GripShift Review

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Graphics: 8.0
Sound : 7.0
Gameplay : 6.0
Multiplayer : 6.5
Overall : 6.8
Review by Andy Levine
Who says you can’t have it all? Not Sidhe Interactive. The New Zealand-based studio’s latest title GripShift combines puzzle, platform, driving and action elements into one UMD. The game’s single player campaign is filled with hundreds of challenges that must be solved behind the wheel of a buggy to unlock more cars and courses, but unfortunately the physics engine and track designs can make gameplay rather frustrating. Despite GripShift ‘s attempts to deliver an intense action experience that also involves careful planning, the end result is only mediocre.

The bulk of GripShift ‘s content lies in its single player campaign, consisting of a challenge mode, a race mode and a bonus game mode. Challenge mode sums up GripShift ‘s basic principles: solving puzzles and driving around. In this mode, each level offers three different challenges that can be completed to earn credits, which can be put towards unlocking faster vehicles, new character skins, and harder difficulty modes. The first objective for each level is a time challenge, where the driver must cross the finish line under the time allotted to earn a gold rating. Some levels require you to pass through a series of checkpoints, and others let you decide the route you want to take to the finish line.

The second objective is to collect every star laid out on the road in addition to finishing the track before the clock runs out. The third and last challenge requires you to collect a hidden GripShift icon while also (surprise) making it to the finish line in time. Both stars and icons aren’t always directly on the track, forcing you to purposely launch yourself off the road to seek them out, nab them, and return to the race. This in turn makes careful analysis of your surrounding environment a must.

Proper race challenges spice up lonely treks through the tracks as you’ll be pitted against a computer opponent. A few weapons such as rockets and TNT can be picked up to slow down your rival for a bit, but falling off the course can be as deadly as a direct hit where the race is concerned.

Once enough credits have been amassed via the challenges, special mini-games can be unlocked to offer a nice break from the thought-intensive icon quests. Mini-games include a bowling game where your car is put to use plowing down penguins set up in a 10-pin formation, an open arena where you must drive through loops and off jumps to collect stars, and a cycle game where you are tasked with collecting a set amount of stars without going over the same area twice. The mini-games offer a refreshing change of pace from the challenging puzzle play, but are mostly distractions to supplement the challenge mode. Topping off the single player campaign are plenty of unlockables, such as a plethora of vehicles that can be customized for performance boosts. Overall, GripShift ‘s backbone is well-developed, and through it seems like the game should easily spur hours upon hours of playtime, a few flaws taint the underlying experience.

While GripShift shows a lot of potential in terms of game modes, the actual gameplay fails to flow as smoothly as one would expect. For starters, the driving physics are painfully awkward, making the simple job of keeping your car on the track needlessly difficult. Platform jumping is heavily employed in the later challenges, an already tough job made artificially harder by the wonky driving physics

Unfortunately for expert gamers looking for extra challenges, the main challenge mode is designed in a way so that it is nearly impossible to complete all three objectives in one round. Instead, you will have to play each level several times over if you want to earn more credits and unlock new vehicles.

At the start, the puzzle designs manage to succeed in challenging your reflexes and your brain. As the game progresses however, the puzzle element takes a backseat to speedy races around winding pathways and narrow lanes. The puzzle element still shows up occasionally, like when you need to use a teleportation system to reach a hidden track segment or if you need to boost off a large jump to access a remote area, but for the most part the driving portion of the game will leave your mind listless. In later tracks it becomes overly difficult to just keep your car from falling off the road while driving at high speeds, so even if you’ve solved the puzzle you can still have a lot of trouble going following through with your solution. Completing the star and GripShift objectives in each level can also be a burden, forcing you to return to already-beaten tracks.

Outside of the puzzle mode, the race mode focuses strictly on racing with no added puzzles. Yet again, this mode is thwarted by the awkward driving physics, causing your car to frequently tumble off the track. Still, your car respawns fast enough so that you don’t suffer horribly. But overall the driving here remains bland and uninspiring, and after driving around a few simple tracks with only an occasional obstacle for variety, the race mode soon becomes dull. While GripShift could’ve been a great game considering the foundation it was built upon, the awkward driving physics and uninventive level designs hold it back from distinction.

GripShift supports four players via the PSP’s ad hoc mode, but the multiplayer action is only entertaining for a short while. The most notable feature here is the ability to share user-created custom tracks with your friends. The track editor has a moderate learning curve, but once you get a feel for the controls you’ll be developing tracks with loops, jumps, alternate paths and floating platforms in no time. It isn’t easy to create a track with perfectly-placed jumps at the right elevation, but a trial and error building method can be quite rewarding in the end.

Still, even custom tracks won’t make up for a repetitive race mode that quickly loses steam, even if you’re racing against friends. Multiplayer’s best offering is the option to play some of the mini-games with your friends, such as a deathmatch game and a car tag challenge, but again the lasting appeal isn’t too great. GripShift ‘s multiplayer appeal lies in the ways it diverts from traditional racers, but once the novelty is gone the mediocrity shines through.

GripShift ‘s presentation values aren’t exactly jaw-dropping, but the title delivers with some interesting audio and visual features. The character models and cars all have their own distinct styles, so just by looking at a given car you can tell if its strength lies in brute force or sharp turning capabilities. The tracks all float in the sky, and whether you’re racing through a bleak, wintry setting or a lush forest filled with wildlife, the ever-present sky blue backdrop adds a nice touch to the level’s aesthetics. Yet the visual effects, such as the nitrous boost and attack rockets, are bland and don’t catch the eye.

The paltry soundtrack consists of a few random rap and techno beats that only serve to break the silence, and after a while the lyrics can become bothersome. The car sound effects tend towards the quiet side, so don’t expect to be captivated by purring engines or squealing tires. At its core GripShift offers a unique presentation style, but not without considerable room for improvement.

In conclusion, GripShift for the PSP is a fairly average blend of driving, action and puzzle elements. While the idea behind the game seems promising, the gameplay mechanics simply fall short. The end result is a game that fails to succeed in a multitude of genres, yet is worthy of trying out simply for its unconventional philosophy. Unless you’re in desperate need of a new action-puzzler for the PSP, you’d be best off relaxing your hold on GripShift.