A Good Port Marred By Various Issues
ModNation Racers: Roadtrip is a port+ (port plus some extras) of the PlayStation 3 game ModNation Racers. And while it expands upon some gameplay mechanics of the original, it misses the mark in several other areas: performance is poor and online play is missing. If you feel the need to play a portable Mario Kart without owning a DS or 3DS, this is currently one of the Vita's best offerings. However, that doesn't make it a great game.
The gameplay is almost exactly the same as it's console counterpart. Race around tracks, collect powerups, shoot them at other people, get first place, rage when you get attacked 5 seconds before the end causing you to not be first. So far, pretty much Mario Kart. However, here you're given track quests, turbo boost, and shields. Quests unlock items to be used in custom content creation, and can range from not hitting walls for a lap to taking out opponents. Boost and shields are gained by doing drifts around corners (after jumping), drafting off of and shunting other players, doing tricks mid-air, and (new to this game) absorbing weapons. There’s also the content creation of the original included, as well. The very excellent map creator, kart creator and mod (character) creator are all included. The map creator makes it extremely simple to make a professional-looking track in next to no time, and have fun doing it. The kart and mod creators are simple to use, too, but are a bit too restrictive for my tastes. The mod creator is basically Spore Lite, letting you mix and match body parts, but not letting you move anything. The kart creator is the same way. Both allow you the use of primitives (shapes you can stick onto the surface of your body/kart) and stickers (like in Forza) to further customize your avatar.
Where this game differs from the original, however is in the powerups. Instead of the original 4 categories powerups, this game has 8. Added are Earth, Ice, Fire, and Mines. They add a much-needed variety to the monotony of the races, and are a welcome change. Another change is that there is no longer any online play whatsoever. You’re stuck playing next to your friends in peer-to-peer mode, which frankly is how the game really should be played, à la Mario Kart parties. Still, it would be nice to have the option. There are also quite a number of new obstacles to make tracks more interesting, as well as a few new racing environments.
The game itself has many performance issues. You’re lucky if you get a smooth experience as the game is nearly always under 30 fps, even in the menus. It’s often difficult to tell if you missed tapping on a small button, or if the game is just taking its time to decide whether or not it wants to decide to move on. And the fact is that the game isn't really much to look at in motion, either. The textures are often blurry, and you can see objects in the distance literally pop up into view. I appreciate that they're taking the Vita to its limits, but the slowdown is just too much. The loading times are likewise quite slow. It takes about 20 seconds for the logos to show up, another 10 seconds to go from the title screen to the main menu, and yet another 30 seconds to load up even the simplest of maps. This kind of slowness just seems excessive for a cartridge-based system. But I guess that’s yet another thing that’s shared between the console and handheld version. There’s also an oft-recurring bug with tunnels that also adds unnecessary frustration.
The user interface overuses the touch screen, which is a flaw seen in pretty much all Vita launch titles, so I have to assume Sony had some kind of requirement to use all capabilities of the system. You have to use the touch screen for all the menus, and if you’re lucky a sporadic few allow you the use of your directional pad or analogue sticks. This is to its detriment in the track creator, as it really just makes the whole process more complicated than it was on the original, which didn’t really use the L2 and R2 buttons.
The length of the game isn't very long. 25 pre-made tracks total, and to progress to the next one all you have to do is finish. You don't even have to place. Of course, the bulk of your time is supposed to be spent in the track creator. But since there's no online play, the only realistic way anyone's ever going to find your track is if you deliver it to them yourself via local play. Same with anything else you create, really. It's one of the flaws of the "Play, Create, Share" line of games. Unless your track is incredible and amazing (and come on, how can you possibly differentiate yourself from the hundreds of thousands of tracks already on the servers?), nobody's ever going to see it. At least with LittleBigPlanet, they give you the tools to make other games that are completely different from the base game. Here, you're making a single track.
Overall, the game is pretty much like its predecessor, which itself was a very good game. However, the constant performance issues, lack of online interaction in anything other than sharing custom made content, long load times, and short length makes the game just bad enough to give it 3 stars.