canuckeh's ModNation Racers (PlayStation 3) review

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The Fourth or Fifth Other M

Meet the Other M in my recent life. ModNation Racers. I feel like I’ve been putting off giving this peculiar racing game the time it deserves on account of the recently released and comically-named Metroid title. Maybe I underrated Other M and how replayable the game is when you skip those awful cutscenes. This is a shame because 1. ModNation Racers has pretty amusing cutscenes (considering how they’re skewered towards children) and 2. the rest of the game is isn’t half-bad either. It’s also a shame that too many other Ms keep me from playing more ModNation Racers. Other Ms like Metroid: Zero Mission. Mario Bros 2. The movie Machete. Mango ice cream. Maki sushi. A lousy movie (more on that later.) My sense of Malnutrition after craving sushi all of the day after I ate the Maki Sushi.

Recreate the Monaco scene from Iron Man 2? Why not?
Recreate the Monaco scene from Iron Man 2? Why not?
This specific M relates to a kart racing game with a strong focus on letting players make things up. You can create your own characters, or at least create characters that are about 4 feet tall with an extraterrestrial skull and a body made of solid milk. The character creator can be best compared to the Wii’s Mii editor, but with about ten trillion times the customization options. OR you can create your own cars, with the one limit seemingly that they must have four wheels and can’t be taller than certain dogs. OR you can create your own tracks, again within the limitations of what the game considers a race track. I didn’t try the track editor, but I presume you need things like “roads” and “grass”. So I don’t think you can make a track based on the giant worm level from Gears of War 2, for example.

The reason I spent so little time creating things in ModNation Racers is because I felt I didn’t have to. The user community for ModNation Racers has been so very on top of things that whatever creation your heart desires has already been done. Want to download the Mario Kart cast because you think that series lost its way with the blue shell? You can. Marvel heroes, DC heroes, anime heroes, real life celebrities, Presidents of the United States of America (both the political figures and the band), video game website editors, your pets…you name it, someone probably made it, and you can readily download it. Unlike the massively-moderated LittleBigPlanet, the people running ModNation Racers seem to have no regard for copyright infringement, and boy does this game benefit.

If you felt inclined, you could play the career mode. If you wanted to unlock creation parts for the assorted creator-editors, or indulge in the PG comedy of two grumpy announcers insulting each other. The highlight of career mode for me was that your character of choice appears in the cutscenes, and it was ever apropos for my Machete to stand there, silently annoyed at his crew of mechanics and possibly planning their bloody demise. Career Mode will teach you the basics, but you’ll probably stop caring after awhile if you’re anything like me, or Machete.

 Four players can risk legal action together in split-screen play.
 Four players can risk legal action together in split-screen play.
Nah, it’s the multiplayer mode that’s the draw. When hasn’t a cart-racing game been made more enjoyable by the presence of friends gullible enough to eat banana peel? You can play split-screen, or online, or both. And in a game where user-created content is the main allure, online play becomes something of an exciting proposition. Getting to admire the various created characters and rides of other players, and subsequently racing on a track that the racers have probably never rode in before. It kind of makes each upcoming race feel different, and exciting.

When it loads, anyways. The biggest issue with this game in general is that starting a race is a lengthy proposition in of itself. Hell, starting the game for the first time was a lengthy proposition. With the in-game install and the downloaded patches, it takes about half an hour to boot up ModNation Racers as of September 18, 2010. I was able to watch a large chunk of MacGruber while waiting to play this game. (Another M! To be fair, ModNation Racers is many, many times more entertaining than MacGruber.) And then it takes what has to be more than a minute at least to start up a race online. Call it the cost of being so download-driven. It seems weird and almost damning to say this, but you should probably watch a TV show, listen to music or play your Nintendo DS while trying to play ModNation Racers online. Yes, you may need another piece of entertainment to enjoy this piece of entertainment!

Once an actual race starts, the cart-on-cart action runs relatively smoothly, with rare bout lag and rare doofuses-dropping-racial-epitaphs-on-headsets. And then you’ll realize that ModNation Racers is a very run-of-the-mill cart racing game. You’ll do power slides, drop missiles, swear in frustration over that blasted lightning bolt, run over speed boost ramps and never see a drop of blood drawn or gore splattered. Okay, there are about five differences between this run-of-the-mill cart game and other run-of-the-mill cart games.

1. Successful power slides, item-using and general chicanery nets you turbo boosts ala Burnout 3.
2. Being hit with missiles, bombs, sonic booms or other weapons will make you lose your power-ups.
3. There are no banana peel-like mine weapon. Really!
4. You have a shield that you can use to deflect missiles, but probably won’t.
5. This game is pretty fast. No, really.

Mega Man Universe got duped before even being announced!
Mega Man Universe got duped before even being announced!
I was rather surprised at how loose the steering can feel, and how quickly these mini carts can drive. The wrong side of the fence from the Blur commercial, this game is not! There’s a slight learning curve in adapting to the very erratic nature of the racing. And you eventually have to kick that inner feeling in your heart that you’d rather be playing Diddy Kong Racing, because that game’s cuteness induces vomiting and green urinal discharges. At best, the races can be fairly enjoyable affairs in insanity. At worst, they’re still a showcase for the assorted bizarre character and track creations.

ModNation Racers is certainly a weird sell. I don’t see myself playing as much online wacky racing action as I would like to on account to the absurd loading times. The cart-racing itself is sufficient, even if I was quickly reminded why people stopped making cart racing games when consoles stopped bragging about their 64 bits of power. But rather, the appeal in the game is in the spectacle its fanbase brings. Seeing the different kinds of imaginative racers, cars and tracks and how the game is begging to be sued a thousand times over. That the last two paragraphs in this review were about the actual gameplay should tell you about what kind of priority gameplay takes in this game over its set of creation tools. And maybe that’s not a bad thing.

3 ½ stars

(Believe or not, the original draft of this review was a good deal more profane.) 

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    Modnation for the win! 0

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