A few months after the release of the console version, Grid comes to the DS with the same mix of simulation and arcade driving that made the original so fun. Fans of the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions will notice that some features, such as rewinding time, have been cut, but replacement features, such as the track creator, make up for it. That's because Grid does everything a handheld port of a console game should do. Instead of trying to force the DS to do things it isn't capable of, developer Codemasters uses the system's strengths to deliver a game that resembles the console iteration, but feels like a fresh experience of its own.
Much like in the console version, you'll spend your time in Grid hopping around the globe completing races and events in an effort to increase your reputation and become the best driver in the world. You build your reputation by earning medals. Each event offers three medals, though you only need one to move on. Events include a wide variety of activities: races, braking tests, steering and drift challenges, time trials, survival races, blueprint challenges, and more. Winning medals unlocks more events, cars, part upgrades, and track pieces. The CPU drivers start out easy but gradually get tougher as you move on, making it increasingly difficult to snag three medals from every event. The steady stream of unlockables and plethora of events will keep you busy for hours.
The driving in Grid smoothly blends arcade and simulation racing. From bulky American muscle cars to sporty Japanese coupes, Grid offers a nice variety of licensed vehicles to drive, each of them handling a bit differently. The cars don't drive with as much realism as pure simulation racers do, but the damage system requires you to drive with more precision than the average arcade racer. Cautious breaking and smooth drifting are the keys to success in Grid.
Despite the chunks of metal that flake off your car when you hit a wall, cosmetic damage isn't something you have to worry about. It's the inside of your car that you'll need to keep an eye on. Icons representing different parts of your car sit on the bottom screen and change from yellow to red depending on the level of damage. Mess up your steering and your car might pull to one side; damage your engine and you'll lose top speed. Rough up your car too much and you might just be taken out of the race. You can stop in the pit to repair your damage, but it takes up so much time that you're better off just learning to drive carefully. Fortunately, as you progress through the game you'll earn various upgrades for your car that make precise driving a little easier.
Upgrades aren't the only thing you'll earn. Successfully beating events will also earn you new track pieces and scenery for the track creator, which is worked into the single-player game in the form of blueprint challenges. In a blueprint challenge, you are given a budget and a checklist of track features, and set loose in the robust track creator. These challenges are never particularly hard, but they do a great job of showing you how to create dynamic tracks. Using the stylus, you simply draw the track out and then add in any special turns, track pieces, or scenery. You can add subtle slopes or sharp inclines, choose the time of day and overall color shade of your track, and even add custom billboards and advertisements. The best part is that after completing your track of terror, you can share it with friends online. Grid already has an impressive number of licensed tracks, so even if you don't take advantage of the superb track creator, you'll still have plenty of challenging courses to keep you busy.
In addition to online track sharing, Grid also offers a number of multiplayer options, in single-card, multicard, and online varieties. Most of the single-player events are also available in multiplayer. You can race with up to three other people, and after doing so you can add them to your friends or rivals list, making the whole friend code thing less of a hassle.
Visually, Grid pushes the DS to its limits. The cars sport plenty of detail, cutting down on the pixelated, muddy textures that plague so many 3D DS games. Your car won't show any cosmetic damage, but if you smash it up enough it will start smoking. The tracks are smartly designed, and the ever-present minimap on the lower screen means you'll always see a turn coming. Backgrounds aren't groundbreaking, but all of the tracks have just enough detail and landmarks to feel unique. You'll race across the hills of San Francisco, the neon lights of Tokyo, the claustrophobic streets of Milan, and more. The only visual hiccups come in the form of a few frame rate hitches, and strange swiveling animations of the CPU cars when you touch them. Like the visuals, the sounds are as about as good as the DS will allow. Roaring engines and screeching tires make up the bulk of the sound effects, while thumping techno music plays in the background.
The single-player game takes six to eight hours to complete, depending on how hard you chase after the medals. The track creator extends the replay value exponentially, giving you plenty to do after you've had your fun with the licensed tracks of the single-player game. With tons of variety, great multiplayer, and hours of replay value, Grid is a handheld port worthy of any racing fan's time.