What do you get when you take elements from Sega's Super Monkey Ball, but add burly, RC-like, cars into the mix? GripShift. If you're not familiar with the addictive and twisty PSP version of GripShift, then you've missed out on some good and simple fun. Well if you happen to own a PS3, then don't worry about tracking down a copy of GripShift for the PSP. Sidhe Entertainment has released a downloadable PS3 version of GripShift, and for a mere $9.99, this game contains quite the package.
It's hard to classify GripShift into one genre. Yes, it does have cars, but no it isn't a racing game. It's a puzzle game first, and a racing game second. GripShift takes these fictional cars, with their exaggerated exhausts and enormous muscle-car wheels, and puts them on track suspended thousands of feet in the air. When you're on the tracks, you have to navigate them carefully, because you can fall off. There are guard rails placed in some places, but as you progress throughout the game, you'll notice that they become less frequent.
GripShift has platforming elements too, as it allows you jump/fly off the track and land on nearby islands that contain a lot of the game's GripShift tokens, stars, and can even be used as shortcuts. Because you have the ability to go anywhere you want, you will be required to employ this tactic often in order to complete each track with a gold time ranking.
To aid you in achieving gold ranks, there are nitrous boost pickups that you can activate by pressing the X button. Additionally, you can use nitrous as a propeller of sorts, to help you reach a distant, off-track, platform or island. Throughout every course you will be required to pick up all of the stars, cross the finish line on time, cross checkpoints (if any), and find the GS token. But you don't have to complete the challenges all at the same time. Much like Tony Hawk, you can go back as many times as you want and complete them one-by-one. There 150 levels in total, all of which that range from easy to very difficult. The later levels will feature traps around certain pickups that'll require some clever control of the car in order to obtain them.
The controls are pretty standard stuff. The trigger buttons accelerate and brake the vehicle. The Square button reverses the car. And the left analog controls the direction. But what's spiffy is that you can control your car's inertia in mid-air by air-braking, accelerating, turning, and so forth. This greatly helps in the execution of platforming with the cars properly. So for instance, when you're in mid-air, and you think you're going to fly over your intended target, apply the brakes on the controller and the car will slow down. The harder you press the brakes, the quicker the car will come to a stop.
If you've extensively played the PSP version, you'll notice the track editor is missing. This is a feature that Sidhe is possibly looking to integrate into the game a little later as an update. Moreover, the bonus games are nowhere to be found, and that is yet another feature we're hoping to see added-on to the game as an update. But what GripShift does feature is a 4-player online experience a'la Mario Kart. So if you're a fan of multiplayer kart-racers, then you may find yourself having a very good time with GripShift against other players.
Visually, you get a pretty appealing picture that'll run with a smooth framerate and display in HD (720p). Basically, the overall design is still much like the PSP version, except everything is totally overhauled with textures and millions of extra polygons. The game makes good use of various lightening effects, which only help to enhance the display. Largely because everything is so simple and clean, there isn't anything faulty with the graphics engine -- it is what it is; simple. The tracks are never painstakingly large, and the PS3 handles them with stride. Likewise, loading times are pretty decent too, and restarts are instantaneous.
The draw-in distance is flawless, with the entire track drawn out on the screen as soon as you start the race. The details on the cars are pretty nice too -- the enormous exhausts sport a chrome finish, and the gigantic tires have thickly textured tread-marks. Albeit, this doesn't really hold a candle to a game like Ridge Racer 7; GripShift still demonstrates some clean visuals. You'll find it hard to believe that a $10 package is actually looking this nice, and not just thrown together; just don't expect anything beyond simple and clean.
Lastly, GripShift isn't terribly impressive when it comes down to audio. That is not to say it's bad, it's just very standard and about what you'd expect from a game like this. The picked up stars make a ding, the nitrous makes a whoosh, the exhausts are burly, and the tires screech. There is a soundtrack largely consisting of electronica and hip-hop beats. You'll hear the drivers scream if you fall off the track, and also say a word or two to an opponent nearby. Much of this stuff is going to go largely ignored, but that's about what's expected from a game like this. This isn't exactly Gran Turismo where everything has to be precise and meticulous -- the audio gets the job done and that's the most important thing.
I remember when on the PlayStation the first $10 games were considered to be bottom of the barrel crap. No two ways about it. Spec-Ops was the first official $10 release on the PSOne and it was a terrible game, much like nearly every other budget title. But that isn't the same case with the PS3's offerings. GripShift is yet another fine downloadable game from the PlayStation Network and is easily worth the purchase of $10. To assure yourself, feel free to download the 10 stage demo of the game to see what a measly $10 gets you. It may not provide groundbreaking visuals, earth shattering mechanics, or amazing audio, but it does provide fun. Lots of fun; likewise, a challenge, as well. Sidhe is still looking to expand the package by releasing upgrades for the game, which will only heighten the replay value. And value is precisely what this game is all about.
1/19/2007 Arnold Katayev