Hands On: ModNation Racers PSP

We’ve not been shy with our ModNation Racers coverage of late, with hands-on, playtests and impressions aplenty.  Most of it, though, has been about the PS3 version (with full review coming very soon to TSA) so it’s nice to finally be able to talk about the portable PSP version for a bit instead.  Yes, that’s right – just in case you missed the news, Modnation Racers is coming to PSP, launching day and date alongside the console version and it’s really, really good.

First, a disclaimer.  Like our extensive coverage of ModNation Racers, currently the PSP version is in ‘preview’ stage which means that some elements are still to be completed and there’s a couple of rough edges to be expected.  That said, apart from the complete absence of any online modes (all ‘community’ buttons are greyed out at the moment) the game looks pretty close to final to me, and everything that you’d expect is in present and correct, and working well.

So, most importantly, the racing, which takes some getting used to after hammering the PS3 version for ages.  Basically, the steering has been tightened up considerably for PSP, giving each Kart substantial oversteer as opposed to the drift-heavy physics of its older brother – corners are taken much easier and the drift button kicks you inwards rather than outwards.  It’s odd, but it means it’s much easier to drive with the PSP’s d-pad, although the analog stick’s there if you want it.

The rest of the controls fit nicely enough – there’s three configurations but the default mirrors the PS3 iteration most closely, with only the lack of a second analog an issue – nudging has been moved to ‘up’ on the d-pad.  So, it’s the triggers to go and stop, X to jump (and drift), circle to boost and square to fire.  If you prefer a more ‘Mario Kart’ control method, there’s one where you can use X to accelerate and L to drift, which works equally well after a bit of practice.

Visually it’s great – yes, it’s definitely a step down from the PS3 version but then the lower poly count has resulted in a much smoother framerate, but still managing to capture most of the charm and character.  The tracks, mostly remixed versions of the ones in the ‘main’ ModNation Racers are fine, packed with enough detail to make them memorable but with a few sacrifices to keep the thing shifting along.  Once you’re familiar with the PS3 tracks, moving over to the PSP is no problem.

What does need some work just now, though, is the Track Editor.  Whilst the Mod and Kart editors are fine – slimmed down but still serviceable, the Track tool is a bit weaker.  It’s tricky to get the layout you want (my preview version continuously tried to close off the track, always fighting against me) and you can’t go over existing track items and make bridges.  There’s lots of stuff you can do, but the PS3 version has spoiled me somewhat.  I’m hoping the final release will have these issues ironed out.

So, ModNation Racers PSP shows a huge amount of promise.  I’m disappointed I couldn’t try out the online functionality – I don’t yet know what the community stuff is like and even more odd is that there’s no local multiplayer in this build either, but that’s to be expected at this stage.  What I did like, though, was having a portable version of the PS3 game that I can play anywhere, and as you’ll know by now, I’m a huge fan of the MNR concept.  Hopes are high for this one.

Oh, and – yeah – the load times are tiny.