ModNation Racers Review

In a genre that has seen the rise and fall of its most treasured gems, alongside a bevy of copycats and underwhelming bandwagoneers, ModNation Racers delivers a standout kart racing experience that is unrivaled in breadth and depth. This little gem from United Front Games applies elements of the more "serious" racing genres, as well as the gaming 2.0 creativity popularized most recently by LittleBigPlanet (and soon its sequel), in a package that is immediately accessible by many types of gamers and enjoyable for both the solo gamer and multiplayer racing enthusiasts.

Essentially, ModNation Racers is the new Mario Kart, and by "new" I mean better and more ambitious than the recent entries in that slowly aging and minimally innovating franchise. Kart racing is nothing new; players can be comfortable knowing that wild tracks with tons of shortcuts, jumps, hazards, and secrets await, each one filled by many small caches of weapon pods used to take out the opposition. What’s different about ModNation, though, is that each weapon has three levels, and the item in hand will level up with each consecutive weapon pod a racer collects. Conversely, one big hit from an enemy attack will take away a level of the victim’s currently equipped tool of destruction.

ModNation Racers

Also present is a boost meter that functions as a bank for turbo boosts as well as a temporary shield that a player can put up when warned of an incoming missile, lightning bolt, or other danger. This meter is filled by drifting, catching big air, and pulling off spins while soaring across the sky. The combination of the multi-tiered weapons and this new boost meter make races more active and tactical than previous kart racers have been, and give new meaning to the terms aggressive and defensive driving. It’s a lot of fun — the key element in this type of game.

The tracks themselves are varied in their arrangements and features, but do lack the standout "personalities" courses tend to have in kart racers. They generally fall into just a few categories, based on their background themes, and vary components within those frameworks. This clearly owes to the fact that ModNation focuses in part on the easy creation of custom tracks, each beginning with that same selection of theme/background. Building tracks is surprisingly simplified, but in a good way. Players have plenty of options in terms of modifying terrain, planning alternate routes, placing hazards, etc., but once the general layout of these essential features is set, the game will auto-populate the course, refining what was basically the player’s rough draft and turning it into a professional-looking masterpiece, regardless of one’s creative aptitude. It makes the track editor rewarding without requiring a degree in ModNation customization or days of diligent, dedicated work.

Still more simple are the Mod (driver) and kart editors, the latter of which took up a great deal of my personal time with the game. It was a master stroke to make ModNation‘s karts resemble chibi-fied versions of the real cars one might expect to find in games like Gran Turismo and similar titles; the custom-tuning game that was never present in a kart racer now exists in semi-full force, with tons of customizable parts becoming available as players unlock them through regular play or PSN store transactions. This simple addition brings freshness to the game and continues to do so throughout the experience, and because no karts have racing attributes that need to remain in balance with one another, swapping out designs at any given time is completely possible without having to weight the pros and cons of each individual tweak.

ModNation Racers

The completeness of ModNation Racers is also quite visible in the ModSpot area, which is a persistent online hub that acts as both a glorified menu, where players drive to the portion of the game they wish to access, as well as a social center, where one can chat with friends and strangers, and set up play parties for the game’s multiplayer component. And that’s not the limit of player interaction; the concept of sharing creations is taken further with the presence of the sharing station, as well as giant in-game statues of the most popular karts from the ModNation community, all of which can be downloaded and "remixed" for one’s own personal use. The sense of a sort of racing "club" is very tangible, and this encourages participation and simply makes the whole thing just a little more enjoyable.

What’s NOT enjoyable are ModNation Racers‘ load times. They are truly agonizing, and they are not exactly few nor far between. I took to keeping a book, handheld, or internet browser nearby so that I wouldn’t end up pulling my hair out before each race. I think I even washed a sink full of dishes during one intermission. That’s not what I was hoping for when I first sat down with the game, and it certainly detracts from the overall experience, which is otherwise quite a good one.

Anyone looking for a fine kart racer will not be disappointed with ModNation Racers. This is the best currently on offer in the genre, finally innovating on what has been mostly stagnant for years. Mario Kart fans might miss the absent battle mode, and ModNation‘s load times are quite painful, but really, you can’t go wrong with this game.

4 out of 5


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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