There's no question that Sony covers all the bases when it comes to its first-party output. It no doubt saw the success of Mario Kart on Nintendo platforms and wanted some of that money pie, throwing its resources behind the development of ModNation Racers for PlayStation 3. Despite missing the charm and character found in Nintendo's series, ModNation was a perfectly competent kart racer complete with genre-leading user creation tools. A disappointing PSP entry followed, but now on Vita the series has a chance to shine, taking full advantage of the handheld's features.
Compared to the rather bloated original ModNation Racers, Road Trip on Vita is more streamlined. Gone is the horrid attempt at story telling via cutscenes, gone is the awkward drivable hub world, replaced with a simple scrollable menu that is home to plenty of content and options.
The Career Mode is the heart of the single-player portion of Road Trip, offering up five sets of five races (each on a new track), with the next unlocking once you've reached the set points goal. An extra sixth set of races is unlocked once you've won the previous five and managed to beat a set of overall objectives. It's a decent roster of courses that comes close to the 32 found in Mario Kart 7 in terms of number, but the overall level of quality isn't as high, with many being entirely forgettable.
Tracks are only one side of the equation, though, with the actual karting being just as important - something that severely let down the PSP entry in ModNation series. If you've played the PlayStation 3 game you'll jump right into the driver's seat in this Vita edition, but for newcomers there's more to learn here than in your average kart racer - in fact there's barely a button on the handheld that isn't used.
Whereas in Mario Kart you only really need to worry about accelerating, braking, powersliding and using a weapon, here you've got all that as well as a button to activate your shield, a turbo, mid-air spins mapped to the right stick, a sideswipe move activated by flicking the right stick, the ability to fire at triggers to activate objects and shortcuts, and you can even absorb weapons to convert them into boost/shield energy.
The complexity of it all doesn't end there, either, with each weapon being offered in three increasingly more powerful flavours. Collect one weapon pick-up and you'll be able to fire off the most basic version, but wait until you've got three and you can unleash a much more devastating attack that can radically improve your position in a race.
Thankfully the driving model feels much closer to the PlayStation 3 original than to the overly sensitive and weightless PSP game, meaning the karts have a great sense of grip despite their ability to slide. Unfortunately the good work done by the dev team on the handling is undone by what can only be described as an awful frame rate. At times the game chugs so much it's akin to a rapidly moving slideshow in which you need to frantically try and remain in control of your vehicle.