I had stayed away from most of the promotional materials for ModNation Racers before playing it at the PlayStation media event event at Mini-Indy Go Karts; I really had no idea what to expect when I picked up the controller and played a few rounds with Dillon from CultureGET. Before I get into the thick of it, I should let you all know that racing games aren’t my cup of tea. I played a lot of Mario Kart with my brother as a kid, but since then I’ve moved on to other genres.

On the surface, the racing plays just like a furry-free, cars-only Diddy Kong Racing: the tracks have multiple paths and shortcuts and are littered with power ups and traps. The 3-level powerup system is also borrowed from DKR: you hit an item box, and you’re given a random level 1 item. Hitting up to 2 more item boxes without using the item will increase it’s power.

Where ModNation’s racing differs from DKR is it’s depth. United Front games has packed in a complex racing game underneath the skin of a simple kart racer. There is a boost meter that is filled by getting air time or by attacking enemy cars. The boost meter can be used up on a temporary shield or in the titular action of forward propulsion. As I played, I slowly learned some of the advanced tactics, but tricks like double-jumping and the side swipe attack are still a mystery to me.

Photo by Tehflakes

Photo by Tehflakes

ModNation Racers is more than a racing game. It’s essentially the LittleBigPlanet of racing games, with fully customizable characters, karts, and levels. While the kart and character customization is purely cosmetic, the track creation is the strongest feature in the game.

The track creation tool is amazing in that it’s so simple to create a fully fleshed out track that’s ready to race on in a matter of minutes (no exaggeration). It’s the same feeling of glee you experienced in Spore when your masterpiece/intentional abomination was walking/barely able to hobble. In ModNation Racers, there is an auto-populate tool that will add all the props, traps and boosts necessary for a track. The player has the liberty of placing these entities themselves, but the auto-populate brush does an amazing job of it, most people will be satisfied with the results.

I wasn’t able to test out these features, but you should know they exist: campaign mode, online multiplayer, sharing tracks, sharing “mods” (avatars), sharing karts, and online leaderboards for track creation and race times.

ModNation Racers is the kind of game that will make memories for kids. While adult or teen players might tire of the track creation after creating a few ridiculous levels, kids will love every facet of the game, and best of all, they’ll have the time to invest in it. The creation tools, like LittleBigPlanet’s, are essentially digital Lego: they’re great ways to foster creativity in kids. Getting this game for a younger gamer also reveals an unexpected bonus: you’ll get to play something more substantial than the latest movie tie-in game.