Modnation Racers wins the gold
Modnation Racers is, as the name implies, a racing game, and one that tries not to take itself too seriously, at that. It has all the basics of a fantastical racing game aswell; weapon system, insane tracks and even more insane characters. However, there's more depth to it than most other games like it.
GimmickAs the "Mod" part would imply, you can customize and create characters and karts as you wish, and even create your own race tracks. However, you are also able to publish and download tracks made by other players. The system with which you create the characters and karts is very simplistic, yet at the same time offers a very wide variety of choices, especially when you've unlocked more content. During one session, I even saw some artists having a genuine discussion about some custom paintjobs they had made for the game. The track editor, while far more complex, offers a more simplistic solution as not to alienate people who aren't exactly that patient (...such as myself.)
StoryThe story mode isn't anything new, but the way it's handled is pretty fresh. Tagger (Tag for short), a former graffiti artist, wants to enter the Modnation Racing Championship. After getting proper consent from his mother (no really), he sets to work on his kart. After finding a (rather surly) pit crew chief, he enters, and passes the qualification round with flying colors. After some races, he begins to attract the attention of many people. Fans adore him, most other racers loath him, others want to profit off of his fame. However, he keeps on trucking regardless of what anyone throws at him.
The graphics are quite eye catching, complementing the Saturday Morning Cartoon plot and the overall silly aspects of the game. The various props and tracks are well detailed, and the stock racers are well designed. Chances are there's going to be one you like the aesthetics of.
GameplayThe gameplay is standard for a racing game at first. Your kart is armed with the Boom Box weapon system, which upon picking up a Mod Pod power up, will select a weapon that will help you most in your current position in the race. Picking up a Mod Pod while you've already got a weapon upgrades your current one. This can be done a total of two times, turning a single missile into a virtual soaring and homing wall of explosives, and a simple boost into a wormhole (that other people can enter for a short time if you're not careful.) Another part of your arsenal is the Boost gauge, used for and filled by many things. As it says, it can let you increase your speed at your own leisure as long as you have enough of the gauge filled. Another function is the Sideswipe, which lets you knock anyone close to you off balance and possibly off road. And finally, the shield is also fueled by boost, and with proper timing can allow you to shrug off any attack thrown at you. My only major problem with the game is the rather flow-breakingly long loading times, and those are getting fixed soon anyway.
** Online: The nexus of online is the ModSpot, a central which allows you to chat it up with other players, look at the most popular creations, see the fastest laps on a given track, take a peek at upcoming DLC packs, or just create large drift donuts in the pavement for about two minutes. Online racing is very stable, with two kinds of races; casual and XP. Casual allows you to race on any track you downloaded with anyone who joins the lobby. XP races, while limited to the tracks shown in the story mode, allow you to gain experience points to up your rank. These ranks, however, are cosmetic, and have no effect on gameplay. The downloading and publishing system is simple enough to use; just select which Mod/kart/track you want to publish and there you go. However, if you want to change the mod and have already published it, you're going to have to unpublish it, erasing all stats associated with it. Publishing creations gives you Create XP, which counts towards your rank as well. The more well received and downloaded a creation is, the more XP you get from it. This system isn't very exploitable from what i've seen, aside from a blossoming "download 4 download" scheme.
The music in this game, while not exactly prominent, is very catchy in most cases. I still have the Creation Station themes stuck in my head as I type this and they will not vacate the premise. Another nice song is theme of the MRC, used at the beginning and end of any given race. A shame a lot of it tends to be drowned out by the constant cacophony of running engines. Then again, the options menu lets you turn those down.
Overall, I would strongly recommend this game if you like racers, adored LittleBigPlanet, and/or just plain want to express yourself.