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Review

ModNation Racers Review (PS Vita)

Did somebody say 'online'?

That Road Trip has seven different control set-ups is telling, that none of them really work perhaps more so.  I’m most at home with the fifth, dubbed ‘Primary Drift Boost’, although asking me to press the triangle button to fire a weapon whilst simultaneously holding down cross to accelerate is perhaps a little cheeky.  The default (with the throttle mapped to the right trigger) might suit you better, but it’s baffling that Mario Kart doesn’t have any such problems with control.

Indeed, the very game ModNation Racers so clearly apes is streets ahead in every aspect apart from the still utterly sublime creation aspects that Sony’s title can offer exclusively.  The handling, visuals, music and – yes – online on Nintendo’s flagship racer are all two laps ahead of Road Trip, but ModNation still manages to excel in its single core USP.  But we’ll come back to that; first, the bad stuff.

Road Trip’s no looker.  When I first played it at E3 last year I thought the graphics needed work and were somewhat muddy, and they still are – it’s clearly not running at the Vita’s native resolution and the upscaling hurts, the lack of contrast making everything a poorly defined blurry soup and the forced sizing is evident in everything from the cars and tracks to the menus.  Even the user interface looks poor, and navigating it is even worse.


See that tiny little circle thing in the corner? Be ready to hate it with a passion - whoever thought this was a good idea probably hates you just as much.
Take the main menu, which works a little like the hub in the PS3 version but without the driving around.  You can swipe to move between screens (Kart Studio, Favourites, Share Station) but the swiping is tougher than it needs to be (you need to basically use the whole width of the Vita); thankfully then you can also use the d-pad to do the same job.  However, you can’t use the digital controls to select from each screen’s sub options, instead you have to fiddle with a tiny circle in the corner of the screen rather than tapping up and down.

Bonkers, and when you’re knee deep in the editor this jarring interface is troublesome at best.  Frustratingly, it’s easily solved with a patch, but why this system was locked down in the first place is anyone’s guess.  The truth is though, that Road Trip’s full of these oddities, an-often confusing mess of touch controls that’re compounding by a taunting, teasing Question Mark that, once tapped, highlights which of the new fangled input methods you’re supposed to use.

Tap.  Double Tap.  Tap and Hold.  Pinch and Expand.  Rotate.  Push and Pull.  The latter uses three fingers, in case you were wondering.

There are five Tours in Single Player, and a bonus one if you can make it to the end.  Each has its own (new) tracks and achievements such as finish in a certain position to Advance, finish higher to get the ‘payoff’ treats and do some other tasks to get the ‘bonus’ treats.  It’s a neat enough system for completists and there’s loads of stats to browse, and at least the interface here is straightforward enough, if a little unresponsive.  The track designs are fine – not quite as memorable as the first MNR game but competent enough.

Load times, though, can be challenging.  They’re nowhere near as bad as they were on PS3 but they’re still not sharp enough, presumably a result of having to pull together oodles of component parts for each track, Mod and Kart.  Restarts, assuming you can coax the stupid little circle thing into the right option, are instant.  Other options here include time trials, a quick single race and, as you’ll have heard, Ad-hoc only multiplayer, which limits competitive play to just those around you rather than over the web.

Whether or not this will be a problem to you depends on how you normally game – I’m not adverse to the idea that the developers have tried to build around this omission with other ideas (all the sharing works, of course, and there are leaderboards, time trials and GPS-based ‘postcards’) surely most of the fun with designing tracks is that you can immediately challenge your mates to a quick race regardless of where they are in the world.  This isn’t the case with Road Trip, although San Diego have mentioned patching it in.


At least the track editor is fine, the touch controls work nicely after some practice. The whole 'creation' angle is once again masterful in its execution.
Finally, then, the graphics.  The resolution issue is something that has affected a good chunk of the core Vita line-up with Everybody’s Golf in particular suffering somewhat from having to be upscaled.  Uncharted has the same issue, although it’s not nearly as apparent as it is here and with Clap Hanz’ lovely sporting title – it really does look blurry and messy, and the sloppy framerate, visible texture swapping (the tarmac in the middle distance looks like soup) and blocky smoke effects contribute to a game that hardly shows off the Vita.

