Let's face it: Mario Kart has been the defacto kart racing game leader for more than a decade. There have ben numerous attempts to unseat the franchise, but all have fallen short. In 2010, United Front Games and Sony put their heads together and created the original Modnation Racers which gave Mario Kart a run for its money all around. Well, the duo are back again and this time it's on the Vita. How does Modnation Racers: Road Trip hold up against not only the MK franchise but also its big brother?
Being a kart racing game, MR:R is all about the crazy, frantic racing. Unlike Mario Kart, all karts are the same with regards to stats. There may be some slight improvements here and there, but nothing like what we've seen in the MK franchise. However, this helps even out the playing field. After turning on the game for the first time, I went straight into the Career Mode which allows you to race through developer made maps while also acting as the tutorial to teach you how to handle the kart. It eases you in pretty well, but the pace of the races never slows down, so be ready.
There are a grand total of 5 official career cups to play through, each having 5 races. After winning all five cups and completing certain achievements, players can gain access the Bonus cup which has some of the hardest tracks to navigate. No matter how well you perform, you'll always have the computer players riding up your bum. One mistake, and you can very quickly find yourself going from first place to last in the blink of an eye.
The career mode is actually quite short in the grand scheme of the game. The original Modnation Racers was all about creating your own tracks and circuits to publish online for others to play. Essentially, LittleBigPlanet, but with racing karts. Road Trip brings this mode back in full force with the addition of touch controls to ease the process of creation. After choosing what location you want to have your track in, you can quickly sketch the shape of your track with your finger. After that, you can populate them with jumps, boosts, obstacles, etc on your own or you can have the game do it for you. When I say it literally takes seconds to get a custom track built, I'm not exaggerating. For those of you who enjoy creation modes in games, you’ll have many hours of fun.
After creating your own tracks, you can go in and compete by doing time trials, however, you are not limited to just doing time trials on your created tracks. Completing time trial challenges on the career tracks is also an option.
In addition to creating your own tracks, you can also go in and create custom drivers and karts using different items that you’re awarded for beating the career levels. After creating a driver, kart, and/or track, you can publish them online for other MR:R players to download. More importantly, you can download other people's content to play through new and unique races. Given the success of MR prime and how many tracks already exist for MR:R, the replay value is practically limitless.
However, don't get too excited, as there is a massive piece of the puzzle missing here: online co-op/competitive play. Road Trip offers ad-hoc mode to race with your friends, but as most of you know, unless you have a group of friends in a room together all with a Vita and the game, this mode will go completely unused. This missing feature is especially pervasive when looking at how online-centric gaming has become and also how the Vita has been advertised and billed as an online capable machine. This was a huge opportunity lost for the game, even more so considering that the original installment did offer such a mode. Perhaps there will be an ad-hoc app on PSN/SEN that will work with the Vita, but until then, you'll have to live with just playing on your own against the computer AI. I simply can’t stress enough how big of a problem it is that the game doesn’t offer online play.
The presentation in Road Trip is fairly decent. The graphics are as good as they can be for the cartoon style that the MR franchise is known for. The effects and animations are smooth. The frame rate can get a little hairy at times, especially on the menus and the loading screens, however the races themselves are remarkably smooth. The music is fun and peppy and underscores the game nicely but is nothing all that special. The sound effects are cartoony and cheesy, but they fit the action very well.
Outside of the lack of online multiplayer, the other big problem with MR:R are the loading times. The time spent waiting for a race to load in is exceptionally long. If that's what's needed to keep the race smooth, then ok, but considering that the game operates off of a solid state drive, it still feels a little severe and annoying. In addition, the game itself never really deviates from what the past MR installments have done; when you step back and look at it, Road Trip, in many ways, is just a stripped down version of it's predecessors.
In the end, Modnation Racers: Road Trip is a fun kart racing game that will challenge fans of Mario Kart to possibly stray from Nintendo. It’s a good game for the Vita and will provide fun for any who play it. However, since the game is remarkably similar to its older brothers, you’re not going to get much in they way of new content if you played the previous versions. Factor in the lack of online multiplayer, and you can see how this game isn’t quite up to par. Don’t get me wrong: it’s still a fun game and new players to the franchise will still have plenty to enjoy, but veterans of the franchise may well stick to the PS3 version.
|» Fun, addicting kart racing.|
|» Intuitive and easy-to-learn track creation tools.|
|» Create, Share, Play values clearly present.|
|» Lack of proper online multiplayer modes.|
|» Almost too familiar, doesn't stray too far from its PS3 counterpart.|
|» Really long load times.|