Like playing with matches or going shark hunting with half a tuna in your hand, declaring something to be the best of its kind is a dangerous game.
Still, here goes: OutRun 2006: Coast to Coast is the best arcade racing you can currently play on PSP.
We can't see how anyone would realistically think otherwise. The entire racing genre is encapsulated when you speed towards the first corner in one of its 13 officially licensed Italian stallions (Ferraris, as opposed to your mum's Fiat), dab the brake while turning, and then catch the backend as it steps out with an effortless combination of steering and throttle, resulting in the most gloriously excessive powersliding in pocket gaming.
A little practice later and you're 'steering' the finest automotive output from Ferrari's home town of Maranello at 90 degrees to the road through traffic, stringing slides together so that on some of the expertly designed stages you could be going sideways for 30 seconds before having to straighten back up – that's longer than it's taken most people to read this far.
But before we drift any further, let's run through the game modes. An appropriate starting point are the arcade versions of OutRun2 and OutRun2 SP (an enhanced version, which adds slipstreaming, rival cars, new courses and a revised, friendlier collision system) that developer Sumo Digital has masterfully converted, making this one of the best looking PSP titles yet.
Select OutRun mode in either game and 15 vibrant, colourful stages arranged in branching fashion await, delivering a thrilling race against the clock through civilian traffic and on wonderfully sinuous, undulating tarmac. The stage structure ensures numerous routes through to five possible endings and, in traditional OutRun fashion, you alter the difficulty level on the go by simply choosing which way to continue when the road splits at the end of each stage – left for easy or right for hard.
Staying within the arcade conversions, you'll also find Heart Attack and Time Attack modes. While the latter is straightforward (you race a ghost car, which represents your fastest drive to date), the former is more intriguing, requiring you to speed through the stages but undertake mini-missions as you do. These range from overtaking other cars, hitting ghosts, and avoiding being beamed up by aliens. Your demanding minx of a passenger instructs you as to the task coming up, and then ranks you according to your performance and the number of 'hearts' you collect within each mission segment. You'd be surprised just how compelling pleasing her becomes.
You won't need to have studied Freud to understand the game's other modes; the fundamentals mentioned above underpin most of the UMD's content. Even the main addition, Coast to Coast, which splits the OutRun and Heart Attack modes into a substantial single- or multi-stage mission-based series of challenges, relies on elements enjoyed elsewhere.
Whatever you do earns you OutRun miles, which, as with any decent reward scheme, can be exchanged for goods. We're not talking travel irons and logo-plastered mugs though, but rather new cars – standard and tricked out versions of the F50, 360 Spider, F355 Spider, Superamerica, Testarossa, 288 GTO, 328 GTS, 250 GTO, 512 BB, F40, 550 Barchetta, F430, and Enzo, no less – as well as new music and colour schemes, and reversed versions of the stages (effectively doubling the number of tracks), all of which are available in the Showroom section.
So, OutRun 2006: Coast to Coast is gorgeously challenging, its handling system delicately balanced, and the game is both technically impressive (even loading times are reasonable) and intensely entertaining – not least when battling against up to five human players via the excellent infrastructure and ad hoc options.
Sure, nothing's perfect. At times the graphical overload results in a little judder in the display rate, and we've had a couple of frustrating instances when everything freezes for half a second. Some of the more visually intricate stages, while pretty, can be hard to navigate (though you soon learn the way) and regaining control after collisions with the scenery can be unnecessarily tricky. But by far our biggest gripe is being denied access to the 328 GTS and the highly desirable F430 – both cars have to be purchased on the PlayStation 2 version first.
But there's no risk of these quibbles spoiling your enjoyment. The only danger with OutRun 2006: Coast to Coast is that, by comparison, every other racing game may now feel bland.OutRun 2006: Coast to Coast: On sale from March 31st.