Thankfully, apart from some silly typos (“let’s you”) in the loading screens, that’s probably about it.  If you’re still reading then you’re wanting to know how the Creation aspect works and happily it’s just as brilliant here as it was on the PS3.  In fact, the PS3 creations can be imported in Road Trip without fuss and the various editors (for the Mods, Tracks and Karts) are easily the equal of its big brother.  Designing is a breeze too, the touchscreen really coming into play with the visual stuff and a smart ability to ‘trace out’ a track.

So, that’s Road Trip. A launch title that probably didn’t need to be one, a checkbox marked ‘Create’ on a line-up that might have been better suited to Sackboy. ModNation’s a decent enough game, but it’s almost entirely without charm and feels like it’s just been pushed out the door in order to stick to a release date that should have been shifted back. If you liked the PS3 version then expect the same (and it’s definitely better than the PSP title) but a lack of online play and some rough edges mean that this might ultimately disappoint.

Pros:

  • Great creation tools
  • Ability to import PS3 content is welcome
  • Some interesting online options
  • Handling much improved over PSP version

Cons:

  • No online racing
  • Poor framerate
  • Muddy visuals

ModNation Racers Road Trip isn’t terrible, it’s just not particularly good.  Sure, the creation aspect of the game is solid and ranks up there with the very best at this sort of thing, but on the track whilst the handling is fine the graphics struggle and the action feels slightly stilted.  Road Trip will be stung by the lack of online multiplayer, that much is true, but even with it it’s hardly going to set the world alight.  San Diego have tried, but this needed another few months in the oven.

Score: 5/10

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13 Comments
  1. teflon
    Community Team
    Since: May 2009

    Disappointed by this. No head to head online killed it for me already, but it seems to go beyond that.

    Shouldn’t have been a launch title, it’s as simple as that. 6 months more development, a bigger budget, and this could have been a good title.

    Comment posted on 13/02/2012 at 16:17.
  2. Eldave0
    andUandU
    Since: Aug 2008

    It seems MNR continues to be a poor man’s Mario Kart :P
    It will be interesting to see if LBP Karting is any better

    Comment posted on 13/02/2012 at 16:17.
  3. SpikeyMikey23
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    As soon as online multiplayer was a no no, this game became a no no for me. I didnt really enjoy the original so I don’t feel i’ll be missing out on anything.

    Comment posted on 13/02/2012 at 16:19.
  4. colmshan1990
    Member
    Since: Apr 2009

    The other racers have stopped me picking this up day 1, but I expected it to be better than this.
    Menu issues with that many possible inputs?
    Utter joke.

    Comment posted on 13/02/2012 at 16:20.
  5. Klart
    Member
    Since: Jun 2010

    Auch. Good thing I wasn’t interested. I’ve got the PS3 one as a present, quite ok, but horrible loading times & online wasn’t all that.

    Comment posted on 13/02/2012 at 16:34.
  6. Bilbo_bobbins
    Member
    Since: Jun 2009

    no head to head is a massive downer personally. just sounds alround rubbish lol

    Comment posted on 13/02/2012 at 16:51.
  7. HoboCastro
    Member
    Since: Mar 2010

    I hoped for better. It seems this was made just to fill the line up. The fact that it hasn’t really changed since its outing at E3 makes me think they got to a “this will do” stage and left.
    Good to hear the controls have improved. The PSP version boiled down just accelerating and braking as the controls were rubbish.
    No online seems to be an oversight but until they know the user base it’s hard to justify the costs. That could be patched in later.

    Comment posted on 13/02/2012 at 17:16.
  8. jimmy-google
    Member
    Since: Feb 2009

    I didn’t experience any of these issues when I played the demo in store except the load times. I’ve still never found the use for only multiplayer on a hand held. Considering no one really used it on the psp I don’t blame them for leaving it out

    Comment posted on 13/02/2012 at 17:33.
  9. Moshbag
    Member
    Since: Nov 2011

    There’s something about these games which demonstrate a complete lack of common sense in basic design. I got a platinum in the PS3 game, but I still struggled to get past the awful design decisions. Fumbling with a face button to put the shield up when R1 was used to occasionally open a switch on a handful of tracks – idiotic design. The menus were painfully cumbersome, and almost designed to exacerbate the load time problem. And there was a spelling mistake in there too. I know the Vita one is by a different team but how does this crap get through QA?

    Comment posted on 13/02/2012 at 19:02.
  10. Awayze
    Member
    Since: Jul 2010

    No thanks, Uncharted and Lumines for me and hopefully a GTA SA Stories down the line, cmon R*, you know you want to.

    Comment posted on 13/02/2012 at 20:30.

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