Kart racing games seem to have been dead for a long time now. The golden years of time wasted on Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing are gone, and now games like Forza Motorsport and Project Gotham rule the racing arena. Gripshift is a peculiar racing game that made the rounds on PSP and PS3, and has now settled on the Xbox 360’s LIVE Arcade. It’s a blend of kart racing and puzzle gameplay, and for the low price that XBLA asks, Gripshift has plenty of content. Is it worth your hard-earned Microsoft Points?
Gripshift‘s gameplay is divided into two modes: Challenge and Race. In the Challenge mode, players are placed on a track and charged with navigating a series of checkpoints to reach the end. Some are rather straightforward, while others can be devilishly difficult. There are loads of levels, thanks to multiple difficulty levels and different objectives. As well as the finish line, there are stars to collect, hidden symbols to find, and times to beat. It’s often hard to do more than one of these activities in one go on a track, so playing the same level more than once is fairly common. Each of these levels involves clever platforming puzzles, and sometimes, portal puzzles. It’s not really a game you’d expect cars to be in, but the different medium keeps all of these puzzles fresh; Puzzle Driving isn’t exactly a crowded market.
The racing segments place groups of cars on similarly zany tracks. The puzzle element is dumbed down a bit in the earlier races, but later on, the combination can get pretty difficult. Unfortunately, the racing levels are nowhere near as addictive as the wacky puzzle levels. The cars handle in an odd fashion, and while it’s easy to get used to the awkward steering whilst on your own, grappling with them during a race isn’t much fun. The vehicles have a habit of turning on a dime, effectively killing any speed you had built up before the corner. This means that powering through a turn, or even sliding through a turn, is pretty much impossible. It doesn’t help that the items that you and your opponents can use are excruciatingly annoying. Rockets don’t just knock you off course, they blow up your car, and while the game is busy respawning you, the entire field overtakes you. If dodging or countering items was possible, it would be more fun, but as it is now, these items seem to have a death grip on your very being, and will follow you to hell and back just to put you out of first place. The racing fares much better online, but the offline portion just isn’t as fun as the Challenge mode.
Gripshift has a slick presentation, which helps bring a little more flavor to the simple gameplay. Everything is bright and colorful, and the hot rod car designs are delightful. Each level is a sort of floating island in the sky, with bits of track and land suspended by air. There are some overblown and charming themes for each track, like Arctic, Jungle, and other lush palettes. The fact that it all runs at a solid 60 frames per second really helps, too. The sound is great, provided that you like mellow electronic music. As always, custom soundtracks are an option, but Gripshift‘s background music is certainly relaxing and inoffensive. The voice clips, on the other hand, are pretty annoying. Luckily, they rarely show up, unless players are really bad drivers and keep falling off of the map, in which case their drivers will repeat things like “Oh, Noooo!” in a bad Aussie accent. Overall, though, Gripshift is very pleasant to look at, especially for an Arcade game.
Is Gripshift worth the money? That depends. The puzzle sections are great fun, and could have been their own game. As it stands, however, the Race mode just doesn’t cut it. Still, if you can overlook the wonky handling, or just ignore the racing, then Gripshift is a great title. The charming graphics and clever puzzles are more than worth your time. While kart racing and puzzle solving seems like an odd combination, Gripshift does the formula a good amount of justice.