The kart racing genre is arguably one of the most mature in the gaming world; for decades developers have tried to improve its basic formula. Generally this has required little more than simple gameplay interspersed with colourful characters and a handful of tracks. There is however an indefinable quality to a few of these titles which has made them classics - Modnation Racers, developed by United Front Games, has this in spades.
Until recently Mario Kart for Wii was arguably the best kart racing title to hit the shelves, sweeping critics off their feat upon its release in 2008. In response Sony has released Modnation Racers, which appears to have lifted the bar that little bit higher.
As the second title in Sony’s ‘Play, Create, Share’ catalogue (the first being critically acclaimed platformer Little.Big.Planet) Modnation Racers is almost instantly worthy of distinction. The title takes this a step further however to bring together a collection appealing characters and flexible tracks, mixed with the High Definition imagery that the Wii is unable to provide.
Modnation Racers is very much focused on the creation of new content and online community. Despite this it also features a single player campaign mode for those players for are not connected or who do not have the time or inclination to interact with others online.
In this case the primary goal is to progress through 28 different and increasingly difficult tracks, while playing as a character called Tag. Each track also holds two additional unlock options which contribute towards the arcade feel of the single player campaign as a whole.
In terms of gameplay racers are able to accelerate and drift around the track. Successful drifts contribute points towards a boost meter which, when full, gives the player a short burst of speed or a shield to protect themselves from attacks.
Weapons, which incorporate the likes of sonic attacks, missiles and lightning, are also available to the player and are collected and upgraded throughout the race.
For those who do wish to participate online there is ModSpot, which is the primary portal for players to find each other, race and create and download content. There are a number of racing options available including Quick Race, Split Screen and Career and well as a Coming Attractions portal where players can view and download upcoming DLC packages.
In terms of content creation Modnation Racers is fluid and expansive, with a range of choices available for both characters (referred to as Mods) and vehicles. In this case, much like its’ elder sibling Little.Big.Planet, the sky is the limit with regards to what the player is able to create.
When building a track the player has four general thematic options - alpine, desert, seaside or jungle and the freedom to lay down track at they please. These controls are well integrated with the Playstation SixAxis controller, making it even easier to create new raceways.
So many releases these days are heavily layered and difficult to master – to the extent that gamers are expected to spend ten to fifteen hours before really mastering the in-game features. The best thing about Modnation racers is that it was developed in a more lighthearted, accessible manner while still managing to incorporate a game structure which will offer the buyer an admirable lifespan.
Overall Modnation Racers is just good clean fun and remind us, in some ways, of what some game developers should spend more (or less) time focusing on.