Although GripShift isnâ€™t a new release in the gaming scene, its recent migration from the PSP over to the Xbox Live Arcade deserves to be greeted with some good old-fashioned Kiwi enthusiasm. Developed back in 2005 by New Zealandâ€™s own Sidhe Interactive, GripShift is a puzzle/platform racing game, similar to a blend of Wacky Racers, Skyroads and Micro Machines. In other words, youâ€™ve just driven your car down the rabbit hole.
Addictive in its simplicity, GripShift presents 120 increasingly difficult tracks to race your way around in order to complete different goals. The catch, of course, comes in the form of moving ramps, rocks, portals, crushing pistons, loops, magnets, ice, and a few elephants, among other things. The challenge mode caters to everybodyâ€™s style of play, smoothly combining three key areas of speed (time trial), accuracy (star collecting) and out-of-the-way, more creative driving (GS logo). Skeptics beware; the pressing and total need to complete every single goal will sneak up on you and may just take over your life.
When youâ€™re not pulling hair out over the challenge tracks, you can unwind with some TNT and rocket launchers on a handful of racecourses. Mario Kart enthusiasts will recognise this style of racing in a heartbeat. In an attempt to cross the finish line first, youâ€™re encouraged to collect power-ups, allowing you to elegantly blow up, blast, and slime your opponents, or take a more defensive stand and shield yourself from similar attacks.
Your sweat, blood and tears from all this effort wonâ€™t be going to waste though. New songs to add to your audio playlist and better vehicles and paint jobs are among a few of the unlockable treats youâ€™ll earn as you go. Thereâ€™s not a huge pile of Xbox 360 achievements to be picked up, but the in-game rewards go a fair way towards satisfying every gamerâ€™s secret need to be rewarded. They donâ€™t play a vital role in the overall scheme of the game, but itâ€™s a welcome touch nonetheless. Keep an ear out for a range of funky NZ music tracks, including some from the very talented Wellington artist, Jeramiah Ross AKA Module.
Within minutes of first playing GripShift, it is easy to see why Sidhe were awarded "Best Level Design", "Best Game Design", and "Best Handheld Game" at the 2005 Australian Game Developers Awards in Melbourne. The beginner and easy challenge levels are straightforward enough, but further on youâ€™ll encounter crazy, creatively complex maze-like designs, which emphasise the â€śpuzzleâ€ť aspect of this racing game, resulting in a deliciously frustrating game experience.
Although the â€śBest Level Designâ€ť and â€śBest Game Designâ€ť awards are impressive, most noteworthy, in my humble opinion, is that they picked up the â€śBest Handheld Gameâ€ť award. Undoubtedly, the handheld format is what a game like GripShift is going to shine on. Bright graphics, simple controls, and clean sound effects are really the surest way to go for a handheld game (*cough* Splinter Cell: Essentials *cough*) and GripShift understands. The quick fire style of play does lend itself more readily to a handheld format. Itâ€™s true that you could easily be sucked into playing endless hours of GripShift on your 360 but the pick up and go aspect of the gameplay would definitely make that bus journey more interesting if you had your PSP and copy of GripShift at the ready.
The addition of a few extra single-player courses and a multiplayer deathmatch mode could potentially be enough of a reason to double up and buy GripShift for the 360 even if you already own it for the PSP â€“ but only just. Generally speaking, youâ€™re going to want this game for your PSP or your 360, not both. Pick your preferred machine and stick to the format you most enjoy. If you couldnâ€™t possibly pick a favourite format, go ahead and flip a coin. There are ups and downs to both choices and ultimately itâ€™ll boil down to individual playing preferences (or how well you can flick a 10-cent coin before losing it under the couch).
Rather than stretching to make a multi-bajillion dollar, true-to-life racing simulation, Sidhe have focused their efforts on producing a rather cute, well-designed, simple puzzle/platform racer and the awards speak for themselves.
For any 360 gamer without a PSP, support the NZ Gaming scene and get your hands on the XBLA version of GripShift.