The PSP has become home to a growing number of PS3 ports, from Super Stardust to LittleBigPlanet, but rarely has a portable rendition of a PS3 game remained so faithful to the original as ModNation Racers on PSP. (Well, perhaps with the exception of PixelJunk Monsters.) ModNation Racers is launching simultaneously on PSP and PS3, and unlike many previous cross-platform titles, this racer loses almost nothing in its portable conversion.
The career mode is nearly identical on both platforms, even featuring the same CG animated cutscenes in both. The much-touted creation tools also make an appearance on the PSP, allowing you to create and share levels rather easily. And most importantly, unlike LittleBigPlanet, ModNation Racers retains multiplayer options, offering both Ad-Hoc and Infrastructure connections.
Even the control schemes between the two platforms feel nearly identical. The PSP version also uses the R-button for acceleration, just like its big console counterpart. It makes sense, but for some reason, I expected the handheld to use the X-button for gas, and Mario Kart players may need some time to adjust; especially considering ModNation's very different drift mechanic.
Not everything about the handheld version of ModNation Racers remains the same, however. For example, the PSP offers one additional mode: an elimination style race, where last-place racers are continuously eliminated, until only one racer remains. There are also additional tracks to unlock in the handheld game, and a connectivity bonus for owners of both versions: new content can be unlocked on the PSP version.
ModNation Racers fills a long-standing gap in the PSP's library. There simply hasn't been a high-profile kart racer available on Sony's system. Offering the full gamut of features, with good graphics and smooth framerate, ModNation Racers could easily become the flagship kart racer on the PSP. Should the level building community blossom, gamers will be able to access a constantly updated set of levels for free.
If there's one feature that's seen a noticeable downgrade from the PS3 version, it is the track editor. It is unquestionably an easy-to-use tool, and functions in nearly the same way as the PS3 version: you lay down track and populate the environment using a number of tools. However, the PS3's system is a bit more intelligent about offering assistance during the creation process. The ability to auto-complete levels is somewhat gimped in the handheld version; it's unable to process sharp banks, or account for elevation. There's no efficient way to add multiple objects in a level at once, either. It feels like the PSP version of the editor is based off an older version of the PS3 editor, one that doesn't account for the multiple advances United Front Games has incorporated over the last few months of development.
Regardless of its level editor's shortcomings, ModNation Racers on PSP offers a staggering amount of depth for a portable game. It's rather unreasonable to expect a perfect transition from a home console, and it's only a testament to how impressive this PSP port is that the comparison is even viable. Considering the depth and accessibility of ModNation Racers' track creation toolset, I expect a wide offering of user-created levels to be available well into the game's life cycle. Certainly, kart racing fans have a lot to look forward to when the ModNation Racers launches on PSP this May.