'ModNation Racers" successfully reinvigorates the cobwebbed kart-racing genre by allowing players to design and share fully customized drivers, karts and tracks with enormous ease and boundless creative license. The interfaces through which it does this are brilliantly conceived.
How remarkable, then, that even without any of those tools, this still would signify a badly needed leap forward.
Credit for that goes to the game's actual racing action, which, even against A.I. opponents, is often as exhilarating as its creation and community tools. The sense of speed and danger is leagues beyond anything seen in recent "Mario Kart" games, and there's more for players to do than hold down the gas, look for shortcuts, dispatch power-ups and hope no one cheats them out of a lead when they finally take one.
Drifting, catching air and drafting all build turbo, which players can apply to speed boosts. But the turbo also works as currency for a fantastic sideswipe maneuver, which lets players drive offensively without waiting for a power-up, as well as a force field that allows frontrunners to fend off power-up attacks instead of simply drive scared like sitting ducks. Timing a perfect force-field defense isn't easy at all, but the ability even to do so at least puts players' fates in their hands for a change. (Take notes, Nintendo.)
All of these ideas gel thanks to a control scheme that just feels great.
Driving dangerously and racking up huge drifts are fun without being punishing if you mess up. Perfecting the timing and distance needed for a perfect attack on another driver is satisfying not only because of how fluid the controls are, but also because of how great everything looks when a strike hits its target.
For those who pick up "ModNation Racers" with no desire to play with others, the selection of on-disc tracks is nicely varied and the default difficulty a strong balance of accessible and tough. The career mode tells an actual story, and the cut scenes between races are funny and surprisingly polished.
But to play the game this way is to miss the point completely of its community and creation tools, which, outside of some long load times, mesh together under one staggeringly slick umbrella.
The driver and kart creation interfaces should feel familiar to anyone who has created a customized character or vehicle in another game. Both are easy to use. While playing through the game unlocks more usable parts, the extreme flexibility of the sizing, placement and coloring tools makes the default selection feel nearly limitless as is.
The track editor, shockingly, is just as simple to use. Terrain tools allow players to model the environment like clay, and laying track is as simple as driving a track-laying-vehicle around a blank canvas.
Ambitious players can overlap track and add many props to the area however they please, but "ModNation Racers" also provides auto-complete and auto-populate shortcuts for those who want to do something quick and dirty.
All of these creations come together in a supremely slick virtual online world that allows players, driving around in their karts, to mingle with other players, download other players' creations and challenge anyone in the area to races on the fly. Even those who had no intention ever to race online might change their minds once they see how fantastically accessible doing so is.