Since the dawn of the virtual track, karting games have come and gone offering the perfect pastime for frantic racing with friends and, once the dust has settled, Mario has always been the last man standing.
The latest contender came in Sonic and Sega All-Star Racing, and while that was fun enough, it didn't really do anything new and didn't capture the magic of Mario Kart when it came to the basics.
ModNation Racers is different. It brings a whole host of new ideas to the track and, dare we say it, maybe even beats Mario at some of the fundamentals. Nintendo: check your rear view mirror.
The first thing you notice about ModNation Racers is its personality. Simple but substantial designs, solid, bright colours and bobble headed characters give the racer a toybox feel, almost as if it were an off-world colony of Little Big Planet.
But it's much deeper than that. The game begins with your introduction to the ModNation Racing Championship (MRC), which is covered from a television studio by commentators Biff Tradwell and Gary Reasons. These guys follow you throughout your racing career and with Biff's brash intolerance of namby pamby Gary Reasons, bring an almost Anchorman style dialogue and comedy to the mode.
Alright, so the jokes are often a bit weak but they have bright moments and it's a relationship that you'll start to look forward to watching inbetween races.
There're more characters with really likable personalities as well, all of whom bring flashes of comedy gold every now and then (When was the last time Mario told you a joke?) First is your second hand kart dealing uncle, who's business proclaims to put "the ordinary in extraordinary". Then there's the grumpy but sometimes encouraging crew chief, or Italian track rival Espresso, who's car is made from the finest materials including a snake skin airbag.
These characters will never be able to take on the nostalgia force that is Super Mario and friends on personality alone, but there's a real world here in ModNation Racers and we can't help but feel charmed.
It's more than a few race tracks behind a menu screen. In fact, there isn't a menu screen at all; players zip around a square called the Mod Spot and drive up to various buildings and openings to activate events or access different areas. This is where you realise that ModNation Racers is bursting with features, some of which just haven't been seen in the world of virtual karting before.
Quick races allow access to tracks where difficulty, top speed, number of racers and whether or not weapons can be used are all tweakable. Online and split screen modes provide the standard multiplayer options and the career gate takes you back to your progress in the MRC ,where you'll gradually race through different tours, taking on elite drivers in some races such as Italian Stallion Espresso.
CREATE YOUR OWN
The unique selling point of ModNation Racers, however, is the creation station and its wider online community. At the Creation Station you can craft custom carts and racers using unlockable, eyes, ears, wheels, engines, stickers and spray jobs. Your kart won't perform any differently with a V8 engine in the back than it will if it's made entirely out of cardboard, but from an aesthetic perspective, the create features in the game are deep.
They become deeper still when you get online and share your creations, modify the work of others and comment and rate their karts or get ups.