Sunday, June 20, 2010

Video game number one hundred and seventy: Mod Nation Racers

Video game review number one hundred and seventy in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is Mod Nation Racers.

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to play and review the PSP version of this game. I didn't enjoy the controls and the idea of "modding" on the PSP didn't make any sense to me. The game was simply not the kind of experience I'd want to take on the road with me, and since I almost exclusively play my PSP while traveling, this game was not for me. I held out hope that maybe the PS3 version would be better. I'm glad I did.

This game is fantastic.

I've compared every kart racer I've reviewed to Mario Kart. Feature for Feature...this game is actually better than Mario Kart. It's only flaw is that....well, it's not Mario Kart. If Nintendo paid Sony for the rights to plaster Mario's face all over this game and re-release it with a catchy Nintendo soundtrack...this would easily be the best Mario Kart game in history. I'd rate it as the best kart game in history, except I know that part of what makes Mario Kart the best is playing it with my friends, and I know my friends will never get into this one. Such a shame.

Mod Nation racers is a standard kart racer at heart. It's got a bunch of packed in tracks, and they're a lot of fun. On top of that, it adds a campaign. By campaign, I don't mean "A single player mode", I mean an actual story...with cinematics and everything before each major race. It's not an epic tale or anything (most of the story so far has consisted of "Go beat this guy in a race, because he's a douchebag and you're awesome"...but this addition is just gravy on top of an already entertaining kart racer.

During the campaign, you'll race computer opponents, learn to use your kart and unlock items that you can use to mod it. When I speak of modding, I'm not talking about Forza or Gran Turismo stuff where you have to tweak your alignment, muffler, etc....I'm just talking about visuals. You can create a racer and make it look like whatever you want to in this game, and much like Little Big Planet, every game you play helps you unlock more bits and pieces to add to that racer. Same goes for karts and....tracks.

That's right, Mod Nation allows you to build your own tracks. Don't think of this as some lame exercise, where you pick a preset straight piece, a corner piece, a start and finish line and try to hook them all together, because that's not what it is. Many games have shipped with a track editor before, but nothing I've ever played has been quite this easy or this fun.

Basically, you drive this steam roller around an empty landscape and lay the track as you drive. You can raise or lower the elevation of the road you're building and even click "auto complete" when you get to a point where you just want the track to end. Press another button, and the game will add all sorts of scenery for you, or you can add it yourself...piece by piece. I actually built my first track in less than 5 minutes, and it wasn't a terrible track to race on. You can add jumps, power ups, banked corners, speed boosts, etc. The possibilities here are unlimited, and because you can share creations with people online, it could be a long while before you run out of new tracks to play. What other karting game can say that?

When I first popped the game in, I played offline for awhile, and then I decided to try online. It takes awhile, but I was matched with a bunch of other people and got to race with them. You win "XP" as you race (even though I came in last every time, I got a little). The people online are good, and I'm hoping that eventually I'll be able to have the knowledge of the short cuts they all seemed to have already.

You can race the campaign tracks online, or you can race custom tracks people have built. Sony is awarding trophies (their version of gamerscore) to people who build the best mods and have them downloaded the most. That's pretty awesome...because the talented folks who get something downloaded 1000 times can get a gold trophy just for that.

There's a store where you can buy DLC karts and mods, and there's a sharing station where you can download karts, mods and tracks that the community has created. What I like is the free stuff built by the community is all better than the premium versions that Sony sells. It's pretty awesome. Within moments, I had racers that looked like the characters from South Park, Mario Kart, as well as a Spider Man and an Iron Man. I'm using a mod that looks like Wario in the campaign right now.

Overall Score? 9/10. The game has a few noticeable flaws including extremely long load times, a very steep difficulty curve during the campaign and the online service was up and down the whole day I played. Basically though...that's it. Other than "it's not Mario Kart", I can't think of anything bad to say about this one....and that's why I bought it within hours of the rental. After looking around to find the best prices, I ended up buying a copy on Ebay so I could get the "free" code for a DLC Sackboy Racer that someone hadn't used yet. I haven't seen one online yet, so I assume it will make me awesome and unique. :-)

Trophies: Lots....only Sony's stupid website won't sync them for this game for some reason. I've gone into my account on the PS3 and opened it several times (which usually performs a sync with but that won't work for some reason. Maybe I need to unlock another trophy and try it again. In any event...I have a ton, and I intend to get more.

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