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ModNation Racers: Road Trip review

Of all the launch-window games for the Vita, ModNation Racers: Road Trip was one of the titles I was most looking forward to. It is also one of the games I am most disappointed with.

If you have played ModNation Racers on the PS3, then you know what to expect in terms of gameplay. The Vita controls do the series justice, and there are even a few new teaks to the races that are welcome additions.

The ModNation kart racing series is easily the best of the genre that doesn’t have the name “Mario” in it, and part of that is thanks to the incredible options that you can wield while creating unique tracks. If map editing and character customization are your primary passions when it comes to the ModNation games, then the Vita title is a must own. For everyone else, there are major issues.

The gameplay of ModNation Racers: Road Trip is fun and responsive. The controls are well suited for the Vita, and the original smooth controls make the transition. The AI is still a pain, and competitors will frequently spit in the eye of physics to catch up to you (the dreaded elastic effect), but the challenge can be fun at times. The campaign tracks also have several new obstacles, and really keep you on your toes. The scattered weapon pickups are also a bit better balanced than before. All-in-all, the gameplay is solid. No serious complaints there.

Where this game (and its PS3 counterpart) excel is in the track creation. This version surpasses its console counterpart here thanks to the use of the touchscreen. Designing your own character is easier than ever, but the track editor is much better with the Vita. This is an important fact to remember, since the game can share your creations on the Vita with PS3 users, and vice versa. So if your main focus with these games is to design new tracks, then this is a must-own for you. Hardcore fans of the game can be designing away on the Vita while playing on the PS3, which is the way to go because the rest of the game is deeply flawed.

If you take away the customization options — which are admittedly awesome — what you are left with is a gutted game that is a pale reflection of its PS3 version.

The campaign mode has none of the fun that the original had, and all hints of a story have been removed. There are no cut scenes, and the campaign is just a progression-based series of races. That in itself isn’t a deal breaker, since the races are still fun, but it feels like the PS3 campaign was lobotomized. The graphics are also somewhat weak compared to some of the other, much-better-looking titles on the Vita, but they are passable. The bigger issue is the multiplayer — or lack of it.

Of all the Vita launch titles, this was one of my most anticipated, primarily because I couldn’t wait to jump online and play kart races on the go. For some absolutely bewildering reason, this game does not have any online multiplayer. At all.

There is local multiplayer, but it isn’t the same, and it is a staggering and unforgivable omission for a game of this nature.

Conclusion

I feel like a disgruntled parent playing this game. I’m not mad at it, but I am disappointed. Actually, scratch that, I am mad at this game, because it has so much potential that it doesn’t even come close to reaching. It is a lazy port of a great game that has a new title stamped on it to justify what feels like a partial release. That is surprising too, because the ModNation brand should be a long-running franchise for Sony, and this outing feels like a squandered opportunity.

One saving grace of this game is that it’s a discount title at $29.99, and for that money, you essentially get a very good level editor that you can use to develop tracks for the PS3 version of this game. You can also use this game to test out your creations, and in that it really succeeds. It is basically a $30 expansion for fans of the original. As a standalone game though, for people that may not already own the PS3 version, this title has a decent race mechanic and a good level editor, but not much else.

Score: 6.5 out of 10

 (This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita on a copy provided by Sony Computer Entertainment)