Review: ModNation Racers (PSP)

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Title: ModNation Racers
Format: UMD / PlayStation Network Download
Release Date: May 26, 2010
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: United Front Games / SCE San Diego Studios
Price: $29.99

Gameplay:
ModNation Racers uses many of the kart racing standards like drifting, turbo boosts, shortcuts & weapons.  MNR introduces a few new twists which help increase the depth of gameplay considerably.

Performing drifts and other maneuvers fills an on-screen meter that represents up to three levels of power.  This power can then be used for turbo, weapons and/or a shield.  Deplete the meter and perform more drifts or tricks to refill it.

Want to go on an offensive and take out a couple opponents or would you prefer to boost your way to the head of the pack?  Maybe instead you plan to boost to the front but save enough power to activate a shield in case an opponent decides to attack.  These game decisions add a level of strategic depth never before seen in a kart racer.  Not to mention the fact that all are well balanced.  No longer will you race all the way to the end of a race just to get knocked out by an overpowered super weapon.  The cheap moves associated with so many kart racers aren’t present in ModNation Racers which puts a much greater emphasis on racing and strategy.  Also missing is what is commonly referred to as “rubber banding.”  Opponents aren’t provided extra speed and more powerful weapons in order to quickly catch up to your racing position.

ModNation’s weapons leverage the power meter and provide varying levels of  attacks.  A first level sonic attack emits a series of rings around the player knocking nearby opponents off the track while a third level lightning strike covers the sky and shoots down bolts of electricity.  If weapons aren’t available opponents can also be attacked by the use of takedowns.  You can stomp and side swipe opponents or of course be hit by one yourself.

Career mode walks players through a series of races while also providing a glimpse into some of the creation aspects of the game.  The associated story is humorous and offers a few smiles and a couple laugh out loud moments.  Each career race is broken into three main objectives; Advanced, Payoff and Bonus.  All three can be earned in one race or can be attained separately through multiple attempts.  Some of the Payoff objectives are quite challenging which helps to lengthen an otherwise short career mode.  Single player is broken into three different race types.  Action race allows weapons, Pure race turns the weapons off and Last Man Standing eliminates the last player within a user defined amount of time.  When it’s set to 30 seconds for example the last place driver is eliminated every 30 seconds.  Rinse and repeat until only 1 player remains or until your character is eliminated.

Career and Single player not enough for you?  Well then, do whatever you want.  Literally.  ModNation Racers has an easy to use and robust creation tool set that can be used to create and edit karts, drivers and tracks.  Create your own or download go online and download someone else’s.  Either way ModNation Racers will have new life breathed into it for years to come.  Not all creation elements are open and available immediately but all can be attained by completing the various stages of the game.

Unfortunately at the time of this review online was not functioning, so I can’t include those aspects of the game in my review.  I will return to and amend my review if the online components affect the review score either positively or negatively.  Online modes include multiplayer and content sharing.

Button layouts are completely customizable and allow for steering both on the directional pad and the analog stick.  I play mostly using the directional.

Visuals:
The entire game including tracks and characters uses similar if not the same set of creation elements available to the player.  To illustrate the insane amount of depth in the creation tools all characters, karts and tracks are crafted with lots of bright colors and pizazz.  Graphically the game looks very sharp and ranks up there as one of the best looking titles available on the PSP.  Has a style all it’s own.  The cut scenes in career mode look as good as it’s PS3 counterpart.  Framerate is smooth and consistent even when there are many opponents on screen.

Audio:
Voiceovers in career mode are well acted and humorous.  Same with the narrator who announces each race with little quips like “All those colors make you forget about your weapon?  Fire at ‘em.”  Game music both in menus and during race events is all instrumental and has a pop/dance sound.  Fortunately it’s never annoying or repetitive  There is no custom soundtrack option available in the PSP version of MNR.

Conclusion:
Take the best elements of Mario Kart, refine the gameplay to a tight balance while also including the most accessible set of creation tools currently available; ModNation Racers redefines the genre and sets a new standard for kart racers on a handheld.

Beyond the refined gameplay and tremendous replayability, the game is a blast to play!  Finally a kart racer that rewards players for good driving and smart strategy rather than who escapes the end without being hit by a last minute blue turtle shell (cheap shot).

Score:
9.0

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  • There was confirmation of custom soundtracks on the Playstation Blog: http://blog.us.playstation.com/2010/05/14/modna… ; comment 84.

  • I believe custom soundtracks are limited to the PS3 version. Double checked my PSP copy to confirm.

  • I believe custom soundtracks are limited to the PS3 version. Double checked my PSP copy to confirm.