ModNation Racers: Road Trip Review

By Stephen A. Johnson - Posted Feb 22, 2012

A nice cart-racing game with a great mod system stalls out when it comes to online multiplayer.

The Pros
  • Silly, Fun But Surprisingly Deep Cart Racing
  • Full Suite of Excellent Mod Tools
  • Connection With PS3 Version Means Nearly Endless Tracks
The Cons
  • No Online Multiplayer
  • No Plot Or Story Mode
  • Long Load Times And Confusing Menus

ModNation Racers: Road Trip Review:

When cart-racing game ModNation Racers: Road Trip gets things right, it gets them very right, but when it gets it gets them wrong, it’s terrible. This game could be so great -- the presentation is colorful, the mod tools are plentiful and easy-to-use, the gameplay mechanics are locked in and fun-- but the glaring omission of head-to-head online multiplayer and the anemic single-player experience gives ModNation Racers: Road Trip a huge flat tire.



The Good

Road Trip’s core gameplay is impressive. It distinguishes itself from its many competitors with solid controls, interesting levels, and a bit of depth, giving even 800-pound plumber Mario Kart a competitive race. The carts handle well, the AI is good (if a little “rubber-bandy,” especially on higher difficulties), and the pre-packaged racetracks are varied, interesting and full of enough driving lunacy to keep your attention for a long time.

In the crowded cart racing field, it’s the little innovations that make the difference, and Road Trip has these nice touches throughout. The game’s power-ups are color coded, so you can tell what you’re going to get before you get it. They also stack, so if you run over two red balloons, you have a double powered-fire spell to smite your enemies. Power-ups can instantly be converted to boost energy, giving you strategic options. When you add the game’s shields, drafting, boosts for stunts, and drifting mechanic, you get a deep cart racer.

Unlike some games, where catching a lucky power-up is often the difference between last and first place, ModNation allows for strategy and longer-term thinking, but with the dusting of utter chaos that makes cart racing different from Gran Turismo. The balance between strategy and lunacy is pretty solid throughout, although some tracks are frustratingly gimmicky and hard to beat. Overall, though, it’s a satisfying single-player game – it’s not going to change your life, but it will liven up a bus trip or a little alone time in your room.

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Speaking of different tracks, ModNation Racers: Road Trip has them . . . thousands of them. Road Trip allows you instant access to a nearly limitless playfields created for the PS3 version of ModNation Racers, right out of the box. You won’t run out of tracks, I promise.

Should the many, many modded tracks not suit your fancy, though, ModNation Racers: Road Trip contains the tools you need to create and share your own. The finger-tip controls of Road Trip are better suited to building tracks than the PS3 controller, so ModNation Racers for Vita would be a good tool, even if you prefer actually racing on your PlayStation 3… but sadly, you can’t use Vita created mod-nation tracks on the PS3.

I was able to create a racetrack based on my morning commute with relative ease, including uphill and downhill areas as well as different backgrounds. Road Trip also offers you the opportunity to auto-populate tracks, making mod-creation as easy as tracing a shape with your finger and letting the game add power-ups, boost strips and scenery.

Just about every aspect of ModNation Racers is moddable. You can create a custom character with hundreds of customizable skins, clothes, and accessories then rev up your go-cart with innumerable decals, accessories, body-shapes and colors. It takes the philosophy of LittleBigPlanet and transports it to the racing genre.

Once you’ve completed your mod-creation, you can share it instantly with the world with a couple flicks of the touchscreen. There are even mod leaderboards where talented designers can shine.

ModNation Racers: Road Trip

The Bad

Once you’ve played through the game’s single player races, then created a character to suit your racing style (mine is a cartoonish version of Arthur “Killer” Kane, the late bass player of the New York Dolls driving a Japanese Tuner), it’s time to go online and race against the world! Wait, scratch that. ModNation Racer: Road Trip has no head-to-head internet play, a glaring omission, given that head-to-head is supported in other Vita games.

Instead, Road Trip offers two variations of online play: Ad-Hock and time-trial contests. If you have a friend with a Vita, you can play against him or her if you’re in the same room. If you don’t have a friend with a Vita in the same area, you can only race against your friend’s ghosts in time trial mode – a poignant reminder of your lack of social skills. If you’re a masochist, you can race against the players at the top of the global leader boards. This is kind of fun, but doesn’t offer nearly the kind of crazy competition that racing online would bring.

Given the lack of online play, you might expect a more robust single-player experience. ModNation Racers: Road Trip doesn’t deliver here, either. Where the PS3 version featured a silly but amusing single player story to give some context to the races, Road Trip just plops you in the middle of a series of contests for no reason at all. Even Mario Kart has a little more “story,” in that at least we know who the different racers are and why the tracks exist. It’s more fun to knock Princess Peach or Wario around in Luigi’s Mansion than it is to tangle with “Johnny” or “Drillbit” in “Camel Hump Valley.”

ModNation Racers: Road Trip

The Fugly

In a nutshell, ModNation Racers is a relatively solid cart driving game and modding tool that is hobbled by its lack of online multiplayer and a complete single-player experience. But a closer examination reveals some smaller annoyances that left a rancid taste in my mouth.

Load times: This game takes freakin’ forever to load a track – I’m talking like 45 seconds for a single race. Maybe I have a short attention span, but I caught myself wishing I had a portable game system to play while I waited for my portable game system to load (Game-ception! OMG!) It’s not going to end your life or anything, but for a game on a cartridge, it’s surprising. The game’s touchscreen response is sometimes a laggy when in menus, it just lacked the insta-response I’m used to from the screen on my iPhone. The menu system takes a bit of getting used to – it’s confusing and clunky.

ModNation Racers: Road Trip

Speaking of menus, there are a ton of them, like there is a ton of everything, and many small parts of the game are just inexplicable crap as opposed to anything anyone would actually use. There’s a token shop where you spend coins you earn from playing the game on new accessories, but rather than just a straight exchange you “try your luck” and hope for something good – like an iPhone game. There is an option to send a postcard of your mods to someone – like a facebook game. There’s a location-based thing that rewards you for playing from different locales – like FourSquare. There are goals to unlock in each track to earn tokens. There are collectible tokens in each racetrack. There are trophies. Etc. Etc. Many of the features of the game seem designed not by game developers but by a boardroom full of suits cramming current gaming trends into a single title, whether they fit or not. Who on the planet would make a special trip to a specific location (like the Golden Gate Bridge) to get a fake helmet in a video game?

None of these small gripes would kill anyone’s enjoyment of the game, but given the lack of multiplayer, and the weak single-player, ModNation Racers: Road Trip is a huge missed opportunity for the casual fan, but the mod-tools are strong enough to appeal to the already converted fan of the franchise.

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