Augmented reality and mod-racing!
Reality Fighters and Modnation Racers: Road Trip, one championing augmented reality and the other pushing creativity to the fore. Do they take advantage of the PlayStation Vita? Are they worth picking up with your PlayStation Vita on launch? Read on to find out.
(Developer: Novarama | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment)
The more astute among us will notice quite quickly when first picking up a Vita: there’s cameras on the front and back of the device. For anyone who missed this, playing Reality Fighters will fill you in very quickly. Underneath a tongue-in-cheeky exterior lies a fighting game, but before a punch can be thrown, you can expect a shower of gimmickry to show off the capabilities of the system. Firstly you’re forced to shoot a self-portrait for the game to then crudely wrap around a 3D model. Thankfully you can alter your character’s build to your modesty’s whim, although when it comes to clothing the options are more for comedy purposes rather than for covering up – a Borat-esque ‘banana hammock’ adorning the initial line-up tells you all you need to know. If you’ve anyone you’d like to annoy within earshot there’s also the option to record some basic intro & victory sound effects, and the finally you then get down to business – choosing a fighting style.
Fights themselves make use of alternative-reality techniques, where your perspective on the action changes as you move the handheld around. This may sound like a nice idea, but you’ll soon realise that using a handheld leads to fidgeting, and fidgeting leads to an impaired view of the fighting. In fact, you’ll likely spend as much time fighting yourself as you will your virtual opponent, as trying to find a viewing angle that strikes a balance between visibility and not giving yourself pins and needles in your arms is more difficult than it should be. Taking the AR that extra step further, you can use the back camera on the Vita to have fighters quite literally duke it in your own front room, but depending on where you’re playing the mileage of this may vary. There’s pre-loaded stages in a variety of picturesque locations too if this doesn’t appeal, but it doesn’t take particularly great observation skills to spot these are little beyond cheap 2D images that were in all likelihood pulled lazily from a Google image search.
In terms of how best to spend your time, there’s a quest mode that sees you follow the tutelage of one Mr Miyagi – yes, that Mr Miyagi. When he’s not having you beat up random inanimate objects for training, he’ll pit you instead against other characters from the game, all of whom are built around similarly uncomfortable stereotypes, albeit without the nostalgia or charm – Lederhosen-wearing Germans, drunken Irish boxers… you get the idea. The fighting engine itself isn’t entirely without merit, with each of the styles lifting many fighting game staples (such as quarter and half circle motions forward or back), and most of the basic combos having a nice rhythmic feel to them. Fighters move around with a believable weight, but often aren’t particularly responsive, or consistent in how they react in certain situations – even when opting for the d-pad and face buttons over the obligatory touch controls.
At face value, Reality Fighters is hard to acknowledge as much above a tech demo. The lofty claim of being a more accessible gateway to the fighting game world is a weak one too, backed up only by the basic and rather childish character creation, but shot down by any number of other games with structured tutorial modes that are far more appropriate and appealing for beginners. The fighting at the core of Reality Fighters isn’t awful, but neither is it good enough to avoid being drowned out in the noise of trying to fire on all of the Vita’s cylinders. The catharsis in snapping stealthy pictures of your mates, dressing them up in tutus, and then using them as a punching bag may have some limited appeal to some, but it’s not enough to save Reality Fighters from the inevitable fade into irrelevance.
Modnation Racers: Road Trip
(Developer: SCE San Diego Studio | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment)
Modnation is Sony’s answer to the kart racing phenomenon; light-hearted, weapons based racing fun. With no appropriate household name behind it though, a leaf is instead taken from the LittleBigPlanet school of thought, and the focus is instead on user content creation – tracks, drivers, and vehicles in particular are all up for defacing at your own leisure. There’s no doubt that imaginative gamers in their droves will be out to share some wonderful works in time, but for now we can confirm that the more simple pleasures in life are easily accessible; want to ride around a track shaped like a crudely drawn penis? You’re good to go.
That’s not to say there’s no pre-loaded content though. Beating at the heart of the game is career mode, with a series of tours each comprising of 5 races, where finishing each in higher positions earns you points that see you through to the next. Each race has additional goals too, ranging from hitting turbo pads and drifting lots, through to spinning like a top in the middle of jumps, and taking out your competitors en masse. There’s plenty of in-game tutorials to run you through anything that’s not instantly obvious, and the additional challenges do a good job of introducing the various mechanics that go about making the game fun. Drifting is the most prominent, and is a responsive and rewarding way to get around, adding to a boost meter whilst still giving you a good degree of control. Whilst hazards persist, and picking up duplicate item boxes can lead to weapons scaling up to ludicrous levels, your boost can also be used to shield you from any oncoming danger, helping avoid those heartbreaking surprise attacks on the finishing line.
Unfortunately the game is far from the technical wonders that the Vita is no doubt capable of; slowdown is frequent and often quite extreme, whilst pop-up hampers even simple details such as road markings, as well as larger details in the background on occasion too. Whilst an online pass is present, it only allows you to compete in time trials and share your mods, rather than allowing you to actually race online – a feature quite critically missing, especially given it’s presence in the PSP title in the series. The modifications themselves have a fair amount of variety but are ultimately rather clunky to apply; given their appeal is primarily cosmetic too, there’s no real motivation to get you experimenting, just the expectation on the game’s part. There’s some fun to be had with the game, but it’s not from tinkering with your driver’s hairstyle or attaching new wheels to your car – it’s the cheery racing game hidden underneath all of the fluff, that’s sadly not been given as much attention as the window dressing.