When a company publicly declares that it is creating a new genre it is natural for the sceptical mind to wonder if just marketing spin or if there really is a new hot ticket that we should all be jumping on, or if perhaps the PR spin has just gone into overdrive trying to prove its worth. Sony’s release of LittleBigPlanet saw the first ambitious stab at Play Create Share, Mod Nation Racers was bookmarked to be the second, but is it a legitimate entry to this new genre, or is Sony jumping the Shark?
The first thing you will notice in MNR is that there is a definite attempt to cuteify the characters in the game, large heads, indeterminable physical structural differences, plant on eyes/mouths/noses and customizable clothing or accessories. Everything is brightly coloured and curvy with rounded edges, it’s almost like a world created from Lego if there weren’t the connection parts on the block.
The racing world contains slightly more detail, in terms of colour and style the theme remains, but the tracks and environments hold there own against any other stylized racer. The power-ups and attacks have again more detail and take fuller advantage of the power available from the console.
As with other games built with the party racing crowd in mind MNR allows players to set out against each other in tracks with speed pads along with weapons and shields. The power-ups increase as you collect multiple tokens, more fire power with more accuracy and faster boosts. Think Mario Kart but without the Nintendo catalogue characters, the bananas, the flowers and the stars.
Truth be told there are a few more mechanics thrown into the mix, a boost gauge that fills faster with every act of awesomeness, that can also be used to shield yourself from incoming attacks. The depth of gameplay is centred around this mechanic, the faster you accumulate the boost power, the more likely you are to survive a full lap without getting taken down. Knocking down an opponent adds boost whether you use a missile or nudging them if they get along side you. Drifting allows tighter cornering and as you might guess charges the boost meter.
The world of the Mod Nation holds a central hub where you can visit the mod store, see friends top challenge lap times or visit the various races such as your career or online races. The idea is, as with most open world, a compelling one. Seamless integration of controlling your character to navigate 3d in-game environments to choose your next move, my problem comes when there is a significant loading period before returning to this staging area. An occasional loading time I have no issue with, but every time a race/stage finishes? It’s a little excessive in my opinion, and I doubt the attention spans of the target audience will tolerate it as well.
Many of the touted features that you’ll see in the press releases promoting the release of MNR will include its online feature set. Primarily about the ability to create tracks to your own preference and then upload them to share with friends and complete strangers alike. As with the LBP system users can rate and comment, trying to add some form of order to the chaos that is a user created content hub. Ninety percent of everything will inevitably end up being complete garbage, but it is nice to know that hopefully the best content will be pushed to the forefront for everyone to enjoy. This is the real difference in what MNR offers to the gaming public, for all the glitz and glamour, the arcade racer is at its core very similar to what has been offered on many platforms for many years past.
Something just didn’t gel in my overall experience with MNR. I don’t know if it was missing something or perhaps if the whole experience was over thought and by proxy a little to sterile as a result. There’s a good amount to like, many features and potential future replay value, but the core functionality didn’t draw me in as I had hoped, the addictive must race one more time, factor wasn’t present. Like a composite of bits and pieces, well intentioned and looking great as individual parts, but when you mâché it all together it ends up looking a little less like artwork and more like a talented 5 year olds homework project on recycling. If you were really jonsing for an answer to Mario Kart on the PS3, then this is your lucky day, if however, like myself, you could have happily continued on your life without such a title it is probably in your wallet and schedules best interest to push circle and skip this one.