If you picked up a PSP sometime around launch, you might have heard of this title. Offering a combination of Mario Kart’s weapon mechanics, Diddy Kong Racing’s Silver Coin Challenge Mode, and a slight touch of F-Zero’s difficulty, GripShift offers a kart-based fanfare but at the cost of tedium.
The core gameplay mechanic of GripShift is that of a weapon based kart racer built within a world of strange gravity. If you have played any Mario Kart game, you will understand the basis of GripShift. However, this title also contains the feel of a platformer/puzzle game as finding each track’s hidden tokens can require the player to fall off the track intentionally to locate hidden ledges, find a way to reach a faraway platform, or launch himself through the air. This extra puzzle element is what separates GripShift from other kart racers.
In terms of a XBLA game, the graphics are well colored and bright. Just like the PSP version, however, the game doesn’t push the system’s horsepower into high gear. For a game that is not going to overheat your system, it is a shame to see the loading screen so much. After you enter any type of new menu screen, the player is forced to the watch the bland GripShift logo for several seconds before a match can start. Sounds effects and music are nothing to hit home about either. In fact, the sound effects, like the one-liners that your driver yells out from time to time, are better left on mute.
The reality is that the game is built around meticulously collecting items, not falling off the track, and finishing each stage within a certain time limit. While this seems like a fun concept on paper, the actual execution is another story. I for one find it annoying that I must play the same level over and over and over again until I can masterfully perfect it. Each stage requires the player to collect several stars, one “GP” logo, and finish each track in record time. The game offers many tracks/challenges to complete, but after completing level four, the player will ask himself if he really wants to continue. Why subject yourself to playing the same stage repeatedly?
Besides this challenge mode, the game offers a race mode. Here, it is a race to the finish against three other computer controlled A.I. characters. Just like Mario Kart, the player can collect power-up, weapons, and boosts to enhance gameplay and keep the action faster paced. But just like the challenge mode, the race mode isn’t without its flaws either. While the first few stages can easily be completed, the difficulty quickly ramps up. Enemies will always be right on your tail and they always have the right weapon at the right time. While the A.I. is not as brutal as in Snowboard Kids on N64, this form of computer intelligence almost seems like a cheap form of cheating. As a benefit, GripShift does offer online play up to 4 players simultaneously. And besides the typical Race Mode, players can compete in a battle mode, Mario Kart style.
The more you play, the more you unlock. This includes vehicles. But no matter which vehicle you choose (some specialize in speed, some in control, etc), there will always be a learning curve. Because the game features an awkward gravity system, the player is bound to hit a few walls and fall off the track several times. This floaty play control, again, adds to the frustration. And combine this with all the jumping, shooting, and platforming the player needs to do in order to compete challenge modes, it is easily seen where the game’s overall presentation begins to falter.
Is GripShift the best racer on XBLA? No. But is it decent enough to warrant a 800 MS Point purchase? Well, that really depends. If you liked Diddy Kong Racing’s Silver Coin Challenge, and if you like to compete levels until total perfection., then you will have a blast with GripShift. And if you are worried about the cost of 800 MS Points, you might be able to find the PSP version for cheaper in a used bin somewhere. Either way, Sidhe Interactive is developer to keep your eye on.