MotoGP on the PSP is almost the same game as on the home console - that’s Sony’s home console, and Namco Bandai’s MotoGP 4, not Microsoft’s home console and THQ’s MotoGP 2006, since the two are entirely different games that are totally unrelated to each other. Just to be clear.
So yeah, it’s almost the same game as on the home console, and it is in every sense, a very technical title. It’s a pretty impressive technical achievement for a start - one of the growing roster of games that show off exactly what Sony’s handheld hardware is capable of, boasting polished graphics, a decent framerate, competent (if insanely awful) audio, impressive handling, slick and licensed presentation and all that sort of stuff. And it rewards precise and technical riding.
As you’d expect, if you’re familiar with MotoGP 4, the chief draw is the roster of real-world riders, including Valentino Rossi, Marco Melandri, Nick Hayden, Troy Bayliss, Carlos Checa, Alex Barros and Shinya Nakano. In the Season mode you get to play as one of them for a one-off season, or you get to play as yourself over several seasons, trying to work your way up to ride for the higher-ranking teams. In addition to Season mode, there’s Time Trial and Arcade, which are both pretty self-explanatory, and, as an unlockable, One-on-one, which allows you to go head to head with one of those aforementioned real-world riders. And there’s the ad hoc multiplayer mode, which, like on the home console, is a bit hamstrung by the unlikelihood of finding eight friends with a copy of the game.
But MotoGP is not quite the same game as on the home console. There are fewer tracks, for a start, at just eight, including the likes of Jerez and Donington Park. Disappointingly for a game appearing on a handheld, portable platform, which might have benefited from some sort of bite-size offering outside the usual arcade quick-races, the challenges from MotoGP 4 have been dropped - to be replaced by ‘rewards’ for certain achievements over the normal course of play.
The most significant departure from the home console game, though, is that the handling model has been simplified for the PSP, so it’s no longer possible to differentiate between front or back brakes. To be fair, it’s not a massive drawback, except for those people who could name all 20 of the Moto GP 2005 riders who appear in the game. It’s just that those people who could name all 20 of the Moto GP 2005 riders who appear in the game are the people most likely to buy MotoGP on the PSP. Because anyone who isn’t into donning leather and caning it down to Brighton every other weekend will probably find the game punishingly hard.
Surprisingly, that isn’t the fault of the PSP’s erratic nipple, which actually works pretty well. Nor is it the fault of the Gran-Turismo-style processional AI: the game’s robot riders rarely deviate from the racing line to stitch you up. No, the game is tough simply because to win you need to stick, meticulously, to the racing line. Get the speed or your racing line just a tiny bit wrong and it’s difficult to recover. Even on the more forgiving arcade mode, take a corner even just a smidgeon too fast and you’ll hurtle off the track. Hurtle off the track in simulation mode and you won’t be racing any more.
It’s a shame there’s not a Gran Turismo-style, or indeed MotoGP 4-style riding school to take new riders through their paces - riding a bike is much more challenging than driving a car, and very different in terms of how to take bends and corners. There is a brake assist mode that basically does your braking for you, allowing beginners to concentrate on nothing other than the racing line (and even with the brake assist mode turned on, most beginners will still have a reasonably tough time). But it’s hardly a satisfactory solution. It’s also a shame you can’t upgrade your bike over the course of a season, and that the customisation options are so limited.
Nevertheless, it’s still a very precise, slick, and technically impressive game. It just lacks a crucial spark. It’s not quite the same game as on the home console, but its biggest failing is one that it shares with the home console version. As Kristan’s review said last year: 'Good intentions or not, MotoGP's for the hardcore. Again.'