Fun Kart Racer, This is Not
Kart racers have become many gamers favourite pastime; they are accessible, fun and full of vibrant colours. Some kart racers also offer great depth, allowing those who love the game to work every power-up, shortcut, and speed boost to their advantage. It can become quite an art form to watch the very best navigate a track in ways you could only imagine. Handheld gaming has become the kart racer’s platform of choice these days, with the perfect bite sized attributes in the form of quick races. Although all kart racers have their defining qualities and characters, it is a fairly basic concept: provide gamers with a sleek, varied, fun, and fast paced racer that will give players loads of excitement for years to come. Sadly, PlayStation Vita’s only kart racing option ModNation: Racers Road Trip seems to fall short in almost every regard, providing gamers with a poorly designed product riddled with technical shortcomings.
Road Trip’s problems start from the main menu itself. You are given two options for navigating menus: the classic control method or the Vita’s front touch screens to swipe and select your options. However I recommend using the classic method, since the touch capabilities within Road Trip are poorly implemented. Using the swipe of a finger allows you to move between the features of the game, for instance creating sections, single player races, and the settings are all done in this method. The touch functionality is the worst I have seen on the Vita. Swipes are not recognized at all, unless you swipe like a madman, and the game finds it really hard to understand what you are trying to do. Not only that but selecting intricate options throughout the games menus becomes a problem, since the touch functionality is so poor. Prepare to become very frustrated navigating menus using these features. Obviously the thought was to create menus that are easier to navigate for those wanting to use front touch and in a sense that would help, but because of the really bad implementation of the feature, it becomes quite difficult.
The main offering within Road Trip is the Tournament mode. Here you are given 6 separate groups of five races. Each group has its own theme ranging from snow, jungles, and seaside; this is one of the games strongest assets. The game offers over 25 unique tracks. These tracks all contain small challenges to unlock more kart and character creation options. These challenges can be something easy like finish the race, or more difficult like take down 8 racers during the entire race and finish in first place, adding replayability for those who love extra challenges. Apart from Tournament Mode, the usual offerings of Quick Race and Time Trial are also offered, but are as basic are you would expect.
With a kart racer the main aspect that should really matter is the gameplay. Racing feels smooth in Road Trip, the karts handle well and the ability to perform spins and tricks whilst in the air is a feature that never gets old. However, the tracks themselves bring down the overall gameplay experience; these tracks feel poorly designed and the AI around you seem to agree. Lap after lap I would see AI fall to the same issues with each track: multiple AI not being able to make the jump and random changes within the track leaving many to run off the course to avoid collisions. Now some may write this down as bad AI, but that was definitely not the issue since they put up a very strong challenge. If you hit anything, even just slightly, you will see your track position drop extremely fast; they put up one hell of a fight and won’t hesitate to knock you off track.
During the later races of the tournament, tracks become very hectic, trying to actually see the racing track becomes quite an issue when the track is surrounded by trees, random holes throughout the course, robots on track, panels blocking the racing line, and many jumps that seem unmanageable. These are late in the game and I can understand designers looking to turn up the difficulty, but when you throw every single hazard at the player at once and the AI itself cannot handle it, what chance do the players have? Not to mention this also caused tonnes of slowdown throughout many of the races. When power-ups are flying, racers are driving over boost panels, and all these racing hazards are in play, it slows to a snail’s pace. It’s really disappointing to see a game dish out such a large amount of slowdown and to make matters worse Road Trip also suffers from long load times. I am talking almost one minute at a time. This wouldn’t matter so much if the loading times meant the race itself ran smoothly, but when waiting for load times for a race that was lost due to major slowdown issues, it becomes as frustrating as nails on a chalkboard.
Unlike other kart racers, Road Trip offers players the ability to create their own custom racetracks, karts, and drivers. When creating a driver you are able to modify their face and attire. It is fairly basic selecting from shirt, pants and shoes. Since all drivers must be the same size, you are not able to edit the character’s size or build. Creating custom karts is very similar: selecting your kart’s body, tires, and colours. Again the system is not very in-depth but it does add that extra layer of customization which players will appreciate. Driver creation options are unlocked through challenges in the Tournament Mode, whereas kart parts are unlocked by collecting tokens during races that you can then spend in the Shop to buy new parts. The odd thing about the Shop feature is the slot machine-like system it allows. You can spend 1, 2, or 5 tokens and the machine will randomly select what parts you will be given. Working to gain tokens throughout races can become quite tricky, and the fact that you cannot choose the exact parts you want is a little disappointing.
The cream of the creation crop is definitely the create a track mode. Here you can simply use your finger to draw the track on the touch screen, which actually works well, and then see that track come to life. The most useful part of this feature is the ability to auto-populate. Let’s say you want a certain track layout, but you don’t have the time to add in trees and all the extra features of the track. One hit of the auto-populate and the track will fill itself- from the features surrounding the track to the format of the track surface. When you do select auto-populate you are taken around the track in a first person perspective as if you were driving around the track as all the features of the track grow around you, which looks very cool. However the problem is the same as Tournament Mode: since so much stuff is happening, the game just cannot keep up and the slowdown becomes very evident; leaving a cool feature that should provide some interesting visuals, but instead reminding you of the bad experience in Tournament Mode.
ModNation Racers: Road Trip doesn’t include any competitive online racing features, but you are able to upload your created tracks and karts online for others to download and experience your created designs. You’re also able to set track times in the Time Trial mode, these are then uploaded online so other racers around the world can compete and try and best your times. Ad-Hoc multiplayer is provided but I wasn’t able to test it out since I do not know anyone with a PlayStation Vita, let alone ModNation. The lack of online play feels odd, since even Mario Kart 7 was able to provide an online karting experience and, for most part, was a great deal of fun. Adding online would have possibly given racers more reason to continue playing, but you will have to settle with time trial challenges.
ModNation Racers: Road Trip is one frustrating experience after another. When you think you’re starting to have fun, the game’s technical issues make themselves apparent. Nothing is worse than losing a race due to slowdown issues, dealing with load times back to menus, having the touch functions become non-responsive, and then dealing with long load times back into a race. Oh, and then repeating the process. The create mode offers something different from racing and I found myself having more fun there than on the track. It’s a shame that a kart racer is able to miss all the main points that make this genre fun and accessible with poor track design and the lack of online racing. If kart racing on-the-go is something you are looking for on your Vita, hold out until a better option is available or better yet, go outside and drive real go-karts. There is no reason for ModNation Racers: Road Trip to have any place on your PlayStation Vita, so save yourself the frustration and avoid the purchase if possible.
+ Track creation mode
+ Large array of tracks
– Technical issues: Slowdown, non-responsive touch controls
– No competitive multiplayer
– Very long load times
– Just not fun
Overall Score: 4.0/10
Jamie Briggs manages Analog Addiction where you can find all his latest reviews, interviews and features and also like them on Facebook. Also follow his daily life on Twitter @AnalogAddiction and their videos on YouTube.