The Sony published "Play Create Share" kart racer was a real triumph, championing the best of Mario Kart and LittleBigPlanet in one tidy, well presented package. ModNation Racers: Road Trip sees the core ideas from last year's PlayStation 3 game shrunk down and repurposed for PlayStation Vita. As the title so effortlessly insinuates, this is ModNation Racers on the go.
For those unfamiliar with the original, ModNation Racers provided players with the tools to create custom characters, karts and race-tracks which could be uploaded to the Internet and shared online. Racing around as Spider-Man in the Batmobile on Luigi Circuit was a common past-time.
IP infringement is still a tantalising possibility in Road Trip, with the PlayStation Vita's touch inputs adding an intuitive layer to the game's kart and character creation toolbox. Placing stickers is as easy as pressing on the screen, while resizing items relies on the established pinch action popularised by smartphones.
But it's in the track creation that ModNation Racers: Road Trip gets really inventive. Like the PlayStation 3 version you can still paint your route by driving a bulldozer, or you can simply draw out your road by using the touch-screen. Once your track is roughly laid-out, you can opt to auto-populate your course's surroundings, or add your own scenery à la carte.
It's manipulating the terrain that perhaps provides the best demonstration of the PS Vita's abilities, using the rear touch to push up mountains, or front touch to create lakes and chasms. It's a minor feature, but the kind of thing you'll want to show families and friends just to gauge their reaction.
With so many creative options, it's easy to forget that ModNation Racers is a driving game at heart. But thankfully it's as solid on the track as its PlayStation 3 companion. Those unfortunate enough to have got their fingers on the PSP version of ModNation Racers last year will be all too aware of how poorly that version controlled compared to its home console big brother. Thankfully that's not the case with Road Trip, with the game's drift mechanic allowing you to slide around corners and boost into straights with satisfying precision.
Pick-ups and weapons are mapped to the extremities of the touch screen, putting them easily in reach of your thumb when you need them. Unfortunately, we did notice some frame-rate hiccups when we dispatched a barrage of missiles at our nearest competitors. Hopefully developer United Front Games is able to iron out any performance inconsistencies before launch next year.
Technically the game's slick and attractive, though perhaps not quite as jaw-dropping as its nearest PS Vita counterparts. Menus take great advantage of the touch screen, though some of the text used in the interface can be a bit difficult to read. Visual variety is enhanced by the game's increased array of track themes, though sadly loading times are still an issue, with the game leaving you hanging at progress bars far too often.
ModNation Racers: Road Trip doesn't break too far away from the formula established by its PlayStation 3 alternative, but its a game perfectly suited to the sporadic play-styles of portable gaming. Every handheld needs a great kart racing game, and ModNation Racers: Road Trip looks more than prepared to fill the PS Vita's Mario Kart shaped void.
ModNation Racers: Road Trip is set to release February 22nd on PlayStation Vita.