Wednesday, April 16, 2014

ModNation Racers: Road Trip (Vita) Review

Our month of the PlayStation Vita continues with this review of the latest in the ModNation Racers series. This second portable title boasts more features, a better presentation, and lots of options for players. Here's our review.

Cocky little speed freaks!

The PlayStation Vita's launch lineup consists of some exceptional titles, all building up and adding together to create one seriously powerful library of games right from the get-go. While some are better than others, there's no doubting the quality of what the Vita came out with right out of the gate. Various franchises that hit the PlayStation 3 have seen Vita versions, such as Uncharted, Hot Shots Golf, WipEout, among others. Another such series is that of ModNation Racers. With powerful hardware behind it, increased customization options, and the unique features of the Vita to work with, ModNation Racers: Road Trip should be an exceptional kart racer. Unfortunately, Road Trip hits a few speed bumps along the way, not quite crossing the finish line in first place.

ModNation Racers: Road Trip forgoes the story of starting off as a nobody racer and slowly becoming champion that the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portables games contained. Instead, there is no story to speak off. Biff and whatever that other guy's name was don't even do commentary anymore. They aren't even in the game for the most part, outside of billboards.

Don't mind me, I'm just a Sunday driver.
Anyway, what is present now is Tour Mode. This encapsulates five different tours of five races each. (There's a sixth unlockable tour that is unlocked when certain conditions are met.) The objective is to come out with the greatest amount of points after all five races are complete. However, this isn't set up like Mario Kart, where it's one race after another. No, you simply choose a race and you can retry it as many times as you like. You can even choose to come back to that race and try it later.

Like past ModNation Racers games, each race has three challenges to complete in order to unlock Mod parts, kart parts, and track pieces for the creation sections of the game. These challenges include things like not hitting a wall for one lap, hitting five opponents with items, racking up a special amount of drift points, and other things that will make you not just race for the checkered flag, but to do so with some style.

Take three shortcuts in a race?
I've got this.
Racing is what you'd expect out of an arcade style kart racer with some alterations to make things feel fresh. For one, the racing controls feel tight and responsive. You don't really feel like you're out of control unless you're taking a boost at a strange angle. When you drift around corners and turns, not only are you slightly faster and able to take these corners in a better way, but you fill up a special meter. This meter stores energy that allows you to either boost or shield yourself against oncoming attacks. Yes, even those that go after first place can be avoided if you have enough meter juice to shield yourself with.

Additionally, pulling off midair tricks
also helps to fill your meter.
Of course, you can unleash attacks on your fellow ModNation racers yourself with weapon pods strewn about each of the game's thirty tracks. There are different categories of items, each represented by a different color. Speeding across one weapon pod will give you a level one attack. Collecting a second weapon pod (which will always be the same color as the first pod you drove across) will beef that up to a level two attack. A third weapon pod will obviously strengthen your item to a level three.

Eat my dust!
It's high in fiber.
For example, collecting a red weapon pod will give you a missile shot that shoots straight out and explodes when it hits another opponent or a wall. Collecting a second red weapon pod (pending you haven't used your level one attack) allows you to use a lock-on missile that serves as a homing attack to one racer. Finally, a level three attack fires a barrage of homing missiles on every racer in front of you. Weapons from pods can also be exchanged for meter energy instead of being used on other racers.

The biggest asset to ModNation Racers: Road Trip is its abundance of features that allow you to create creative Mods (the racers that drive vehicles), karts, and tracks that can be shared and downloaded online by different players. The thing here is that in order to get the really good customization options, you need to complete the numerous challenges in Tour mode.

There are about eight different themes
for Road Trip's tracks.
Mod and kart creation is simple enough, offering a myriad of customization options, parts, and color options to make sure that no two creations are ever alike. You can really create some truly incredible stuff. The community has made various Mods, karts, and tracks based off of other video game franchises, comic books, film and TV, and much more.

Hmm... You look familiar.
Did we go to high school together?
Creating tracks in this installment of ModNation Racers has never been easier thanks in part to the various technology featured in the PlayStation Vita. For instance, placing down props like trees and buildings is as easy as sliding your finger across a section of the landscape. Hills and props can be enlarged and shrunk down via putting two fingers on top of the feature and either spreading them apart or pinching your fingers together.

Track creation itself is a breeze. You can either create the track by driving around, making a path behind your driving path, or you can simply use your finger on an overhead view of the available land mass to draw a track. I prefer the latter option. If you're feeling lazy, you can even have the game auto-populate your track with props. I use this method myself, but I think tinker with the track's surroundings and props to suit the type of track I want to make.

One of my own creations,
Central City Circuit.
The biggest downside to this edition of ModNation Racers is that there is nothing in the way of simultaneous online play. What made the PS3 original and even LittleBigPlanet Karting so fun was that you could create your own designs, whether they be Mods, karts, or tracks, and race with or on them with other players. It was an absolutely awesome experience. While owners of Road Trip can download, rate, review, and play with or on your creations, you just can't play online with others. Instead, the developers have included asynchronous gameplay, even going so far to say it's an experience just like an arcade but without losing all those quarters. This pretty equals glorified leaderboards on tracks, and that is pretty much it. It's rather disappointing.

You just couldn't wait until the end
of May for your own kart racer, could you?
ModNation Racers: Road Trip also suffers from severe pop in, poor draw distance, and extreme cases of slowdown, where the frame-rate noticeably chugs during races. These performance issues certainly didn't ruin my enjoyment of the game, but they will bother other players much more than they did with me. However, one part of the game that did bother me was the sometimes unresponsive menus. I recall having to tap on icons more than once to get them to register. Highly annoying, as you can't use the d-pad or the buttons in most menus for a much nicer user experience.

Still, what ModNation Racers: Road Trip lacks in polish, it makes up for with all of its customization options and solid gameplay. It's genuinely fun to race on your own designed tracks as well as the game's already built Tour mode tracks, and speed through turns and shortcuts with your created Mods and karts. The omission of true online play is indeed a glaring one, but I still believe ModNation Racers: Road Trip is definitely a worthwhile kart racing game that does the ModNation Racers series and the kart racing genre as a whole due service. Rev up your engines and take to the pavement, as this Road Trip is worth taking.

[SPC Says: 8.0/10]

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