The MotoGP racing franchise from Namco Bandai Games has remained exclusive to the PlayStation 2 since its 2000 debut, but now the series is racing on the PlayStation Portable. MotoGP for the PSP offers a competent mix of arcade- and sim-style racing with fully licensed riders and motorcycles. However, the short track list, somewhat lacking season mode, and lifeless artificial intelligence leave MotoGP thin on content.
MotoGP for the PSP contains all the riders from the 2005 MotoGP season, so you can race as or try to defeat riders like Valentino Rossi from Italy, Sete Gibernau from Spain, Makoto Tamada from Japan, and many more. The two main modes in MotoGP are arcade and season. In arcade mode, you can participate in a single race against 20 real-world riders on any of the eight licensed tracks in the game.
Season mode is a more robust and involved racing experience, but it still feels shallow. There are two separate modes that let you either race a single season as one of the real-world MotoGP riders or choose a generic rider to race in a succession of seasons. You'll earn points that depend on how you place in each season race, and these determine your overall ranking at the end of each eight-race season. If you're playing with a generic rider, you'll be offered or declined contract renewals with your team based on how you place at the end of each season, and you can then continue on to the next season with a new team or stay with your old team. If you're racing as one of the licensed MotoGP riders, there's no continuation between seasons. The season progression is an interesting idea, but the implementation is lacking because there's no sense of achievement whether you race a single season or five in a row. You can sign with better or worse teams depending on how you perform, but there isn't any sort of tangible difference in performance between teams.
Whether you're racing in season or arcade mode, there are a variety of settings you can adjust to customize the experience. You can choose from three difficulty settings, adjust the number of laps, and choose between arcade mode and sim mode. In arcade mode, the handling of the motorcycles is forgiving, and unless you hit another rider or a wall at full speed, you don't have to worry about crashing. Sim mode is quite the opposite, and the handling on the bikes is so slippery that you can easily dump your bike on a turn if you're too heavy on the throttle. In sim mode, you can powerslide around corners, which is a technique that, if used properly, can shave seconds off your lap time. However, it's very easy to oversteer when going into a powerslide because the handling is so loose that it barely feels like your bike is making contact with the pavement. In sim mode, if you leave the track at all, you'll wreck; whereas in arcade mode, you can take a corner wide into the grass or sand without being slowed down too much. In addition to arcade and sim mode, you can turn on a brake assist, which automatically reduces your speed in corners. It definitely makes the game less technically demanding, but when it comes down to it, the determining factor of most races isn't the judicious use of gas and brake; rather, it's the line that you take through each turn.
In addition to the different racing settings, you can adjust the characteristics of your bike to suit your riding style. You can trade top speed for faster acceleration, stability for handling, and so on. There are four categories to adjust, and although some of them do make a noticeable difference in the way your bike handles, it's usually not enough to influence the outcome of a race.
MotoGP does offer a respectable challenge on the normal and hard difficulty modes, regardless of whether you're using the arcade or sim settings. The artificial intelligence in the game is very rigid, and in a single-player race, you'll never see one of the other riders leave his line or make even a slight mistake. The only difference between the good riders and bad ones is that the bad riders seem to intentionally ride slower, despite that they follow the exact same line as all of the other riders. The result is a race that isn't terribly exciting or dynamic but still offers a challenge in a technical sense, since you're essentially racing to beat the clock rather than another rider.
You can find a more exciting racing experience by linking up with some friends for ad hoc racing against up to seven other players. The only problem is that each person must have a copy of the game, so to have a full eight-player race, you'll have to round up eight people and probably visit at least a couple stores to pick up as many copies of the game. You can adjust the number of laps and set a handicap to let newcomers more easily catch up to experienced players. However, you can still only race a single race at a time, and there's no option to set up tournaments or season races. Online play would have been a welcome addition, but it's difficult to expect at this point because it hasn't even appeared in the PlayStation 2 MotoGP series until this year, and online racing still isn't standard on the PSP.
All of the tracks, bikes, and riders in MotoGP look detailed and authentic. The track selection is limited to European circuits such as Jerez, Mugello, Donington Park, and Brno. Although it would be nice to have more variety in the courses, the ones that are in the game look great, with each hairpin and chicane accurately modeled after its real-world counterpart. There are four different preset viewpoints, each offering a good sense of speed. The replays that run after each race are equally impressive to watch, and they can be saved to your memory card for later viewing. The frame rate does occasionally drop noticeably when you take a big turn or when you're riding in a pack of 10 or more riders, but for the most part, the game runs smoothly on the PSP. The load times are also manageable, and it only takes about 15 seconds to load each race. The audio is well done, and although the predominant sound effect is that of your bike's engine, it sounds appropriately loud and high pitched. The soundtrack is comprised of generic electronic loops that play softly in the background.
MotoGP is a good racing game that will leave you wanting more. Unfortunately, the reason you'll want more is because the relatively few tracks and static artificial intelligence will have you feeling like you're riding the same race over and over again. However, if you're just looking for some two-wheeled racing with the MotoGP license, then you'll be satisfied with the challenge and adaptability of MotoGP on the PSP.