ModNation Racers: Road Trip Review

I am a portable kart-racing fanatic. I’ve played and mastered them all, from the Mario Kart series to Sonic & Sega All Star Racing, so when I was given the opportunity to review ModNation Racers: Road Trip on PlayStation Vita, I couldn’t resist.

Unlocking parts, karts, and characters is but one feature that makes kart-racing games so enjoyable. While Road Trip follows this route, the unlockables have no effect on racing performance. Also, there’s no online play. The former can be somewhat overlooked, while the omission of online support is a major disappointment. Even Mario Kart DS has online competition, making us wonder why this was left out. Developers rushing to make Vita’s launch, perhaps.

In addition, the game’s touch screen is unresponsive. In most cases, you must touch the screen two or three times for your inputs to register. Thankfully, you can navigate menus using the d-pad, but cannot get around messing with the touch input to manipulate a “selection wheel” in the lower left corner of the screen.

That said, ModNation Racers: Road Trip is still fun and addictive, regardless of those missing parts.

The game itself, like its predecessors, focuses on the “Play, Create and Share” mantra. However, Road Trip uses Vita’s touchscreen and rear touch pad’s functionality to create tracks. Racers, tracks, and karts can then be shared online. Players can also collect tokens, which they redeem for parts and character features.

Controlling your Kart is tight and responsive. Once you get a feel for the game, drifting becomes second nature. You’ll quickly drift around corners building up your turbo meter. Later, you’ll fly off jumps and perform tricks.

While Road Trip’s controls work well, this brings up yet another nagging issue. Later in the game (around the fourth tour out of six) the game becomes quite difficult, to the point of being unfair. Many of the later tracks have no barriers to protect racers from flying into the water. This typically sets you back, resulting in a loss, thanks to unforgiving computer opponents. Racer-assist is available but does little to correct this.

On the positive side, weapons from the original games make a return, which is one of Road Trip’s strong points. I also dig the ability to use my turbo meter as a shield, something Nintendo should implement in its Mario Kart series to counter the infamous blue shell.

While Road Trip has no such weapon, there’ several items that, once upgraded (by collecting three of the same weapon icons), pack a punch by slowing you down, significantly.

Road Trip’s graphics look colorful and bright, but like most launch titles, these visuals don’t showcase what Vita is really capable of. I’d go as far to say Mario Kart 7 for 3DS is head and shoulders above this game in the graphics department.

The game’s music, meanwhile, is boring and shallow, similar to the original soundtracks for the PSP and PS3 games. At least Sony removed the irritating commentators from the original games, a welcome omission indeed.

ModNation Racers: Road Trip is a cool, yet flawed game, hampered by its lack of online play and shoddy touchscreen controls. Hopefully, it’ll receive patches that correct these shortcomings. If you’re a kart loving gamer as I am, you’ll still enjoy what’s here, and miss what’s not.

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