Gripshift bills itself as a mixture of platforming, driving and puzzle action. Its Xbox Live Arcade release marks the third for the game, after releasing on the PSP in 2005 and on the Playstation Network earlier this year. Can the title mesh its components well, or does it end up as one big mess?
The single player challenge levels in Gripshift comprise the majority of the game’s content and offer the puzzle aspect of the game. Don’t come to this part of Gripshift expecting anything like a traditional driving game. The driving is simply the vehicle used to solve the tracks which are puzzles in themselves. The game’s style lies heavily in favor of the Arcade. The game plays as far from a simulation as possible, and the player can control his car and even use the brakes while it’s in mid-air.
Gripshift’s gameplay brings back fond memories of slot car racing with the style of play and level design. Players will see a number of obstacles in their way on these tracks ranging from elephants to TNT. There’s also a fair amount of air time in the puzzle tracks with plenty of ramped jumps as well as jump pads which fling players into the air. Difficulty is ramped up as you progress through the levels and each level of difficulty higher than the first raises the speed of the car the player controls.
The challenge levels offer a good bit of replay value by putting three distinct objectives in each level, which usually require replaying the level in order to achieve each goal. The first goal is to cross the finish line in under a certain amount of time, the second involves collecting all of the stars that are scattered on the level, and the final goal involves collecting the Gripshift icon that is usually placed in a hard to reach area on the level. The different goals essentially mean that completing the game in its entirety requires playing each of the 120 challenge levels three separate times.
The challenge levels are pretty simple up until the beginning of the ‘Hard’ levels. From here on out, the levels get increasingly complicated and precision timing becomes more and more necessary. Most of the levels aren’t too difficult, and can be figured out fairly easily. Some however utilize the teleporters in the game a bit too much. These teleporters are color coded and can eject the player in multiple directions depending on which side of the teleporter is entered. The teleporter-heavy levels can quickly become maddeningly frustrating and really take a lot of fun out of the game, however moderation is key and tossing a few into an otherwise normal level really spices things up quite nicely.
The amount of variety between challenge levels is quite refreshing. The game tries very hard not to get too repetitive and does a pretty good job of it. The sheer number of obstacle types from stationary blocks to moving platforms to movement altering items like the fans and the magnets really gave the developers a lot of leeway with developing the challenge levels. Unfortunately, the track editor that was in the PSP version of the game is not present in the XBLA version. While not necessary, this would have really set Gripshift far ahead of its competition.
Gripshift also offers racing levels in its single player offering. Like the challenge levels these do not require much in the way of driving skill. The races essentially boil down to what weapon power-ups the player collects. With weapons like missiles and lasers which annihilate the enemies from the track and cost them a few seconds for a respawn, the races are really decided by how well the player uses them. The tracks echo the game’s arcade style with nifty features like figure eight tracks with an intersection in the middle which can make for some interesting mishaps.
Players earn credits while playing the various single player modes which unlock several things in Gripshift. Anything from new music tracks, to harder difficulties and new cars and skins can be unlocked. These items have preassigned credit values assigned to them and are unlocked when the appropriate amount of credits have been collected. The system does a good job of adding a sense of value and accomplishment to the single player modes.
Gripshift includes several multiplayer modes that can either pit players against one another in a race or deathmatch mode in which players simply seek to destroy their opponents. These modes are played via Xbox Live, as the game does not include any split screen functionality. Unfortunately there was not enough of an online presence to find an adequate number of games to properly test out the multiplayer. It seems to be fun if you can manage to find anyone playing. With the amount of A-list titles that have been released before Christmas, the purchase rate for XBLA titles seems to be down and the playability of online only multiplayer in some XBLA games can fluctuate greatly.
The title looks good enough for an XBLA release. The graphics aren’t going to turn heads, but at the same time they certainly don’t detract from the experience. The music for Gripshift is comprised of several different tracks of generic trance music. Thankfully the developers added the ability to turn off certain music tracks in the game’s playlist in the main menu. Or if you prefer you can turn on your own soundtrack and make the whole experience much easier on the ears.
Gripshift might not excel, but it certainly is a competent addition to the XBLA. The gameplay is unlike anything else offered, and even though it’s technically a port, compared to the rest of XBLA it qualifies as original content. While the game has room to improve in several areas, the basic premise of the game delivers a fresh, fun experience. The sheer amount of content in the title deserves a look as it has the potential to provide hours upon hours of gameplay.
Final Score: 7 out of 10 - Above Average (How do we rate games?)