The Vita is quite a beast when it comes to the ways in which you can interact with it: two cameras, front and back touch sensitivity, two analogue sticks, gyroscopes and accelerometers. Sony really couldn’t have left much out.
With all these different ways of playing games, the danger is that titles will become gimmicky. Unlike the Wii however, the Vita is pointing squarely at the gaming hardcore. The rest will be happy with pick up and play gaming from smartphone apps that come a lot cheaper. So to really work, games will have to be on the same level as consoles.
At launch, Sony has plucked the best from its range of console titles and translated them into the world of the portable. ModNation Racers on the PS3 was a great game, like Little Big Planet, it encouraged you to create your own world to race through, and offered vast levels of customisation for you to play with.
We go custom
Thankfully none of this emphasis on customisation has been lost with ModNation Racers: Road Trip. From the word go you can tweak just about everything within the game world to your liking.
Edit your kart’s driver, the kart itself and then finally the tracks, using an incredibly in-depth track editor. The number of items available is also huge and offered as a reward each time you complete a race in the single-player campaign. By the end of it you will have access to such a broad array of kit that any kart and driver combination imaginable is possible.
It really draws on Sony’s "play, create, share" mantra although - unlike the other ModNation games - it actually works better, because a touchscreen is just perfect for track building. Dragging and dropping items and tracing out the track itself, all work perfectly using the Vita’s screen.
The result is a game that feels unique to you extremely quickly. Pulling the Vita out of your pocket on the train and finishing off tweaks to a track is so rewarding and entirely justifies the use of the console over the likes of a smartphone.
Sadly ModNation falls short when it comes to the single player element. The base karting experience is very good and handling is light and jumpy. Being able to drift at the touch of a button, as well as boost, means races are balanced and exciting. This makes racing on your own tracks very rewarding.
Playing through the actual campaign, however, is nowhere near as exciting. This is partly because tracks feel slightly "off the shelf" but mostly due to the fact that, without being able to customise, ModNation is a bit of a middle-of-the-road kart racer.
Should you want access to every customisation option possible, you're going to need to play through it. Once that is done - something which can be taken care of fairly quickly - then you have a vast selection of customisation possibilities available.
And, as critical as we are of the single player, it does encourage you to actually play the game rather than simply build things and do a single lap around them. It also offers pointers and building ideas, as Little Big Planet did, for things you can make later.
The Vita has a much bigger emphasis on multiplayer than any other portable currently on the market. It's geared towards being able to play against friends and a title like ModNation is perfectly suited to multiplayer. That makes Sony's decision to allow you only to race against ghosts very frustrating. Amazingly, it's impossible to play actual friends at the same time, the only option is to do time trial races instead.
ModNation is a great premise of a game. Like Little Big Planet, it offers so much possibility to the creative player. If you enjoy building things, then it's a must-have Vita title. Do not, however, view it primarily as a racing game, you'll want Wipeout for that.
The combination of racing and building works brilliantly and its amazing to be able to pull such a toolkit out of your pocket. The multiplayer emission isn't great, nor is the slightly lacklustre single player experience. In the end though, this is a game that you will either love or hate. It encourages experimentation like no other title and is definitely worth considering.