ModNation Racers Vita – E3 Preview

ModNation Racers burst onto the kart racing genre mid 2010, combining the racing antics of Mario Kart with the creative freedom of LittleBigPlanet. The game also saw a PSP port, but that version felt a bit limited. Enter ModNation Racers (Working Title) on the Vita. With aims of perfectly replicating the console version of the game on the go, can developer SCE San Diego deliver? We went hands-on with the game during E3 and have our preview ready for you below.

The demo shown to us at E3 had been in development for around 14 months – one of the lengthier times we overheard at the show for a Vita game. One big feature in this version of ModNation Racers is that upon launch you will be granted access to all the tracks and vehicles available for the PS3 version of the game. Assuming it will have the same sorting functionality, then you will already have thousands of great tracks to play once you are done with the single player (as well as thousands of crap material to sift through, I’m sure). It should be noted that this functionality is one-way only at the time of writing – content created on the Vita version is not shareable to the PS3 version.

Racing is pretty standard fare here, and anyone familiar with the console ModNation Racers will feel right at home here. Use R for gas, left analog stick for turning, right stick for in-air rotation, face buttons for boost/jump/drift/weapon. Speaking of weapons, beyond the typical ones available from previous entries, there are now elemental attacks – fire, ice and earth. It is unclear how these are incorporated yet, but one example we did see was a powerup being “leveled” up to the point where the player transformed into a massive snowball, destroying anyone who got in his way. Hopefully these elements will react with each other in expected ways, where each is effective against an opposing element and weak to another.

Creating on the Vita is all about the touchscreen and rear touchpad, and it works for the most part. You use the front touch screen to first draw an overall path for your track. It seems that your tracks cannot go for too long before you run out of track. But the overhead view of the map is rather deceptive – it is a much larger area than it appears, so you can create gigantic turns without even realizing it. Once you are happy with the layout, you are given the option to auto-populate the track and put in a more traditional creation camera. Here is where you can use the rear touch pad to create mountains and valleys on the landscape. Pull the ground low enough and it fills with water, creating a lake. While the effect is cool, the game’s engine seemed to struggle as I used more of my fingers to craft the area – you can apparently use up to ten fingers at once, which is an impressive amount of tracking. But if the sluggishness of the creation mode is not improved by launch, it may be a glaring issue.

In the end, it looks like SCE San Diego is gearing up to deliver an even more faithful translation of the ModNation Racers experience on the go than their PSP port, which was no slouch either. Cross-play functionality is also included, though it was not shown here. This seems to be the killer feature that a lot of Vita games are going to tout. With other features coming to the game such as using the Vita’s cameras to create textures and the GPS to earn “ModMiles” by visiting real locations, ModNation Racers on the Vita is shaping up to be a must-have portable entry for fans of the genre.