Many PlayStation 3 owners may remember ModNation Racers, a kart-racing game released for the console back in 2010. The game received a lot of attention because of its focus on user creations, using a strategy much like that of LittleBigPlanet. Players could create their own characters and cars using an extensive library of objects and stickers, and then proceed to create some amazing tracks using the simple-to-use but hard-to-master tools.
Enter LittleBigPlanet Karting, a game serving as the spiritual successor to ModNation Racers. Being developed by United Front Games, the formula is essentially the same, though the style and presentation has changed to adapt to the Sackboy universe. I spent a lot of time in the recent beta, getting to experience several single-player levels as well as the online community and track creation.
For those familiar with LittleBigPlanet, you’ll be right at home when you boot up the game. The home screen is presented as the classic cardboard Pod, from which you can access the various modes of gameplay. Here, you spend time customizing your character or your car, and it is done in the same manner that LBP players have gotten used to. There are typical options for your Sackboy, but when it comes to car creation, there are some very cool options. Not only can you select different seats, steering wheels, and accessories, you are able to change the type of car you have as well as different bodies. Want to have an awesome muscle car body, but be powered by a hover system? How about riding around in a pig with giant wheel? It’s all possible in the craft world.
As for the gameplay itself, it is exactly like that found in ModNation Racers. Controls are exactly what you would expect from a racing game, and there is a big focus on drifting around corners to boost your speed. Weapons also come into play, and are the typical shields, missiles, and mines we have seen for years. The stock weapons, admittedly, are a bit of disappointment, with no creativity to speak of. Luckily, when creating your own track, you can create weapons that fire much in the same way as the Creatinator from LBP.
The few single-player levels I played were very creative, allowing players to use some of the gadgets that LBP fans have grown to love. Some of the most fun I had while playing we using the grappling hook to grab sponges to swing across gaps. However, in most cases, the game never gives you a real sense of speed, and can feel fairly slow at times. Playing a racing game with others always makes for a better experience, but LittleBigPlanet has always been a good experience even when playing alone. Unfortunately, LittleBigPlanet Karting feels empty without a full roster of players, and those who like to go solo may end up being disappointed.
The real bulk of the game, like always, is in the creation mode. Creating a track is as simple of driving around while the game paints a track for you, making it easy to create exactly what you want. Throughout the story mode, you’ll once again collect objects that can then be used in creating a track, but you can still create your own objects. This time, however, the game has moved to a 3D perspective, allowing you to create much more complex objects while still using the simplified tools that LittleBigPlanet offers. Aside from basic track creation, which offers tools to create shortcuts and themed levels, you can create all kinds of obstacles ranging from spikes and crushers to explosive launching guns. There are sure to be some amazing user-created tracks down the road.
After all my time spent with the beta, however, I have to admit that I am less-than-impressed. Even with speeds boosts and drifting bonuses, gameplay felt slow and uninspired, even when playing with other people. The creation modes are just as powerful as ever, but the LittleBigPlanet style doesn’t seem to work with a racing game. I love ModNation Racers, and though this title plays almost exactly the same, the look doesn’t have the same charm, and the character and car customization isn’t as robust. Gone are the days of spending hours creating a perfect-looking Iron Man character to drive around in your Scooby-Doo van. Instead, it has all been replaced with the same textures and objects we’re sure to see in the next LittleBigPlanet game.
Hopefully the community will be enough to turn LittleBigPlanet Karting into a successful racing game, but only time will tell.