Review: Need for Speed Underground: Rivals (Sony PSP)

Genre: Racing
Platform: Sony Playstation Portable
Rating: T (Teen)
Publisher: EA
Release Date: 03/16/2005

I remember years ago playing the original Need for Speed on 3DO – it was unique and fun, but who could have predicted that the series become as big as it has. The latest incarnations of the series are the Underground games, putting “Fast and the Furious” type characters against one another in super fast colorful cars “tricked out” to the max. After 2 successful console outings, EA is bringing the series both to PSP and Nintendo DS this spring. The PSP version, Need for Speed: Rivals, launches with the PSP system in the US. With all of the racing titles launching with PSP, is there enough substance here to go with all the style?


I’m always skeptical of extensive storylines in racing titles, because if there is too much focus on a story or developing a story, the racing aspect might be undermined. Luckily the story in NFSR isn’t too overbearing, with the typical street racing characters and hot chicks along for the ride. EA got Brook Burns to be a celebrity character in the game, but she adds very little to the game outside of being hot. As you continue to win races and earn money, your prestige in the underground goes up. Nice.

Story Rating: 5/10


The Need for Speed Underground series on current gen consoles has been a large success, partially due to the impressive graphics. Although the extensive reflective effects on the console versions was sometimes distracting, the bright colors and flashy upgrades were crowd pleasers. The PSP version doesn’t disappoint in the graphics area. Everything has a sleak, stylish look that goes along well with the Underground theme. The car models are detailed and colorful, and there are tons of upgrades available. The game moves along at a smooth, consistent framerate, and gives a fantastic sense of speed, with a blur effect and some shaking that occurs at higher speeds.

Graphics Rating: 7.5/10


Music is one of the most striking parts of the early PSP titles, and Need for Speed is surely on the forefront. Utilizing the same “EA Trax” as seen on console games, there are about a dozen full length songs in stereo. The songs range from rock to rap to dance, and almost all of them do a good job of keeping the energy of the races up at all times. The sound effects featured in NFSU are pretty standard for a racing game, but the full stereo effect through the PSP headphones makes the effects stand out, and provide a real immersive experience.

Sound Rating: 9/10


If there was ever a perfect definition of an arcade racer, it would be Need for Speed Rivals. The game has very easy to learn controls, with a focus on speed and more speed. The game can be controlled with either the digital pad or the analog stick, but clearly the analog stick works better. Turning is no where close to realistic, as the cars can take pretty wicked turns are very high speeds. This plays well with the arcade atmosphere, but might be painful to simulation fans expecting Gran Turismo. Then again, if you bought this game, you should know you’re not getting Gran Turismo.

Control Rating: 8/10


NFSU2 went in a more ‘wide open’ direction than the first game, and many gamers were put off by having to search out races. Probably more because of technical limitations, EA scaled that aspect of the game way back, and the focus of the PSP title is mostly on racing. This works well with the ‘pick up and play’ mentality of a handheld gamer. There are also non-linear modes of gameplay such as Drag racing or Drift racing that add some added depth to the already pretty deep circuit mode.

Replay Rating: 8.5/10


Need for Speed Underground Rivals is a well balanced arcade racer. The game begins with slower cars and easier tracks, and there is ample time to learn the control scheme before things ramp up. The challenge never gets too hard, and there are many rewards for playing through the full game, with plenty to unlock. You never find yourself finding the game in unfair, and the computer AI errs on the side of too easy than too hard.

Balance Rating: 7.5/10


I had a discussion with my fellow IP Games staffers about how to rate originality for PSP games, and I’m still not totally sure of how to proceed. On one hand, you could argue that NFSR is one of the greatest portable racers of all time, but there is almost nothing to compare it to. It’s unfair to compare it with GBA racing games, because clearly it blows them away. Because there are so many racing titles launching with PSP, it will be tough for any of them to stand out. NFS has a unique style and look, but the gameplay is pretty straight forward, despite being fast and enjoyable. There is nothing particularly “new” here, but the experience of playing this type of game on a handheld is totally new.

Originality Rating: 6.5/10


The races in NFSU are fast and fun, and give the player a great sense of speed. As the game progresses, the cars get faster and the upgrades are more fantastical. I found myself unable to put down the game, even the Japanese import, as I continued to want to upgrade my car or buy new faster cars. There are about 20 cars, with tons of options each, so for a portable game, there is plenty to come back to.

Addictiveness Rating: 8/10


The Underground subseries of Need for Speed titles has been a huge success, revitalizing a series that’s seen dozens of iterations. This handheld version does little to add to the series, except for the fact it’s portable. That’s the appeal of this and many early PSP games – the novelty of seeing and playing a next generation 3D game on a widescreen glorious handheld.

Appeal Rating: 9/10


There is a novelty to these launch PSP titles that might artificially skew the scores upward. The experience of playing games with such highly rendered graphics to match console games on a handheld, with a huge screen, is a huge appeal, but will probably wear off within a few weeks. But for now, this game is one of most impressive titles at launch for PSP, and is a nice barometer for PSP fans to compare with DS fans, who will have their own NFSU version later in the spring. Also to note there is a WiFi multiplayer mode in this title, but it’s basically just a versus mode that allows PSP owners to race against one another.

Misc Rating: 7/10

Final Scores:

Story: 5/10
Graphics: 7.5/10
Sound: 9/10
Control: 8/10
Replayability: 8.5/10
Balance: 7.5/10
Originality: 6.5/10
Addictiveness: 8/10
Appeal: 9/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10

Overall Score: 76/100



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