ModNation Racers: Roadtrip, like all games in the body-clearly-too-big-for-their-vehicle genre, is going to be labelled a 'Poor Man's Mario Kart'. Despite, impressively, being an almost full-fat sequel to a premium PS3 racer, there's no famous faces, rainbow-coloured roads or classic iconography here (besides the karts, characters and tracks you create yourself).
But let's not be too hasty. After all, the pricey PS Vita does things the 3DS can't, and ModNation is faster, frantic and more kinetic because of it.
Although the eight-man racing is standard stuff - tiered items, hidden shortcuts, and a Burnout-style boost meter that fills up after jumps and drifts - cosmetic effects give the usually pedestrian genre a kick up the backside. A well-timed start is deliciously impactful, thudding the camera and smashing opponents out of the way, and rolling over a boost blurs the edges of the screen. Effects like lens flare and heat haze are nice touches that contribute to the overall frenzy: Mario Kart for adrenaline junkies.
It's also Mario Kart for modders, ripe for reinvention but lacking an identity of its own. Developers San Diego Studio, like Lana Del Rey's manager, fail to give their creation a personality. Even your parents know fellow create-em-up LittleBigPlanet's Sackboy but can you name a single character, course or kart from this game? It was always intended for you to star in, and with online sharing options others can too. Yet, without an anchoring personality, it all seems a bit hollow.
Without those big names ModNation has to trade on other things: longevity, depth, customisation. In this the game is unmatched. Create-a-character turns players into a license lawyer's worst nightmare, with a bounty of bunny ears, Hannibal Lecter masks, tuxedos and, for the lady, bras and tutus to choose from. Layers can be organised, stickers stuck on, and skin changed from rubber to metallic to Jackson Pollock.
And it can all be coloured however you like it. Creating is where the touch screen could've proved useful, but navigation is fiddly, the menus too small and ill-placed for most. Unforgivably it also suffers from delay, which is worrying after seven years of the DS.