I had a great time playing the PS3 version of Sony's ModNation Racers. While the racing wasn't anything revolutionary, it was good fun, and the creation tools are excellent. The promise of a similar experience on Sony's PSP got me quite excited, as kart racers seem to fit well on handhelds (thanks to Mario Kart), and a spot of track design while on the train would surely pass the time very nicely indeed.
ModNation PS3 developer United Front Games isn't handling this PSP version, with Sony San Diego in charge of brining the racer to the handheld. Initially things looked promising, with the game's engine doing a good job of bringing the cute visual style seen in the PS3 game to the far less powerful PSP. Everything runs at a decent clip, too, so on that front there appears to be nothing to worry about ahead of the game's release.
Not so great is the handling itself. Rather than the slidey feel of the karts that makes the PS3 game handle like Mario Kart, on the PSP the karts seem almost stuck to the road. It makes the handling seem far too simple, with the powerslide functionality, once again activated by hopping into a corner, only really needed to build up your boost meter. The vehicles could really do with a little less grip, as the game as it stands just isn't much fun to play.
A lot then rests on the track building portion of the game. Perhaps understandably, but no less disappointingly, this aspect of ModNation on the PSP is nowhere near as impressive as its PS3 brother. The actual laying down of the track feels terribly restrictive in comparison, while the area deformation tools aren't nearly as slick. I attempted to build a similar track to the one I'd created in just 20 minutes on the PS3, but an hour later I had nothing close.
The PSP game will feature similar sharing functionality to the PS3 game, but it's hard to tell if any great tracks will be made. Whereas on the PS3 it feels incredibly simple, on the PSP it currently feels like you're fighting with the tools. Maybe I'm just expecting too much from the handheld version of ModNation, but given that the "create and share" aspect is essentially the backbone of the game, I expected something a bit better.
Things can of course be changed. Even if the dev team can make the track laying tool slightly easier to use and less restrictive, the creation aspect would be hugely improved. On the track things need big changes, though, with the current handling model feeling far too much like Scalectrix cars, stuck to their track. With online play for up to six players and some smart visuals, there's still hope for ModNation on the PSP, but some serious work needs to be done.
Whereas LittleBigPlanet on the PSP actually made the platforming experience a better one with more forgiving gameplay, ModNation Racers on the handheld is perhaps trying too hard to mimic its PS3 stable mate. Hopefully the game won't stall on the starting grid while the PS3 game speeds off into the distance.
ModNation Racers for PSP is due out later this year.