Previewing ModNation Racers is a tricky proposition. It’s essentially a Mario Kart-style game (seemingly a genre in its own right these days), but with a strong customisation and community focus in a similar vein to that of the immensely popular LittleBigPlanet. The problem? The preview build I’ve been playing doesn’t have any of the online functionality enabled. That is, the biggest innovation or draw that this game has on offer was effectively absent. It makes sense, though; how do you preview the game’s community-based aspect when there’s currently no community to speak of?
The interface for the online component was in place, however, and it looks very promising indeed. It’s essentially a hub where you (and all manner of other online ModNation Racersplayers) can shop, customise the outfits and karts, interact, share custom tracks and set up online races. This hub also actively collates online data, such as the most popular vehicle or outfit mods and even the best racers, and puts them on display. Most importantly of all, you’ll get to see other racers driving around the hub in real time, and it’s the perfect opportunity to set up an online race with other players. Think of it as a PlayStation Home-style lobby specifically for ModNation Racers. This aspect really has the potential to take ModNation Racersand elevate it above and beyond the likes of Mario Kart, Crash Nitro Karts, Sonic & SEGA All-stars Racingand the 50 other franchises doing the power-up combat cartoon racer thing.
ModNation Racers’ track editor is very simple to pick up, but with the kind of depth that will allow obsessive-compulsive types to construct particularly elaborate environments. You pick from one of five different environment types and then select a specific spot in said environment for your track. Then you pave the way by driving a bulldozer, sculpting every curve and incline – creating your track couldn’t be simpler! The editor can then auto-complete your track (if you haven’t already ensured that the start and end meet), and it can even auto-populate your track with assets for you. Of course, you’re free to add each tree and building, each jump and power-up, as you see fit.
Without these online and customisation components, though, ModNation Racers is fairly typical of these kart-racing titles; race around a track collecting power-ups and speed boosters, taking shortcuts and firing weapons at your opponents in a bid to finish first. However, while the gameplay is typical, ModNation Racers does have a lot of narrative, personality and humour in its rags-to-riches tale of Tag the up-and-coming racer. There are also a few new additions to the tried-and-true kart-racing gameplay. For instance, if you know you’re about to be hit with an opponent’s weapon (the intensifying beeping gives it away), you can activate a temporary shield using your boost meter, which is filled by successful drifts around tight corners. Secondly, you can also opt to upgrade your weapons (to a maximum of three levels) by collecting additional power-ups instead of using the weapon straight away. It’s a risk-reward mechanic with a payoff that can mean the difference between winning and losing.