I love racing. I love 3D games. My favorite early arcade game was Battlezone, more for the free-roam driving than for the battle. I may be the only one who never was able to understand the appeal of Super Mario Brothers or Zelda.

I'll play platform games, puzzle games, RPGs, and action games (I have hundreds and hundreds of hours invested in the Monster Hunter/Freedom/Unite series), but 9 times out of 10, if i'm gaming, it's a racing game. I've watched the development of first-person driving games from the Atari 2600 Night Driver. Sprite-based scrolling driving games were fun, but weren't very absorbing. The early Test Drive games on the computer were followed by the 3D accelerated Need For Speed titles, but the console games lagged behind until the 3D generation of PS1, Saturn, and N64. Similarly, portable games lagged behind the console generation.

I've played F1 on the Gameboy, Sonic Drift on the Game Gear, Hard Drivin' on the Lynx (OK, true 3D but clunky with a really bad framerate). I've played Virtua Racing on the Nomad (Not bad, sparse graphics but getting there). GT Advance Championship Racing on the GBA isn't a bad game, fairly deep and sophisticated but back to sprite-based cars and scrolling scenery. Now with the advent of the PSP, almost a miniaturized handheld PS2, we've finally got the processor speed and the video power to do true 3D accelerated racing games, with state-of-the-art graphics and in-depth gameplay. Here are my Top 10 picks, the racing games I've played the most on the PSP.

Basically TOCA 2 for the PSP, Race Driver 2006 offers nice graphics, a huge variety of circuits, racing series, and cars. A veritable encyclopedia of racing, from open wheel Formula cars to hulking semi tractors, from Grand Prix circuits to ice races. Do you want to drive a Ford 9000 semi tractor on a Grand Prix track? How about racing a Holden Commodore? How about a Jag XKR on ice? You can set up single races, or try two career modes, one a series of challenges a la Gran Turismo license tests, the other a racing championship with a cut scene video story mode. The graphics are nice, detail is good, and the cars handle predictably. On the other hand, traction is minimal, and the cars are extremely fragile, making it a matter of good luck and extreme skill to complete a race without crashing and destroying the car. Race Driver has lots of things to do, and wonderful variety, the only thing that keeps it from ranking higher is the daunting difficulty level. It's worthwhile just as a reference work, for example: hey, what does Kyalami look like? What's a 34 Ford Hot Rod Couple like to drive?

This is a really weird little racer, mostly famous for its use in a (now obsolete) programming exploit to load homebrew on the PSP. It has suspended airborne circuits, giant jumps, loops, and minigames like penguin bowling. It's an almalgamation of racer and puzzle game. Each track has three challenges: just to make it through in the time limit, then to collect all the bonus stars in the time limit, then, if you dare, to try to snatch the Gripshift icon from its out-of-the-way perch and make it to the finish line. Judicious use of turbos, careful timing of jumps, and sheer determination carry you through the Dr. Seuss-like graphics of islands suspended in midair. There's nothing realistic about these cars, except their vulnerability to gravity (and magnets, did I say magnets?) A combination of the old Amiga Stunt Car Racer and Super Monkey Ball, it's odd and engaging, pure arcade silliness, a worthy challenge for the gamer-on-the-go. Look out below!

Here's one that I initially overlooked, "Street Supremacy"? The title sounds like it must be a cheap basketball or skateboarding game. After finding it in a cross-reference to Shutokou Battle, I discovered that it's actually the latest incarnation of the Tokyo Xtreme Racer series. This one incorporates strategy elements by having you earn presidency of a racing gang, and challenging other gangs for territory. The basic gameplay is typical Tokyo Xtreme, either beat your opponent to the finishing line, or deplete his/her spirit gauge by maintaining or increasing your lead. Races win money that can be used to purchase cars and aftermarket parts, and add to experience points. Winning races against the "Wanderer" in each territory wins the opponent's customized car. There is a nice set of cars to collect and customize. A territory/camera system to choose challenges rather then the free-roam aspects of other Tokyo Xtreme games, and cars with sluggish handling lowered its ratings, but it's still a challenging and fun game, and a must-have for fans of the Tokyo Xtreme series, the only one (other than converting the PS1 game Tokyo Highway Battle to a PSP ISO) that's available on a portable.

