Just One More Try
Directing your rocket flow into a wall will make you go faster as the thrust pushes you away from the surface; the game calls this grinding, and it is a core mechanic. The gain in speed from this maneuver is so great that it is generally faster to grind around the outside of a turn, as opposed to cutting across the inside, so forget everything you know about picking the right driving line and master the art of the grind.
The primary mode on offer is the Campaign, which is a long series of short challenge events. A few of these are simple races against computer-controlled opponents, though these opponents are intangible ghosts, so it always feels more like a race against the clock rather than a real head-to-head competition, as their actions cannot impact your driving. It is nice to have these ghosts around though, because watching their movements can give you an idea of how you should be approaching the track. Other events focus on things like grinding a certain amount in total, grinding a certain amount all in one continuous action, or navigating checkpoints. To further complicate things, there can be areas on the track that influence your ship's handling.
Outside of the campaign, you can set up one-off Grand Prix tournaments, participate in single races, or compete with friends in a little multiplayer action. The multiplayer is solely of the pass-and-play variety (or "hotseat," as ancient peoples called it in the bygone era of the personal computer) for four players, so there is no simultaneous online or local racing to be had. The hotseat multiplayer works well with the kind of challenge that Rocket Racing offers though, which is all about refining that perfect little run. It plays out a bit like a game of H-O-R-S-E, where the goal is to continually one-up each other until someone blows it a certain amount of times.
Rocket Racing is a PlayStation Mini, so it isn't going to push the PSP hardware to the limit, but it is pleasing to look at, with a slick artwork style and smooth motion. You can play it on the PlayStation 3 as well, but it doesn't look so hot on a high definition television. That just seems to be a limitation of the minis format though, so we won't hold it against Halfbrick. The music is soothing for a racing game, which works because of the zen-like state that the various challenges demand.
Make no mistake, Rocket Racing is hard. It can even be infuriating at times, though usually that just means it's time to put it down for a little while and come back with a fresh brain. In order to enjoy Rocket Racing, you must be the type of gamer who doesn't mind a little trial and error; it demands a degree of compulsive perfectionism. If, when playing a normal racing game, you find yourself restarting races early and often because you don't like the way you came out of the first turn, then you will be right at home here, because that is how you are intended to play. If, on the other hand, you absolutely hate having to start over, then Rocket Racing may raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels.