SBK Superbike World Championship for the PSP tries to be everything to everyone: an accessible arcade racer for those looking for some pick-up-and-play fun and a technical simulation of motorcycle racing for those seeking a deeper, more challenging experience. Unfortunately, it's not accessible or exciting enough to work as the former and not deep or rewarding enough to work as the latter. The result is a game that falls well short of delivering what anyone may be looking for.
SBK offers two general realism settings, arcade and simulation, and your experience on the track will vary significantly depending on which you select. You can also create a custom setting by toggling the 16 individual settings on or off to your liking. These settings include whether or not you must manually shift your rider's weight, whether your bike can get damaged or your rider can be injured, whether the front and rear brakes are controlled jointly or independently of each other, and many others. However, even if you set the handling model to arcade, SBK is not really an arcade-style racer. Maintaining a smart racing line and properly braking before turns are a must, and since even the slightest contact with another racer can send you flying from your bike, maneuvering past your opponents and making your way up through the ranks takes patience. There's no tutorial or training mode here, so the only way to get familiar with the handling is to jump right into the action. You'll likely go speeding off the track or careening into your opponents time and time again before you start to feel comfortable. Unfortunately, even when the skills necessary to win start to sink in, there's no thrilling sense of speed, no breathless action. The racing feels too slow and methodical to work as anything resembling an arcade racer.
The simulation racing model is a great deal more difficult, and while the lack of a tutorial is a detriment when arcade handling is selected, it's inexcusable here. Unless you come to the game already familiar with the physics of motorcycle racing, it's very difficult to get a sense of just how to handle the bike out on the track--when to lean your rider's weight forward or back, when to use both brakes or to use just the front or the rear--and while it's somewhat challenging to get to grips with the handling in the arcade mode, the learning curve for simulation racing is downright brutal. The game offers nary a clue or insight into any of this, leaving you to figure it out on your own. Just staying on your bike is hard. Being competitive, even against the easiest AI opponents, requires precision, and climbing the ridiculously steep learning curve to be competitive in SBK's simulation racing just isn't worth the effort. Realistic physics in and of themselves do not make for a fun racing game, and the sights, sounds, and gameplay fail to capture the excitement of the sport. SBK also lacks the depth of bike customization that gearheads may be hoping for. You have just seven areas in which you can make adjustments to your bike: the two tires, the stiffness of the front and rear suspensions, the turning speed of the handlebar, the gear ratio, and the ballast. In an era when many simulation racers offer layer upon layer of customization, the option to make a few adjustments with sliders just doesn't cut it.
There are several modes, including a few that faithfully re-create actual SBK race events. You can jump straight into a race or time trial on any of the game's 11 real-life tracks, or, for a more authentic SBK experience, you can participate in a race weekend or a full-scale championship. Each race weekend consists of an hour-long period of free practice on the track, followed by two hour-long qualifying practices, then another hour of free practice, and then two races. You can play all of this in real time or skip through it as you please, and you can opt to make the races full-length (around 20 laps, depending on the track) or to shorten them to as few as a single lap. The championship takes you through an entire SBK season, consisting of a race weekend for each of the 12 tracks. Regardless of the mode you're playing, there are just six actual SBK teams to choose from, and the actual riders from each of those teams are on hand, including stars like Troy Bayliss and Troy Corser, though many riders need to be unlocked before you can select them. There's no option to create your own rider or customize the look of your rider or bike, though. There's also an ad-hoc multiplayer option for up to four players, but even with friends, the racing just feels dull. Even if you manage to gather some friends together, with just four competitors on these huge tracks, the races feel more empty than exciting.
Visually, SBK is a bit of a disappointment. The bikes and riders are nicely detailed, but this makes them seem out of place in the game's basic environments. Though the frame rate is solid, the sense of speed isn't convincing as a result of the visually simple tracks. Flat trees, simple buildings, cardboard cutout people in the audience, and just a general sparseness of environmental features make the track, and the world beyond it, feel lifeless and empty. The sound is also lackluster. Everything, from the roar of the engines to the squeal of rubber on the track, sounds flat and muted.
SBK is an unfriendly game. It seems to assume that you come to it with a high level of familiarity and comfort with realistic motorcycle racing, and if you don't, it punishes you again and again until you start to learn. Unfortunately, even if you have the patience for this kind of treatment, the rewards aren't worth it. The racing physics are certainly realistic, but the on-track action is too bland to get your adrenaline racing, and there aren't enough customization options to make tuning your bike engaging. No matter what you want in a racer for your PSP, there's a better game out there.