Reviewing ModNation Racers: Road Trip is a difficult task.  The game does so many things right, but falls short where it matters most (to me at least).  For fans of Mario Kart style games, though, PS Vita owners couldn’t ask for much more from a launch racer.  If you have creative juices flowing through your veins, users will find even more reason to stick the card in your slot.  SCE Studios San Diego did an admirable job with the first MNR on Vita, but it isn’t perfect.

ModNation takes full advantage of the Vita’s unique capabilities, making some of the less intuitive aspects of creating content in the game much easier.  Creating a new track simply requires a drag of your finger along the front touch screen.  Upon completion, the game lets you populate the track, on your own or though randomization, with the set pieces that will make it come alive.  I found the game created some great tracks based on my design and was happy to leave that work up to the randomizing gods.  I never felt that a piece was out of place, and even found some great designs and tricks on the track.  Course creation is where ModNation shines brightest.

Track editing, With your fingers!

The other parts of the game are not dull or uninspired in any way, though.  Kart and character creation and racing are all serviceable at the very least, and wonderful at the very best.  Very early on, I was able to recreate Hobbes, from Calvin and Hobbes fame, to take my custom muscle kart onto the track.  Once the rubber hit the asphalt (or brick, or stone, or dirt) the racing worked just like you would expect.  Actually, it may work a little too much like you expect.

You have a few options for how you want to race as well.  Ghost mode against other players with localized leaderboards, a career mode and quick races are all part of the racing package in MNR.  The career mode is what you would imagine; race, get points to move on, race, get points… etc.  It’s fine just the way it is, but doesn’t add anything revolutionary to the kart racing genre.

Races are fast and easy to control with the d-pad or thumb-stick.  The right stick will let you look behind, but my fat fingers would hit it occasionally when pressing the face buttons, especially on big jumps.  Each track has a specific theme, and treats it appropriately.  Racing through a sci-fi park allows you to leap out of UFOs or drive next to mechanized dinosaurs that breath fire to try to steer you away from the tokens they are hiding.  These collectibles are used to purchase random unlockables from a gumball machine type device.  The load times can be a bit brutal as you go from race to race, but not so much that it ruins the game.

I hit Barney in a race... and got a new paint job!

Without spending any time looking at controls I immediately knew how to play the game.  I played the SNES version of Mario Kart a great deal, and while the tracks are different, the controls are all but identical.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on what you are looking for in your racer.  What I did enjoy a great deal was the weapon system.  Picking up a colored ball during a race can be difficult as you speed through the track, but it is worth the risk to ensure you grab them.  Each ball gives you access to a specific weapon (both offensive and defensive pickups are available) that starts at level one.  Pick up two more without crashing off the track or being hit by an opponent’s weapon, and the attack will hit level three. Fully powered offensives are devastating and can hit racers all over the track while, at the same time, shielding your kart from their effects.

ModNation also includes a fairly enjoyable soundtrack.  The music is nothing you would listen to on the radio, but the songs are fantastic for the environment and overall design of the game.  Karts, weapons and avatars all sound appropriate, and you are able to customize the voice for your created racer.  No knocks for the sound in any way, shape or form.

Where the game does fall a little flat is in the multiplayer aspects of the game.  Though sharing is still part of what makes ModNation special, online racing has been removed.  And, according to Erich Waas (Sony San Diego game director) here is why:

“I know there are some of you that are disappointed that ModNation Racers: Road Trip doesn’t let you play head-to-head online other than ad-hoc,” wrote Waas.

“But we really wanted to evolve online functionality and take advantage of the PlayStation Vita’s unique feature set in new ways. If all we ever did as developers is rehash features that have been done in previous games, we’d still be entering passwords instead of using save files and you’d have to start the entire game over after you lost your three lives (extra 1-ups aside).

“While online head-to-head has been a mode used in many games in recent years, we focused on making a game that is crafted for how portable games are most often played – in quicker ‘pick up and play’ sessions multiple times in a day. Your online interaction, competition and socialisation will always be when it’s convenient for you.”

Drop some points from the final review score if online racing is important to you.  Ad-hoc multiplayer is available, so if you have some friends around, you are good to go.  There are time trials to compete against other players as well, but it doesn’t really replace full-on online races.  Personally, the lack of multiplayer was a big disappointment, but what is here is top quality

Racing (not) Online!

One of the more interesting and exciting features in the game is it’s use of ‘Near’ (the Vita’s GPS enabled software).  Real world locations will unlock special items that can be included in your created tracks.  For example, visit the Golden Gate Bridge and you will unlock a related item for your custom tracks.  This functionality adds a great deal to the game and shows a little bit of what may be in store for the future of games on the Vita.

Besides the multiplayer aspects missing, if you enjoyed the PSP or PS3 versions of ModNation Racers you will enjoy the Vita version.  The customization, high speed racing, huge jumps, crazy weapons and community sharing are all well done in this title.  The lack of online multiplayer feels a bit lazy (and the terrible PR spin used to explain it away doesn’t help), but the game doesn’t suffer much for it.

Here’s the Rundown:
+ Tons of customization options.
+ Creative minded players will have plenty to do.
+ Great use of the Vita’s unique capabilities.
– No multiplayer online.
– What is this, 1990? No. Online. Multiplayer. 

8 and 8.5 represent a game that is a good experience overall. While there may be some issues that prevent it from being fantastic, these scores are for games that you feel would easily be worth a purchase.

ModNation Racers Road Trip was developed by SCE Studios San Diego and published by Sony Computer Entertainment.  It was released February 14, 2012 on the PS Vita. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.