That in itself might be enough to sell the game -- a racing title is hard to mess up even on a brand new handheld, and of course this one plays just as well as all of the other versions. But no, Sony's taken the ambitious step of including the ModNation Racers editor in the mix, allowing you to make use of all of the PS Vita's various bells and whistles while building up tracks.
And for the most part, it works, both as an actual track editor, and as a showcase for interacting with the Vita's touchscreens. There are a few hiccups (pressing on the rear touchscreen to make mountains is weird), but it all works out quite well.
To create a track, you can start (as seen in the Sony press conference) by simply drawing a route out on the front touchscreen. Any route works, but of course there's a limit to the size of the route, and I bumped into it pretty easily. You can, however, draw over own path, and the game will automatically create a basic overpass for you to play with.
Once the road is laid out, you can either paint out your trees and other features with various tools on the touchscreen, or use an "Auto-populate" button to get them drawn out for you. The rear touchscreen is used to lift up terrain on the map, and Sony's reps made a big deal out of it being multitouch -- you can use up to ten fingers on the back screen to push up mountains all over your course.
Unfortunately, it's not quite as exciting as all that -- because the touchscreen doesn't offer any actual tactile feedback, it's not really the ideal way to do precise editing. And while it might just be that the game was running early software on early hardware, the whole system was pretty sluggish as the map was being edited. Controls lagged a bit, especially on the touchscreen, and moving the map view around was shuttery and messy.
It's not exactly a dealbreaker, though if the final game ends up in that same state, players will probably end up creating most of their tracks on the bigger consoles. I didn't see the same issues when running a race, both on my simple created track and on one of the top-rated PS3-created user tracks.
In the end, ModNation Racers is at the very least a respectable version of the popular series on PS Vita, and at the most could introduce a more tactile way to create and update content created for the service. Casual racers will benefit from the previous titles in the series, with countless amounts of tracks and cars available on day one. But more hardcore players, especially those interested in creating and editing tracks, will probably have to wait and see just how the touchscreen controls turn out during development.
Sony PlayStation Portable PSP-2000