Slightly grainy graphics and arcade bounce-off-the-walls gameplay characterize this cute rally game. When you combine a huge variety of current and historic rally cars, fun tracks with a range of surfaces, and vicious opponents that don't give an inch, you have a surprisingly addictive experience. The cars handle predictably and powerslide nicely. Since each track has a number of stages, asphalt, dirt, mud, snow, sand, it requires some experimentation to determine the most competitive combination of car and tires for each track. The replays are fun to watch, with cars kicking up clouds of dust, powersliding, getting spattered with mud, and destroying trackside objects. Where else do you get to drive a 1987 Lancia ECV1? Cars and tracks are unlocked often enough to keep interest up, and the game is challenging enough to be rewarding. Sega Rally Revo is definitely arcade, but provides fun and exciting, absorbing portable racing.

Here is a different take on racing, with circuit racing in a variety of terrain, from country to desert to city, with shortcuts, destructible objects, and the ability to wreck opponents' cars. The racing reminds me of the PS1 game Nascar Rumble. Then add destruction derbies and stunt challenges to the mix, and you have a different kind of racing experience. The set of non-licensed cars resemble real cars, but is heavily skewed to Detroit iron, with mostly Mustang/Charger or Blazer/Bronco variants. Some limited upgrades for the cars are available. There are two main game modes, Career, where placing well in tournaments unlocks more sets of races; and Carnage, where scoring well in races/stunts earns Carnage points that unlock more races/stunts. An additional Single Race mode allows you to drive individual tracks/cars for practice, but doesn't earn any game money or Carnage points. The graphics are PS2 quality, with no pop-ups or jaggies, and no slowdown or chugging. The soundtrack is serviceable, the rock music is not memorable but not objectionable either. Flatout offers the unique feature of being able to launch your ragdoll physics driver through the windshield, and control him/her in the air, which is utilized in the stunt challenges to hit targets, try for height or distance, knock down bowling pins, etc. Flatout is a great portable game for brief entertainment while busy-waiting, or for extended play.

Racing is good, but in this game, crashing is better! You can create huge chain-reaction wrecks for points, or race to run your opponents off the course. Burnout from the consoles goes portable, with lots of modes and content. Race events include circuit races, elimination races, pursuits, and time trials. Crash events involve evading obstacles to reach the point that you can create the most havoc in traffic, with points for causing the most destruction. Road Rage races are about earning points by taking out your opponents, and combines destruction with conventional racing. The graphics are nice, with interesting scenery, shiny detailed non-licensed cars, and a great sense of speed. The sense of control is great, with consistent handling, and the rock soundtrack adds to the gameplay and can be edited. Five classes of cars are available, with events on three continents, North American, Europe, and Asia. Although Golden City has tuk-tuk taxis, the signs are in Chinese rather than Thai, so I'll guess it represents Hong Kong. There are lots and lots of achievements to collect. Burnout Legends is addictive, with a nice adrenaline rush! It's good for short bouts of gaming, but compelling enough for long gaming sessions. It's good all around, and game sharing with a friend is a blast! Just now I picked it up intending to quickly refresh my memory on a few points to finish this description, and I'm still playing two hours later. Did I say addictive? There you go!

Here is free roam street racing in Los Angeles, where you can race to unlock cars and more challenges, explore the city, take a trip to Tokyo, plus play an icon-collecting subgame. The courses are marked with checkpoint gates, requring you to split your attention between driving and watching the GPS map to stay on course. Traffic, smart-alec comments from your AI opponents, jumps, and shortcuts make it an engaging challenge. The variety of cars is good, while motorcycles offer a different perspective. Races are thrilling, with tough opponents. Judicious use of boost is necessary to be competitive, tbut also means that you are usually marginally out of control. Some races can be won the first time though, others will require multiple tries to learn the route and shortcuts. Trackside objects will stop you dead, and reversing to get back on the road often takes long enough to knock you out of the race. There are individual racers and clubs to defeat, open races to earn money, tournaments to earn cars, and missions to earn more money. There is a decent selection of licensed cars, Japanese, European, and American, in a number of categories, Tuner, Muscle, Luxury, Choppen, Exotic. This would be a great portable game for trips, very engrossing but requiring a lot of attention and time. Other than free roaming to look for landmarks and learn courses, it's not as good for busy-waiting because it's annoying to repeatedly interrupt a tense race series to answer the telephone, deal with customers at the desk, etc. (But I've done it.. and won, too!)

