Developer Sidhe Entertainment's GripShift is not so much a driving game as it is a puzzle game that happens to use cars as its focal point. It's got far more in common mechanically with something like the PC cult favorite TrackMania than any brand of racer, arcade or otherwise. Unfortunately, GripShift's unique qualities are undermined by one severe flaw: Driving in the game isn't much fun. Even though you're not racing, you still have to drive a vehicle around the game's plentiful number of tracks (or puzzles, or whatever you want to call them), and the controls for doing so are so frustratingly unwieldy that it renders the entire process an infuriating chore. It's too bad, really, as the concept of a platform-heavy puzzler that features crazy cars sounds like a neat idea. GripShift just doesn't deliver on its lofty concept.
It may involve more puzzling than driving, but you still have to pilot a car in GripShift. And that's where the whole thing falls apart.
You begin GripShift by picking from one of a few goofily designed racers (which all look like Saturday morning cartoon versions of obnoxious club kids) and then one of the four initially unlocked vehicles. Racers don't have any specific stats, but cars do, and you'll want to find one with particularly good handling for the early goings. You'll be indoctrinated into the game's challenge mode by a series of beginner-level courses that give you a pretty good overview of what to expect throughout the rest of the experience. Essentially, every track in the game is some kind of a hovering, twist-and-loop-filled monstrosity that's filled with crazy platforms, shortcuts, jumps, teleporters, and so on. As you play through each track, you'll have a couple of objectives to complete. They rarely go beyond the scope of completing the track in a set amount of time, collecting a series of stars scattered about the place, or just hitting all the set checkpoints. Though you can progress to the next track simply by finishing the course before time runs out, you can't unlock the next difficulty level and series of courses unless you collect a certain number of credits. And you can't earn credits unless you finish these objectives. Right. Easier said than done.
Again, you can complete any course simply by hitting the finish line before it's over, but you need the objectives to earn credit, and it's pretty much a physical impossibility to complete more than one objective per try on most courses. To the developer's credit, part of this is because the puzzles are fairly cleverly designed, requiring some strategy on your part to get to where you need to go in the right amount of time. Unfortunately, this quickly degenerates into terribly frustrating trial and error thanks to the driving mechanics. No matter what car you're driving, and no matter how good the handling rating might be, you will spend more time trying to keep a solid grip on your car and its wheels on the track than you will spend actually thinking about any of the game's puzzles. Every car slips and slides around the roads like a greased pig. This represents double trouble, because none of the tracks have side rails of any kind.
So, essentially what you get is a lot of you desperately trying to keep your car on the track at all times. You have to be extra-careful in leading your turns, and any time you have to perform a big jump or something similarly grandiose, be prepared to do it over and over again until you figure out the timing. We understand the developer wasn't trying to make realistic car physics here. But in this case, what you have doesn't even feel like a vehicle we've ever seen--in real life or in a game. You can brake and accelerate in midair, for one thing, plus there's the aforementioned slip and sliding. It will take you a good long time of playing GripShift to get any sort of regular handle on the cars, and even then you'll feel like you're gripping the PSP for dear life as you take every turn and jump. That's not fun. That's a rage-induced aneurysm waiting to happen.
It's even worse during the races. The game does have a standard race mode, and races pop up during the challenges as well. The racing here is pretty close to the kind of kart racing we've all grown to know and love over the years, with random weapon pickups (like missiles, shields, and TNT bombs) and plenty of nitro boosts. But again, the handling pretty much sucks the fun out of all of it, and the races are made even more angering by the fact that you're not only having a hell of a time staying on the track, but also you're getting missiles constantly launched at your ass on a semifrequent basis.