The mods must be unimpressed
ModNation Racers stumbles at starting line despite wealth of options
When you come for the king, you better not miss. And, as much as ModNation Racers tries to come for Mario Kart, it misses by quite a wide mile.
ModNation Racers tries, I’ll give it that. There’s depth to be had here for an arcade go-kart racer. There are various modes to jump into, including a career mode and online and offline play. Additionally, the create-a-character and track editors are serious time sinks. A once-thriving and robust online store for all sorts of mods — the name of the game — is still there. The customization remains deep, with various ways to dress your character and build a rig that suits your aesthetic. This is where ModNation has the advantage over Mario Kart, and that’s obvious from the get-go.
But underneath the surface, ModNation starts to falter big time. The tracks are generic and boring and are generally underwhelming with a clunky design to the overall feel. There was nothing that jumped out as interesting, and they feel slapped together and cliche. And, equally as boring is the character design. Despite the characters being chibi-racers, they aren’t cute. The super-deformed look works when you can pull it off, and United Front Games didn’t succeed here. The characters look generic and stale with no personality.
As bland as the character design is, even goofier are the controls. Kart racing, while not a precision genre, should be easy to control. ModNation Racers is not easy to race in, considering there’s something assigned to every button on the controller and then some. On top of that, the controls feel imprecise, loose, and sloppy. Also, the speed levels, while customizable, are not tuned properly. What should have been the easiest and slowest speed for a newcomer still felt like the equivalent of 150CC in Mario Kart. That’s not easy, and the controls are unhelpful in dealing with that sensation of speed.
Also, some of the racing mechanics are questionable at best. The drifting feature is terrible; at no point was completing a drift possible going as fast as I was going. And, the AI’s consistent ability to prevent weapon pickup even on the easiest level was grating as was the constant bumping into objects and barriers. It’s obnoxious also that there is no weapons display beyond words and a meter. Explaining what the weapons are and their effects would have contributed to more playing.
Adding insult to injury, the soundtrack is generic and forgettable. Not a single track stood out, and much like the level design, seemed half-thought-out and lazy. I kept hoping and listening for something, anything, to pique my interest, but I was disappointed there also.
ModNation suffers from the adage of too much of a good thing. While it’s nice to have the wealth of customization options, it comes across as what the kids call “doing too much.” Everything seems extra and a little bit too much. It’s trying too hard to tack on a lot of things that are designed to outshine the competition when it should have focused on getting the basics correct. Even where there is depth, sometimes you have to know where to rein it in, and ModNation Racers stumbles on the steps on the way to cast their ballot for themselves as the king of kart racing. It’s an admirable but ultimately flawed challenge to the throne.