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Need for Speed Underground Rivals

Reviewed May 2005 by Tony Peak

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: March, 2005
ESRB Rating: "E" for Everyone
Genre: Sports/Racing
Price: $49.99

EA's Need for Speed series has been burning up the streets since back in '95, and meeting with quite a bit of success along the way. With hits like High Stakes and Hot Pursuit, odds are you've played at least one Need for Speed over the years. Recently the series turned a new chapter and unleashed its arguably best version, Need for Speed Underground. Underground took the title exactly where the name suggested, focusing on illegal street races through cities filled with traffic under the cover of night. Aside from the gorgeous visuals and amazing soundtrack, its largest pull was the ability to customize your ride in a huge amount of ways. Endlessly tweaking out your ride made victory that much sweeter, and innovative game modes kept things fresh.

Now with Need for Speed Underground Rivals for the PSP, it's time to see just how much of that underground feel survives the transition and what gets left behind. The bad news is that the cut scenes and storyline between races are completely gone, so Underground Rivals plays more like an arcade racer this time around. The good news, however, is that the customizable real world cars are very much intact, and so are the gameplay modes and signature soundtrack style. While it's been streamlined for handheld play in a few areas, Rivals still retains that great Need for Speed Underground feel.


Rivals plays much like your standard street racer, but with a few nice tricks that have made the Underground series one of the definitive underground racing titles. All of the ten tracks are during the night on city streets, all 20 of the cars are real world licensed vehicles, and every vehicle can be completely customized and upgraded. From rims to spoilers, vinyl to neon, it's all there. Under the hood you'll be upgrading just about everything, including nitrous, engine, brakes, tires, controls, you name it. All of these performance upgrades then filter down into 3 main categories, speed, acceleration, and handling.

You'll earn your cash, unlock higher performance parts, new visual upgrades, and new cars to buy by competing in the game's several race types. The meat of the game is in the circuit race mode, where you'll compete in circuit races, lap knockout races, and rally relay races over novice, pro, master, and car specific classes. Each race class is further filtered down into several individual races, all which have bronze, silver, and gold levels to compete in for higher rewards. You'll need to use the money you win to upgrade your car in order to be able to compete in the later races.

At any time, you can switch and select from some "quick play" races that include street cross, drift attack, nitrous run, and drag racing. The main difference between the circuit racing and the quick play battles are that the quick play races play almost like mini games you could say, while circuit types are more traditional street racing. For example, Street cross tracks are small, tight turn tracks while drift racing is all about hitting drift zones in a small time limit. Drag racing is straight on "straight forward" dashes that depend on good upgrades and shifting perfectly, while nitrous run gives you a ton of n20 to play with and time gates on the standard tracks.

To add more depth to the gameplay. Underground provides multiplayer modes. You can engage in two-player head-to-head battles over WiFi or challenge up to four rivals on one PSP system device in Party Play.


While Rivals has been toned down slightly from the console versions in terms of graphics, it's been thankfully tweaked specifically for the PSP in many key areas. Traffic is easier to identify and avoid from a distance thanks to bright colors, while large, easy to spot arrows and warning markers on the street point out sharp turns. And although there are still plenty of street obstacles as there should be, annoying little things I used to get snagged on have been done away with while keeping the same street racing feel. You'll still be racing through traffic filled intersections, down tunnels, over ramps, and etc.

It's pretty much the same deal with the cars. Although they're a few less polys overall, they're still highly customizable in nearly every way. Add a street car body, change the headlight style, tint the windows, add neon, put on a rear spoiler, paint the body any way you wish… it's all there. There's no shortage of customizations, and they all look great and have real effect on your car. Your tweaked out ride by the end will look nothing like the stock car you purchased in the beginning, and you'll have tweaked it part by part along the way. Car buffs will simply love it.


Personally, one of my favorite aspects of Need for Speed Underground was the soundtrack. Thankfully, Rivals keeps that same level of quality even though the genre has changed slightly. While Underground focused rap, hip-hop and a bit of rock, Rivals reverses this a bit has more of a punk rock flavor to it, with a bit of rap and hip-hop. Regardless, the soundtrack works extremely well and captures the underground racing feel of the game perfectly. With over 33 tracks, there's plenty of variety even if you dislike a few tracks.

