Surf's Up on the PSP is a basically fun variant on the kart racer formula, but the restrictive trick system and lack of online options means you'll be done with it quickly.
- Solid racer that feels like a cross between Wave Race and Mario Kart
- tagging opponents with weapons is satisfying.
- You'll breeze through the championship mode in two hours
- you have little control over what tricks your character perform
- multiplayer is nice and all, but the lack of online play is puzzling.
Loosely based on the movie of the same name, Surf's Up for the Sony PSP is a racing game in which all of the participants are penguins riding atop surfboards. The general idea is that you're supposed to complete laps around a course full of obstacles, turbo pads, and jump ramps. Then, hopefully you'll end up in first place, thanks to some help from the weapon boxes scattered around the track and your own arsenal of trick moves. Although you don't have much control over the tricks you perform, the racing is usually riotous and the attractive 3D graphics generally put the system's horsepower to good use. Just don't expect to get more than an afternoon or two out of the game before you're finished with it.
In the game, you complete laps around courses situated on ocean or river environments. The 3D graphics don't exactly stress the PSP, but the undulating water and various island locales do look nice. The frame rate also remains silky smooth, even when waves are crashing down and the characters are performing somersaults in midair. Characters bounce around constantly as their boogie boards pass over waves. That, combined with the splashy landings, gives Surf's Up the same sort of look and feel as Wave Race or Jet Moto. The sound effects mainly consist of generic splashing noises and brief character comments. The soundtrack is loaded down with songs from artists, such as Simple Plan and Silverbullit, but if you don't like the music that comes with the game, you have the option of making a playlist using your own MP3 files by placing them into the game's folder on the memory stick.
Every course offers multiple shortcuts, and you'll get plenty of chances to boost, grind, or splash down from lofty heights during each lap. Passing over boost arrows or performing tricks as you launch off of jump ramps will increase your speed, whereas running into rocks, trees, and other obstacles will slow you down. You and your opponents can also make use of six different gnarly weapons to hinder each other. They're the usual assortment of turbos, shields, rockets, homing missiles, floating mines, and blinding muck every game like this has, except that they all look like fish species that penguins might encounter out on the open sea. Weapon boxes are plentiful on every course, which the CPU uses liberally, so each race offers an energetic mix of high-flying lead changes and gut-wrenching wipeouts. The CPU also seems to be able to put up a good challenge without resorting to rubber-band tactics. On the whole, the design is solid even though there's nothing here that hasn't already been done in similar games.
Unfortunately, tricks don't add much to the experience apart from the resulting speed boost. Whenever you catch some air off a ramp or waterspout, the game randomly picks a sequence of tricks and tells you which buttons to push to perform the sequence. Watching a penguin do a backspin on a surfboard is laugh-out-loud funny, but not being able to put together your own combinations is totally bogus. Incredibly, the PSP version of the game is the only one with such a dumbed-down trick system. The versions available for the PC, other consoles, and the Nintendo DS all let players perform different tricks, as well as chain them together into custom sequences.
Races are still loads of fun despite not being able to control your character's acrobatics. The real question is how much play time you'll actually get out of the game before you're done with it. The single-player championship mode consists of five meets that contain four courses each, for a grand total of 20 races. A three-lap race typically takes roughly five minutes to finish, which means you'll only need about two hours to finish all 20 courses and earn the championship. Going through the championship unlocks courses for use in the free surf mode, as well as additional characters that you can use in all play modes. The free surf mode is nothing special; it simply contains one-off races, time attacks, and survival races using the standard courses. The multiplayer mode offers different options depending on whether or not your friends have their own copies of the game. As many as eight people can compete in races and in Mario Kart-style arena matches if everyone has a copy. However, if there's only a single copy to go around, you'll be limited to two players and have half as many locations from which to choose. You'll also need to wait 30 seconds between each event to beam the course to your opponent. Competing against friends is a riot, especially in the arena. The multiplayer isn't compelling enough to compensate for the sparse single-player offerings, but if you can find some people to play with, you will definitely get a few extra hours out of the game.
Overall, Surf's Up for the PSP is an amusing racer that unfortunately doesn't offer much in the way of content. If you're a rabid fan of the movie, you'll appreciate the way the characters are portrayed and enjoy speeding through races with them. Of course, considering how many racing games are already available for the PSP, most people will probably feel cheated paying a rental fee or spending $40 for a game that offers half the number of courses and play modes that these sorts of games typically do.