While many developers have attempted to knock Mario Kart of its throne over the years, there's absolutely no denying that Nintendo really do have a monopoly on the Kart Racing scene and have done since Super Mario Kart. So, it was very interesting to see Sony announce ModNation Racers at least year's E3 as their latest addition into their Play, Create, Share genre, a game that would be developed by the newly formed United Front Games.
As expected in any kart racer, there is a basic career mode which allows players to drive around levels created by United Front as they look to become the dominant force in the Modnation Racing Championship (MRC). The difference here though, is that while the character in the career mode is called "Tag", the character's appearance is completely down to the player. The character's kart is also completely customisable too and players are gradually introduced to all of these concepts as they play through the opening series of races, which essentially act as a tutorial.
As players progress through their careers, they will witness a very basic storyline which sees Tag experience the highs and lows of being a professional kart racer. Colour commentary is also provided by Biff and Gary, who have a great dynamic and it all does a good job of providing some tongue in cheek humour. For almost each race, Tag will also have a rival - who generally gets involved in some kind of pre-race shenanigans. There are five 'tours' in total for the MRC, with each tour getting progressively harder, and with more races added to the championship. To unlock the next race, players simply need to finish in the top 3, although to move onto the next tour, they must finish first in the final race.
However, progression is just one aspect of each of the races, as there are also objectives to complete. This could be achieving a certain amount of spin points, or taking down the rival, but players must also finish first to achieve the objective. Should they complete all three objectives, they might then take place in a Grudge match against the rival. Completing all of this unlocks new parts for customising characters and karts, but also for building completely custom tracks - the real meat behind ModNation Racers.
Once one of the four themes has been selected, players are thrust into a world that has a completely blank canvas. From here, they have a magnitude of options which they can use to create their piece of karting heaven - whether it be recreating Suzuka, ModNation style, or simply creating that track they've always dreamed of. To start off though, players can select the time of day, cloud exposure, wind, and even sea level.
Laying down the track is incredibly easy. Once a start point has been decided, players literally just drive around as they normally would, except the track is being laid out behind them. There's a handy mini-map so they can check progress and there's also an option to auto-complete the track. While the track is being laid out, they can also adjust elevation, although this is all pretty basic stuff.
Once the track has been finalised, that's when the real fun begins. Players can make jumps, create devilish s-bends, narrow the track, put in tunnels and huge bridges. The sky really is the limit, and it's all so easy to do. But the tools are there for those who really want to go in and create some real masterpieces - after all, the career mode tracks were made using the same tools and they are rather impressive. Waiting to see what people will come up with is half the thrill.
So, a track has been nailed out and it's waiting for the world to see. Why not test it out? Alongside all these creation tools, ModNation Racers is actually a mighty fine kart racer. The controls are really tight and it makes flying around courses incredibly fun. As expected, players can drift, boost and fire weapons - nothing new there. They can also perform spins if they go over high enough jumps, although landing askew can really put a dampener on things. Performing spins, drifts and drafts fills up the boost meter, which can also be used to create a shield to protect from opposition attacks.
The weapons can actually be quite brutal. There are numerous types, which range from the generic boost to a cluster of homing i. However, what makes them different is the ability to level them up. If players decided to save, and not use their pick-up, they can then increase their power by collecting another pick-up. The maximum is three levels and it significantly increases their performance. It's possible to go from a single non-homing missile, to a power-up that fires 7-8 homing missiles at multiple foes. Power-ups also have an alternative mode, which allows them to be dropped or fired backwards. Using power-ups and shields wisely is crucial to succeeding in ModNation Racers, but it's always nice to have a bit of luck too.
The graphics in ModNation Racers are pleasant, which is as much as can really be expected given the cartoony approach. However, there are a few performance issues in some aspects of the game. Racers are perfectly fluid, despite loads of stuff going on, but loading times are a bit lengthy (even with a mandatory install) and the ModSpot seems to suffer from frame-rate drops, even when driving around offline. The voice acting is suitably apt, and the music is also very complimentary to the game's style.
Despite the career mode being relatively short, that's not where the real appeal of ModNation Racers lies. If the community really get on board, like they did with LittleBigPlanet, then ModNation Racers can't help but have a long life ahead of it. The ModSpot also provides a nice easy place where players can find out about the highest rated created tracks, karts and racer mods, so there's no excuse for failing to enjoy some of the top content the game offers.
Mario Kart has long had a monopoly over the Kart Racing genre, but ModNation Racers' arrival provides it with some very stiff competition. Its gameplay is solid and with the extremely diverse track creator, ModNation Racers is really a game that can grow from strength to strength over time. There really isn't a better Kart Racing experience available right now.