Cross-platform potential hits the pavement.
After being told a bit about ModNation Racers: Road Trip, and sitting down and playing it a bit for myself, the realization fully sunk in: The Vita is a portable PS3. Granted, I'm sure this isn't factually the case, but in trying out this particular title, it solidified in my mind that this is exactly what Sony ought to be aiming for with this handheld.
For starters, ModNation Racers looks, sounds, and controls extremely similar to its console counterpart. A keen eye will see some differences, but for all intents and purposes, it is the same game in terms of presentation and mechanics. I wasn't able to tinker with the single-player 'story' mode, so I can't comment on whether or not this will be identical, but I was able to give a few Quick Race tracks a go, and everything played just as smooth as I remember on the PS3.
Perhaps more importantly, however, are the other aspects that relate to the console game. I was told by one of the Sony representatives that players will be able to play their Vita version of ModNation against players on the PS3 game through PSN, and my understanding is that all of the mods/user-created content will be shared. Cross-platform support, in other words, seems to be the title's primary focus.
The PS Vita version has one intrinsic benefit, it could be argued: new interface options for customization. While playing the game feels about the same, creating tracks feels entirely different. The option to make a track with standard controls still seems present, but I took advantage of the touchscreen to draw out a track design on the screen, then used the option to auto-populate it with environmental effects, booster pads, items, etc. Within a couple minutes, I had a user-made track I could tweak and edit as I saw fit. I was able to alter elevations by switching between the screen's touchpad and on the pad on the back of the Vita, which at least felt different. There was a bit of lag between my touching the screens and the environments altering, but after adjusting, I was shaping mountains and valleys easily.
While these new options added some fine-tuned detail to the modding theme, I was a bit confused when I tried navigating basic menus or altering my car/character. Sliding my thumb along the wheel menu in the corner was intuitive, but I consistently had issues actually selecting things. That wouldn't be a big deal if I could just use buttons/sticks to use the menus, but that didn't seem to be something I could do, which I found quite curious. Touch screen options are great to have, but are always optimal when they are just that: options. My only quibble with my time was that tiny issue, one that slowed down my experience to a grinding halt on numerous occasions, and a potential issue Vita games could suffer from if the problem isn't nipped in the bud.
That said, Road Trip surely opened my eyes to the possibilities of the Vita in terms of functioning as a portable PS3. If save data, online multiplayer, and everything else can be carried over without incident, the Vita could certainly set itself up to capture a niche of the portable market that the infamous mobile platforms can't grasp. Combining the advantages of portability, touch-screen controls, and PS3 functionality, ModNation Racers: Road Trip serves as another steady launch title for the PlayStation Vita.