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Hands-on with the full-featured ModNation Racers PSP

3:40 PM on 04.07.2010 // Nick Chester

PlayStation Network titles designed for the PlayStation 3 then later being ported to the PlayStation Portable isn't uncommon. Games like flOw, PixelJunk Monsters, and Super Stardust have all made their way to the portable in some form another, usually after-the-fact, and with enough notable changes that set them apart from their PS3 counterparts.

What's so surprising about the upcoming ModNation Racers on the PSP is that there appears to be very little different between it and its bigger PS3 brother. Racers PSP is about as feature complete as a portable can get, leaving just about every feature from the PS3 intact. Yes, that means the game's deep character and kart customization, as well as the impressive track editor.

I recently took an early preview build of the game for a few laps; hit the jump for some hands-on impressions and details of the upcoming portable racer.

But before I touch on any of any of that fancy editor stuff, it's important to talk about the reason ModNation Racers exists -- kart racing. Sure, the customization is a highly-touted feature that may set it apart from its competition (of which, admittedly, there is little on both the PSP and the PS3), but beneath that is a solid and competent kart racer that feels good on the portable.

Controls are similar to the PS3 version, with the gas and break mapped to the left and right shoulders respectively. The kart can be controlled with either the analog nub or the d-pad, yet certain offensive kart moves -- like the sideswipe, for instance -- can only be activated with the d-pad. Because of this, I spent most of the time controlling the kart with the d-pad, rather than constantly moving my thumb off the analog nub. Weapons are mapped to square, with the hop, turbo, and defensive "shield" mapped to X, triangle, and circle respectively.

Even the game's career mode is similar to the PS3 version. In fact, the game's cut-scenes -- which tell the story of an up-and-coming racer on the ModNation circuit -- are the same ones you'll find in the console version. Progression involves participating in a number of different race types, including an "elimination" mode exclusive to the PSP, as well as "mod" challenges that will act as somewhat of a tutorial on using the game's creation tools.

Speaking of which, the creation tools here are similar to PS3 version, yet not identical feature for feature. For example, I couldn't find any way to alter material properties for any part of my character, one of the features of the console version that opens the door for some truly intricate and unique customs. It's not too big of a loss on the PSP's smaller screen; it's entirely possible you wouldn't be able to see those fine details anyhow, regardless of the fact that ModNation sports colorful and smooth visuals. Still, with so many parts to choose from and so many ways to mix and match parts, there's little room for complaint when it comes to the available tools.

The simple-to-use yet deep track editor, which lets you "drive" a track into existence using basic racer controls, is also available on the PSP. The ability to fine-tune the track in a number of ways, including adding subtlety to turns and adding objects, is also here. It does appear to lack many of the features that make the PS3 version so entirely simple to use; I found myself having a bit more difficult making it do what I wanted, eventually resigning myself to keeping many of the tracks I was creating how they were before I hit the wall. The editor also seemed to have an issue intelligently auto-completing tracks, forcing me to "back up" and retry if there were any particular sharp turns or inclines in geography.

But even with the limitations of the creation tools, likely due to the PSP hardware, there's still nothing like it available on the PSP. While the community sharing and multiplayer features were locked in my preview code, everything you'd expect will make it into the final build. That will include sharing creations as well as full online multiplayer modes. ModNation Racers PSP doesn't need to worry about being a decent, full-featured kart racer -- it's already got that nailed. The true test of its longevity and value, like its PS3 counterpart, will depend on how players choose to use the tools provided.

ModNation Racers PSP hits shelves May 25, day and date alongside the PlayStation 3 version of the game.

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Nick Chester, Former Editor-in-Chief (2011)
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