Electronic Arts' NASCAR for the PlayStation Portable marks the first time the series has gone portable. Not quite NASCAR 07, yet sporting more features than 06, NASCAR holds up well on the PSP. A full field of 43 cars, a variety of events, and the ability to save midrace are just some of the things that make NASCAR an enjoyable game.
If you're looking to take a quick spin, you can choose from a single race or try one of the Dodge challenges, which are scenarios from the 2005 season introduced in video interviews by the drivers who were involved. These short, enjoyable challenges include holding off charging drivers, avoiding wrecks, or changing history by winning a race you should have lost. In addition to the Dodge Challenges, Speedzone is a pseudotraining mode where you practice blocking and passing, is a simple yet fun way to learn the basics. Both the season mode, where you participate in a season of any length, and chase for the cup, which is the last 10 races of the season, are included as well.
The bulk of NASCAR's gameplay is found in the career mode, known as "fight to the top." Here, you start as an unknown driver and work your way up from the modified series to Craftsmen trucks, NBS (Busch), and eventually Nextel. The concept is solid, but the execution is lackluster, and making it all the way to the Nextel series is tedious. Imagine being forced to play a football season in high school, college, and NFL Europe before getting to play as an NFL team in Madden. That's what it's like here. The Allstate qualifiers that let you start your career at a higher class in NASCAR 07 are nowhere to be found in the PSP game.
Other issues diminish the lasting value of the fight-to-the-top mode when you're doing anything other than racing. If you decide not to qualify or participate in a race, you can skip ahead, but you'll finish last since for some reason only races in the season mode can be simulated. This makes driving in two series at once extremely cumbersome and time consuming. You can purchase and manage your own team, hire drivers, and even set merchandise prices, but your options are limited. The autograph minigame is dreadful, as is the fantasy racing game, and your agent, Ace Moneymaker, constantly harasses you with unimportant, repetitive phone calls.
On the track, NASCAR feels remarkably like its console counterparts. Load times are quite reasonable, and they're infrequent, since once you load a track it stays in memory through practice, qualifying, and the actual race. The ability to save your game midrace has been included, which is nice not only when you don't have time to finish, but also when you want to save late in a race to ensure against a last-second loss. To boost realism, drivers have been given a rating based on how they perform on different types of tracks, but since nobody is rated lower than a C-, the difference in performance from one driver to the next is minimal. An adrenaline meter fills and boosts your skills when you perform well on the track. When you make a mistake, points are taken away, but the effects are subtle. One way in which these points do play a major role is that they can be used to rewind time. In a feature similar to one in Sega's demolition racing game Full Auto, you are able to rewind a few seconds of action with the press of a button, which lets you avoid a wreck or simply take a better line through a corner. This feature works as advertised, but because the rest of the game is fairly realistic, it feels out of place. Skill points are awarded after the race is over, and they can be used to unlock items such as paint schemes, cars, and tracks.
In multiplayer mode, up to four people can participate in a single race, a season, or dodge challenges. Neither infrastructure nor game sharing is supported, so everyone must be in the same place at the same time to play and must have a copy of the game. Should you manage to satisfy those requirements, you'll find that everything works well, though it's puzzling that there's no option to save your progress during a multiplayer season. You're also limited to racing against a field of 10 computer-controlled racers when playing with friends, which makes for some lonely races if you're way ahead or way behind the pack.