The PSP has a multitude of racing games to choose from but most of them are quite cookie cutter - choose the car then the track and race. Sure, there is a little variety where you can modify cars, or drive concept cars, but generally they remain all the same and get boring fast. Enter Gripshift from Sidhe. For those who don't know Sidhe, they are a New Zealand development house behind the powerhouse NRL franchise and have been developing titles for quite some time. Gripshift is their first PSP game and while it does have its problems, it manages to differentiate itself enough to make it worth a look.
Gripshift reminds us quite a bit of another popular game, Track Mania on the PC platform. There are a number of modes to choose from, but where you will spend most of your time is the challenge mode. Split up into four categories, challenge mode tasks you with completing tracks in set amounts of time. The challenge is that you gain points for each level; bronze silver and gold and to progress to further difficulty levels you have to reach a certain amount of points. This means that there is quite a number of times you have to play each track, which can led to repetition and frustration.
The game can be played from a number of angles but the primary one is directly from behind the car. Gripshift is a game that will make you think, especially to get the gold medals on the harder levels. For instance, forget the notion that you have to stay on the track 100% of the time. On the side of tracks there are small bumps which send the car airborne, making it perfect for a huge shortcut through the air. This works, and in fact to succeed in the game during one point or another you will have to try this out.
As well as the crazy physics there is some form of racing featured throughout. During each difficulty level you come across a sort of boss character who you have to beat in order to progress. This part of the game feels a bit like Crash Nitro kart with powerups and other things to help you win. However other than the challenge section the main part of the game is made up of the section where you can build your own tracks. Basically you put the track together and race it, which adds a huge amount of longevity and value to the game.
To keep the game firmly in the fantasy world, the difficulty levels are set in different fantasy environments. Ranging from ice worlds, making the car hard to control and the tracks slippery, through to jungles, as you progress through the game, you will probably become more frustrated as you have to play tracks longer, reach tougher goals and generally play what seems like a much more repetitive game. With that said though, the tracks give you a number of options to try out, even after the fiftieth time of trying. Most tracks have multiple paths and options to get to the finish, plus there is other way to earn points such as gaining all the items on a level.
Once you're finished with the racing, as long as they have been unlocked you can try some of the bonus options on offer. The developers have included a number of fun mini games to keep you entertained while you calm down after yelling at the PSP about one particular track. Ranging from Soccer through to Bowling, the games are quite well done and offer a nice diversion to the main game play.
Visually is where the game does shine at its best. The tracks are crazy with loops, huge jumps and other environmental objects aimed at helping you and the cartoon style graphics really add to the overall crazy, over the top atmosphere the game gives off. The framerate is rock solid as well although it appears it is only running at thirty frames per second which really is the only disappointment in the graphics department. However the sound is a different story. Just why Ubisoft thought it would be suitable to include rap and hip hop in a game about crazy driving is beyond me. Where's the crazy clown music? Or upbeat dance tracks?
Gripshift is a game that breaks the mould of most PSP titles available now. First of all it's only available on the PSP and second of all it seems perfect for traveling. Each game takes twenty seconds if that, but the 'just one more time' mentality may have you missing you bus or train stop many times over. Gripshift shows us what the PSP can do if developers get creative and look at the system as something other than a portable PS2.