the very good and varied track design and its a win for Kart fans.

Another neat addition is the hub world for all this fun called the ModSpot. Here you can drive around the hub world with other drivers online so you can meet up and have a chat. If you want to carry on your single player career you just drive over to the  racing section of the hub or if you want to edit your Kart, drive to the edit section and away you go. You actually need not use a menu to get anywhere in the game which can only be a good thing.

The real innovation though is not in the Kart racing or the hub world but the editing and creative parts of the game. You could think of ModNation Racers as a Little Big Planet for racing. You can edit and change everything in the game from your character and car through to the tracks themselves. You have the ability to make your own tracks, karts and outfits and upload them to PSN for others to use and rate. The editing suite is simple enough for anyone to get creative whilst also being powerful enough for experienced track builders to go mad. This addition to the game should insure, much like Little Big Planet, that there is an endless number of tracks and Karts to pick and play from thus adding almost endless re-playabilty value.

As in all Kart racers multiplayer is where it’s at and here ModNation Racers does not disappoint either. A full raft of online options allow for 12 players online and more importantly for a Kart racer, 4-player local split-screen. Again all of this can be done via the excellent aforementioned ModSpot so you hardly need to see a menu. Add the creation tools on top of all this multiplayer fun and it all starts to add up to one meaty gaming pie.

So it’s all looking good for the ModNation team to depose the mighty Mario from his throne as King of Karting. Well for me, it does not quite do it and there are a number of reasons. Firstly as good as the editing tools are for making and editing tracks any changes to Karts themselves are just superficial and do not affect the Karts handling or speed. Also to add to this, there is no difference in how any of the different types of Karts handle. You can make some adjustments via some sliders that supposedly affect handling and speed over acceleration but they seem to make very little difference in performance. Secondly, even though the changes to the weapons systems are good there is nowhere near enough variation in the weapons on offer, four weapons is simply not enough. Another bug bear that rears its ugly head yet again on the PS3 is lengthy loading screens, why this happens even though there is a compulsory install is beyond me but it is still in a Royal pain in the bum. And lastly but by no means least, as I have said already the whole game just feels very generic and clichéd. It is as if the developers have tried overly hard to instill some charm into the proceedings whilst in fact doing the complete opposite.

So, Mario is still king after all these years but let me tell you, this is the closest anybody has come to dethroning him and that is no mean feat in itself. I really do look forward to the inevitable sequel which will hopefully just concentrate on the creation and racing side of things instead of trying to copy Mario’s charm and ridiculous as this might sound, if it does this it may just surpass the game it so wants to be. If you don’t own a Wii this is the best Karting game you will get to play and you would be a fool to let this pass you by as it offers some fantastic multiplayer larks.

Rating 8 / 10

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