Taking on Mario Kart is no easy task. It is surprising that even with the success of the original none of the clones have been able to really tap into the huge audience that the genre obviously appeals to. Perhaps it's the fact that most clones have been just that, clones, pale copies of the original that add very little to the concept and perhaps this is where ModNation Racers will succeed where so many others have failed. Because ModNation Racers is far from your run of the mill Mario Kart clone.
I was first subjected to the game back at E3 when I was given a lengthy presentation of the game by one of the developers in Sony's cosy lounge. I had missed the reveal at the Sony press conference due to other obligations and had no idea what the game was about. And the first glance I took left me unimpressed. "Some kind of PSN title perhaps", was my initial thought. But first impressions can be deceiving and when I was shown the wizardry of the level editor I was soon taken in by what is popularly referred to as "Little Big Planet meets Mario Kart". I think that if you isolated ten video game journalist and subjected them to a demo of ModNation Racers and forced them to come up with a short description, nine or perhaps even ten of them would come up with that line to describe it. I guess its not just kart games who sometimes appears like clones.
What impressed me with the editor was how accessible it was. In just minutes a brand new track was created, complete with hills, bonus items, backdrop and all the little extras you would expect from a kart game. It is easy to imagine the number of mind blowing user created levels we will begin to see after the game has launched. Sure there will be a comparatively generous amount of levels (30) provided by the developer, but as with Little Big Planet, the true scope of the game will not be apparent until we see what the community are capable of. The fact that you can design you kart is something that is somewhat overshadowed by the level editor, but this is also a rather neat feature that will see players put their creativity to good use.
The drivers themselves also makes me think of Little Big Planet and its sack boys. Not that they look that much like Media Molecule's little charmers, but there is something about the design philosophy that strikes me as similar. And that's not a bad thing. Not at all. These will also be customisable with 200 different eyes and 300 different mouths to choose from, just to give you an example.
The actual driving is what you come to expect from the genre. A mixture of flooring it and taking corners, drifting and power ups to pick up make for a simple yet exciting experience with a few friends in the couch. And that is really what the genre is all about. Playing it with a few friends. A great kart game (Mario Kart) always provides your gaming session with lots of laughter, memorable moments and tension all the way to the finish line. It may be because of rubber band mechanics that keep the race exciting all the way to the end or simply because of the satisfaction it brings to topple your friend with a shell. This is something that United Front Games will hopefully get right with ModNation Racers.
ModNation Racers may not be one of Sony's most noticed and anticipated Playstation 3 exclusives for 2010, but it may very well be the one we end up spending most time on.