I'll admit straight off to being hard on Gripshift when it originally came out for the PSP, and even made some unkind comments to the effect of "They're going to keep releasing this game until somebody likes it" on hearing about the 360 and PS3 versions. Now I'm eating those words, because as it turns out that "somebody" is me. It seems Gripshift just needed the improved controls of a true gamepad, and the enhanced framerate it could never manage on the PSP, to go from forgettable to fun.
Gripshift is several games at once, a platfomer, puzzler, and stunt game all wrapped up in the body of a racer. A series of tracks are suspended high in the air, filled with twisty turns, dips, ramps, loops, and all sorts of objects. Bounce pads send the car flying while fans provide gentle lift, teleporters warp the car across the level while magnets draw it close, and there's always the threat of flying off the edge of the track right into the void. Death isn't that big a deal when it's just exploring, but it means a re-start during time trials, and a string of curses during a race.
Gripshift isn't the kind of game where you squeeze every tenth of a second out of your performance, but it's still doesn't seem right to clear a level 10+ seconds faster than what's needed for a gold.
There are two modes to play in Gripshift, and one is definitely more fun than the other. The racing aspect is simply ok, taking place on a series of looped tracks and feeling like yet another Mario Kart clone where you grab weapons, use them on opponents while dodging their attacks. The racing isn't bad but it's been done many, many times before. The stunt tracks, on the other hand, are where Gripshift shines, and also where the addiction kicks in.
Challenge Mode is the heart and soul of Gripshift. Each level has three goals to work towards, and you can't get them all in one run-through. There are a certain number of stars on the track, which are Gripshift's version of rings or coins, and a secret GS token in a hard-to-reach area. Collecting them usually means getting the gold medal for fastest time is impossible, but that's okay because earning a gold usually means finding your own quickest path through the level. Sticking to the track is a loser's game, and gravity is more of a suggestion than a hard and fast rule.
Gripshift's cars spend almost as much time in the air as they do on the ground. Just about anything can be used as a ramp, and the fastest route between two points is a mid-air line. The car can accelerate, brake, and turn in mid-air, and going for the perfect time can make the game feel more like a platformer than a racer. There's nothing quite like traveling halfway up a loop to hit the checkpoint, doing a 180- degree turn perpendicular to the ground, turboing off the side of the next loop to get enough air to cover the length of the level, and zipping through the next checkpoint a foot off the ground, landing with all four tires pointing down the straightaway. Most levels require this kind of driving to snag the gold, although there are several where the time constraints are generous to a fault. Gripshift isn't the kind of game where you squeeze every tenth of a second out of your performance, but it's still doesn't seem right to clear a level 10+ seconds faster than what's needed for a gold.
Gripshift tries to do a lot of thing, and while it doesn't succeed at everything there's a huge amount of content available for what it does best. The racing is only so-so, but collecting everything on the 120 stunt track levels is fun and nailing the perfect time a blast. A better camera for mid-air control and a soundtrack that rises above forgettable would have been nice, but the solid gameplay comes through. Gripshift's first outing on the PSP left me cold, but that was years ago. The move to a new system has given it a second chance, turning it into the game it wanted to be from the start.