Review by The Phoenix Reborn
"The Legend of All Ports"
A couple of years back, Sega Rosso brought Initial D to the homes of players by releasing the PS2 equivalent of Version 2, otherwise known as Special Stage. Now a few years after, Sega has released yet another Initial D game, this time porting over the Arcade Stage's Version 3 onto the Sony PSP. By far, Initial D: Street Stage has to be THE best game port for the PSP I have seen up to date. Everything from the in-game graphics, menus, sounds, and game modes are so similar, one could argue that this game is more or less a clone of Arcade Stage's Version 3 (Save a few changes here and there)
If you've ever played Version 3 in the arcades, then you will immediately be amazed at just how much the graphics in Street Stage resemble that of its coin-eating wheel-and-pedaled brother. The visuals during the daytime are absolutely stunning. Everything from the sky to the textures on the road, the shadows, the cars and even the in-game menus look so similar to the Arcade Stage, it makes even Special Stage on the more powerful PS2 look bad. The game runs at about 30 FPS during gameplay, so there will be times when the scenery and cars (Especially at high speeds) will appear to be almost a blur during night races. However, that little drawback is so miniscule that once you get into the game, you'll hardly notice it.
Nothing much to say here. Initial D has always been wonderful when it came to the sound. Street Stage features some very catchy and heart-pumping eurobeat songs which matches the feel of the game perfectly during the high-speed races. Initial D fans will immediately recognize some of the more familiar tracks such as Speedy Speed Boy, Save Me, Express Love, Stop Your Self Control, Dogfight from the famous group Move who also does the intros for the Initial D anime, and many more. Unfortunately, this game only offers some 21 tracks in total. Not that it isn't enough, but there are some songs that just simply aren't as good compared to some of the other ones that have been featured in the Special and Arcade Stages. The interaction sequences between the player and the rivals do not have voices in this version, but there ARE voices during the races in-game which more than makes up for the small loss. Even the tires sound good believe it or not. It's good to know that the realistic tire sound from the Arcade Stages are used in Street Stage, as opposed to the annoying high-pitched screech that was used in Special Stage. All-in-all, the sound quality for this game is superb, and deserves a solid "10" for it.
If you have ever played the Arcade Stages for Initial D, then you pretty much already know what to expect. It looks like the arcade, it plays like the arcade, it sounds like the arcade, hell it's so similar it practically IS the arcade with a few minor changes. The one thing that Arcade and Special Stage fans will immediately notice in this game is the new card tuning system. Rather than winning tuning points for your car after every race, the player will be give the option of choosing one of three face-down cards. The tuning process is done via using the Exterior Parts / Internal Cards that you will have to collect (Seemingly by luck) after races which can be extremely tedious since some of these cards are almost impossible to come by when you need them. However, if you get lucky, you could have a full-tuned car within a day. The other thing Initial D vets will notice is that every car only has one set of tuning steps, meaning that once you complete your initial five-step tune up for your car's interior, you're done and you don't need to do internal upgrades anymore. This makes the full-tune for Street Stage equivalent to the Arcade Stage's basic tune, so don't be surprised if the performance of your car doesn't feel as up to par as your Arcade counter-part (1) Unfortunately this can sometimes take the fun and satisfaction away for those who felt more of a sense of achievement to rack up points. Lastly, I find that the AI in Street Stage has been toned down significantly (Probably to compensate for the game's controls) so Initial D pros may find the beginning of the game a little boring. Luckily, Street Stage supports Wireless Ad-Hoc so if you have a friend who has the same game, you can challenge them to a race, or if you have X-box Connect / X-Link Kai, then you can actually go online and challenge anyone you can find to a game, which is definitely a lot more exciting than racing the generic AI. But the biggest let down for me, is the fact that one of the highlights of Version 3, the Akina Snow Course against Miki, is not in Street Stage for whatever reason.
The controls, I'm sorry to say, is where this game really takes a hit to the stomach. With enough time invested, one can adapt to the PSP's little nub-stick fairly quickly, and luckily the game itself also has a sensitivity setting for players to play around with so they can adjust the steering response to their liking. Or, if you don't like using the stick on the PSP, then the D-pad works for steering just the same. Despite all of that however, the game just simply doesn't have the precise steering capabilities of a PS2 controller / arcade wheel no matter how you look at it, and excessive playing can really take its toll on your fingers. Mind you, for a PSP, the controls are already quite impressive, but once you reach the later levels like Shomaru and Tsuchisaka, there will be times when over-steering habits will leave the beginner player screaming. You will obviously have the option of choosing whether you want manual or automatic transmission for you car. I stress that mastering manual transmission is a must if you want to use you car to the fullest of its capabilities.
Replay Value: 9.5/10
What's a good game without replay value right? Well in any case, you'll be happy to know that just because you beat Legend of the Streets once, it isn't the end. Legend of the Streets in fact can have multiple play-throughs with each play-through being a little more challenging than before. So if you think you've conquered all your rivals already, then keep playing! This also applies to the Bunta Challenge. In that mode, you will have the option to challenge Bunta to any course you wish. Every time you defeat Bunta on a course, his AI will rise up one star to a total of 15 stars for that ONE course (Meaning every single course has 15 stars for you to beat) Bunta will become progressively harder as you move on, and for every 5 stars you win, he will switch to a better car. The only drawback to Bunta challenge is that the star levels that you earn carry over to your new cars as well. This may take the fun away for some since you no longer have earn those stars back. Other than for tuning, the card system in Street Stage also includes things such as manga captures of important races in the Initial D story which you can read if you know Japanese. Aside from those, there are also Artwork Cards which unlocks images for loading screens, Special Cards that unlock new songs, Car Cards that unlock cars for online-play, an so forth. There are a 180 cards in total for you to collect so have fun! All your new content can be saved and viewed in the Project D website that is accessed on the main menu. The more new cards you acquire, the more new content will be added.
Overall Score: 8/10
It seems to me that Sega totally went all-out when they created Street Stage. It is very rare that you see a PSP port THIS good nowadays, even if the game was a little lacking on certain features. While this game is only available in Japanese, the PSP Region-Free disks allow it to be played anywhere. If you are an Initial D fan and you have a PSP on your hands, then definitely grab a copy of this game. Trust me, it's worth the import. For those of you who are still new to the whole Initial D scene, you may want to give the arcade stages a couple of spins first before making your decision since the arcades do have English versions. Overall, Street Stage will definitely remain as one of my favorite PSP games of all time. This game is the legend of all ports and a masterpiece.
(1) Special thanks to Odie for finding out about the Street Stage / Arcade Stage comparison
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/10/06
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