The other half of the package, the races themselves, start well. A gentle introduction to most of the game's mechanics occurs over the first few tracks, and the modding tools are revealed over the first hour or so, too. Initially it's arcadey and fun, a chaotic love-letter to the accessibility and enjoyment of the genre, with more than a few nods to the SNES family sire. In following that line, however, ModNation has picked up rather too many of the frustrations which should have been left by the wayside.
This is a racer very firmly in the kart racing tradition. Tracks tend to be wide and fairly forgiving, with sweeping drift turns, speed-boosting chevrons, huge assisted jumps and those all-important weapon pods. Weapons are divided into four classes: boosts, lightning, sound and missile, each of which can be powered up twice by hitting other weapon pods without discharging.
The most important thing on the screen during a race is the boost gauge, represented in thermometer style on the right side of the screen. This is filled by performing various racing manoeuvres such as drifting, slipstreaming or aerial spins, as well as attacking other racers. Its main function is to fuel the boost, giving your kart the extra speed to overtake or dodge a trap, but it also powers the kart's shield and its side-swipe attack.
The side-swipe is something of a last gasp defence, but effective enough to push a racer out of a pack or knock them over a precipice on some of the less forgiving arenas. The shield is there to protect you from the weapons of your rivals, and it's something you'll be using a great deal.
When you have incoming ordnance you'll get a warning siren, its timing and duration reliant on the nature of the weapon and the distance of its launcher. A small symbol also pops up underneath the kart to indicate what it is that's tracking you down. Hit the shield at the right moment and your tiny creation will be sheltered from harm. Miss your timing and you'll either be stunned or forced to start from a standstill.
It's a nice idea, and what seems like a natural progression for the genre, but in practice it rarely works so efficiently. For a start, ModNation suffers a little from blue shell syndrome - named after Mario Kart's leader-seeking super-weapon of the N64 era and beyond. Top-level attacks are far too effective.
For example, fully-powered sound weapons jump from a localised thump through a spread of sound "grenades" to an incredibly destructive sonic wave which clears the entire width of the track for some distance. Used behind a group, it's absolutely devastating, and the AI will utilise it fairly often.