A quick glance at the box art and you may instantly dismiss GripShift as yet another racer for the PSP. A kart racer with weapons and edgy characters is just what the doctor ordered. Yippee! Thankfully, things aren't as painfully dull as they seem, with GripShift actually trying to do something a little bit different from the norm. There are cars, pick-ups, huge leaps, plenty of environments and many more racing game staples, but a racer this is not.
This is a cheap and rather lazy comparison, but GripShift is like the love child of Monkey Ball and Mario Kart. Most of the game sees you attempting to get from one point to another on devilishly tricky arrangements of track pieces. I say pieces because there are usually huge chasms between each piece of tarmac. The moon-like gravity is just the ticket then, letting you propel your car all over the environment in order to reach the goal within a set time.
In typical style you'll progress through various difficulty levels, with each containing a set of courses for you to master. Moving from one difficulty to the next requires credits, and these are earned by finishing the courses in a set time or by collecting stars and bonus credits which are scattered around. As you move through the courses you'll unlock race events, mini-games and various trivial unlockables. Racing is entertaining enough, but the drifty nature of the cars doesn't lend well to fast paced action on narrow tracks, and the mini-games are fun the first few tries, but soon become a little dull unless played with friends.
The core puzzle-like challenge mode is what makes GripShift work well as a handheld game. Early courses require you to do little more than drive from one side to the other, but the difficulty soon ramps up, with death defying jumps, mid-air handbrake turns, nitrous boosts and well-timed hops from platform to platform all becoming par for the course. To finish courses in the best times and collect all the stars, you'll need to cut every corner, take every risk and drive the perfect racing line (on the track or in the air).
You rarely feel cheated either. If you miss a platform you know it's because you mistimed a boost or approached a ramp with a little too much venom. Being reckless and approaching a sharp corner at top speed will send your car hurtling off into oblivion, but pushing the car to its limit is vital if you want to earn all the rewards for each course.
Wireless multiplayer support (local only unfortunately) is good fun, with up to four players able to take part in straight races or a number of the mini-games. Football, Ice Hockey, Pool, Reverse Tag, Deathmatch and Snake games are all available and while not providing the kind of multiplayer fun the classic Mario Kart series delivers, they offer some extra value to an already entertaining package. Online play and Game Sharing would have made the multiplayer even more appealing, but it wasn't to be.
If you really get into GripShift you might fancy creating some of your own courses and this is possible thanks to the rather accomplished track editor. Whether you make traditional racing circuits or more complex challenge courses is up to you, and while the PSP's limited controls are awkward at first, the designers have done the best they can to make things intuitive. Track sharing is also possible and while this is once again limited to your local friends, developers Sidhe Interactive have made a number of tracks available to download from their website and the game's official forum also allows users to upload their own tracks
Minimalist is the best way to describe how GripShift looks. Just like in Monkey ball, other than the courses themselves, there's little else to look at. What is there looks really great though, with clean textures and a great draw distance. The game moves at a brisk frame rate too, making for a very appealing overall appearance. The audio doesn't disappoint either, with some catchy licensed tunes that fit well with the stylised visuals.
When you consider that GripShift has been released in the UK with an RRP of £19.99 there are very few reasons not to pick it up. It's great fun, addictive, looks and sounds great, will last a good while, includes plenty of multiplayer modes, has the potential for downloadable content... what more could you ask for in a budget release? GripShift doesn't have the brand recognition appeal of a number of other recent PSP releases, but it's one of the best games currently available for the system.