I liked the entire soundtrack. Many big names make the soundtrack list, including Queens of the Stone Age, Mudvayne, My Chemical Romance, Spiderbait, and more. Music videos by Soulwax and The Donots are even included. While this isn't the type of music I typically buy on CD or listen to at home, it is the type I enjoy in a game like this.


Part of what makes Rivals work so well on the handheld is that it's almost completely non-linear. You can play almost any quick battle or circuit race in almost any order you feel like, and jump between them at will, provided you have the minimum requirements. (e.g. Rally race needs at least 2 cars.)

At the same time, this does work against it just a little bit. If you focus too much on one style for example, you can easily make the rest too easy. It's sometimes difficult to know if you should be playing the next race, or if you should be trying to get the silver or gold metal, or etc. While the answer is probably 'any order you want', you can again come back to the problem of making the races a little too easy. In the end the non-linear style does the game far more good than harm though, and keeps things fresh.

Rivals does unfortunately have a few rough edges, but probably nothing the casual gamer will be too concerned with or even notice. There are a few shortcut areas that can stutter the frame rate just briefly, I've had a few sound glitches like static in the music or missing engine sounds, and I even once fell right through the road when hitting a corner just right. Thankfully, I was automatically reset to the street. The AI pathfinding sometimes has trouble and gets stuck for a lap if you push it down a shortcut or crash it just right, in a few instances. I don't want to give the impression the game is buggy, because it's absolutely not… but there are a few, small, leftover issues.

There are a lot of great racers for the PSP, but if you're a fan of traffic filled street racing and car upgrading / customizing, you should add Need for Speed Underground Rivals to your collection right away. It has the length, the style, and the gameplay to be well worth your time and money.

Screen Shots:

Need for Speed Underground Rivals

screen shot

the garage


Deals and Shopping





Playing Hints and Tips

- Don't be afraid to fight dirty. Crash your opponents into walls, dividers, railings, whatever is handy. If someone is coming up behind you, watch for the glow of their headlights and head them off. Pushing them into a center divider is incredibly satisfying.

- Save your nitrous for when you need it, which is usually when you need to catch up or quickly pull ahead in the final laps. Make sure there aren't any turns coming up that will just slow you down again. Use your map.

- Drifting is a bit difficult at first, until you get the more powerful machines later in the game. To drift, turn hard and tap the ebrake. Keep in mind this effect is much less pronounced than games like Ridge Racer.

- If you're having trouble with a race, try some other modes for extra cash. If you can't upgrade your car any further at the moment, you may be able to unlock a faster car, new upgrades, or practice your skills.

- Most tracks have good shortcuts, so watch for them! Be careful though, sometimes taking an alternate path can be dangerous and slow you down. Learn what paths work best for you.

- Play some drift mode and nitrous mode to get the hang of drifting and nitrous controls. Street cross will help your cornering, and drag racing is great practice if you use manual shifting.


Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):


There're a few glitches here and there, maybe a little bit of pixilation sometimes, and just a slight bit of slowdown on certain paths… but all in all Need for Speed looks amazing. The buildings, trees, and paths have great detail, and your car has all the detail needed to let you customize it to your heart's content.


33 licensed tracks, including 2 music videos, and no annoying announcer anywhere in sight. This is the type of soundtrack I like to see, even if it's not the type of music I'd normally buy. It fits the theme of the game, it's great to listen to, and you really feel the bands and songs were chosen for the feel game and not just randomly from a list of available content.

Fun Meter

Rivals does quite well on the handheld thanks to the non-linear style. If you only have a few minutes, it's plenty of time for a drift attack, nitrous run, or drag race. If you're getting tired of the circuit races, you can always switch to a rally relay or street cross to mix it up a bit. Tweaking out your cars is a ton of fun.


There's a lot of depth, both in customization and in amount of gameplay. There's a handy stat page to track your in seat time, amount complete, people you "own" wirelessly, and folks you've been owned by. There're awards to win, bosses to beat, and of course a ton of tweaking options. It's not quite as in depth as the console's version, but you'll still be playing for hours upon hours just to complete it once.

Total Score= 4.5 Dragons, 90%

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