Here's another free roam racing game, with the entire island of Oahu to wander. Hundreds of challenges, exotic cars, and the lush environment all invite you to rack up the miles. There are time trials, circuit races, cross-country races, and speedtrap challenges. And there are cars, cars, and more cars. How about an eX'Driver Caterham? Would you like to drive a James Bond DB4? Or you could try out a Cannonball Run Lamborghini Countach? The selection for tuner fans is limited to Nissans, the Z and the Skyline. The ability to go offroad reminds me of the old Test Drive 3, although going offroad to avoid the police doesn't seem to reduce your wanted rating, they'll still be waiting when you return to the highways. The driving and opponent cars look nice, traffic cars are a bit blocky and generic, and scenery is decent and serviceable. Terrain varies from coastal highways, to rolling farmland, to cities, to mountain passes with hairpins and switchbacks. Freeways, two and four-lane highways, and city boulevards are represented, plus there is an airport racing circuit. Races are marked with checkpoint gates, like the Midnight Club games, and it's difficult to keep an eye on the GPS to avoid missing a checkpoint, while simultaneously avoiding traffic and gauging turn-in points. There are a limited number of upgrades for the cars. There are lots of things to do and see, this is another game that takes time and attention, suitable for extended playing sessions.

This is the real deal! Gran Turismo is back, on the small screen! It's missing the career mode of previous GT games, but it has a challenge series, a great number of tracks, and a huge selection of cars to collect. Favorite tracks from prevous GT games are back, including Corsa De La Ricardo Torma from Tourist Trophy, and the amazingly complex and scenic Citta Da Aria. The ability to drive my beloved MKII Supra is a plus even though the one in the game is not my P-type with the fender flares and roof-mounted wing, and there's no option to add a turbocharger. The lack of career mode makes this version of GT less compelling, races earn money but do not win bonus cars, so there is less motivation to learn all the tracks and complete all the races. Car dealerships rotate every two game days, with only four makes available at a time. Still, there are decisions to be made.. should I broadslide my Pajero around a dirt rally track just for fun, or should I grind some more on the test track with my 200+mph Nissan Option Z to earn money to buy a Formula One car? There are lots of choices! The challenge series is similar to the license tests in the other GT games, good for short activities while busy-waiting, while the variety of racetracks and the car collecting hold long-term interest. Replays are beautifully detailed and great fun to watch. Gran Turismo has beautiful graphics and great gameplay, it's a real winner!

Did you ever want to be in an action movie? Arctic Edge has DVD quality graphics, a pulse-pounding soundtrack, and nonstop action that will cramp your hands, boggle your mind, and have you coming back for more! Vehicles ranging from motorcycles to dump trucks, ice bridges, multiple paths with short-or-long cuts, giant jumps, perilous precipices, and gaping crevasses make Arctic Edge a unique experience. The PSP version has even more content than the PS2 version! You can play the icon-collecting minigame, customize your vehicles, choose an avatar that reflects your personality. and collect achievement badges. You can race until your jaw clenches and your hands turn into frozen claws, then relax by watching a replay and listening to the music. The complex and imaginative detailed tracks, the tough opponents, the experience of boosting until you're out of control, the great scenery, and the variety of challenge make this one hard to put down. There are strategic decisions like: should I choose a nimble buggy to race skilfully, or just bulldoze the competition with a giant Sno-Cat? There are tactical decisions like: which shortcut to choose, when to boost, and whether to pass here and chance getting rammed over the edge or wait for a clear opening? Placing well in circuit races, time trials, and checkpoint races, all earn points to unlock more races. I was watching a replay while busy-waiting at my desk, a friend peeked at the screen:and asked "Are you watching a movie?" Wow, that shows the level of sophistication. This is #1 for me on the PSP, and really shows what the little Sony can do!

Honorable mentions:

Midnight Club 3 Dub Edition: with more Midnight Club action in San Diego, Detroit, and Atlanta. You can jump off the flight deck of the USS Nimitz, too bad the catapults are not functional!

Need for Speed Carbon: has more free roam street racing, with a story.

WipeOut Pure is not as much fun as car racing, but differential airbrakes on the shoulder buttons allow you to slew your hoverracer in turns, adding a different game mechanic. Game sharing is fun, too!

There they are, my picks of racing games for the PSP. if you're a racer, you can't go wrong with any of these. Portable racing has come of age. The PSP is a vast improvement over any previous handheld system, and on a par with the PS2. Another big bonus is the ability to convert and play games from the PS1 library, like GT/GT2, Vanishing Point, Tokyo Highway Battle, Crash Team Racing, Need For Speed Hot Pursuit, Rollcage, etc., in addition to native PSP games. I'm still waiting for a port of the PS2 Tokyo Xtreme Drift 2, but until then, I'm happy with what I have.

List by dancer62 (11/19/2010)

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