Destruction Derby stands out as a rare example in the current lineup of PSone racers: it's fun. While it certainly isn't the most refined experience on the handheld, it packs in a great deal of destructive fun that works well in quick, short bursts.
The basic premise of the game is simple: for the most part, you're trying to make it to the finish line first. However, the "Destruction Derby" mode is what makes the game truly interesting. While you're still vying for first place, you're also trying to cause as much chaos on the road as possible. You'll score points based on race ranking, and for the number of spins, spills and crashes you can create. In fact, the crashes are actually weighted far more heavily than the racing element, meaning a first place victory is certainly not a requirement: cause enough destruction, and you'll find yourself ranking highly on the leaderboards easily enough.
Such a simple premise translates very well to the portable. And although the game is nearly 12 years old, the graphics have aged quite well. The number of cars on screen is impressive, and the game's framerate moves without a hitch. One of the more satisfying elements of the game has to be the fantastic car damage system: your car, and the dozens of competitors you face, will become mangled as the furious races continue. Debris will splatter everywhere as cars pile up in the inevitable crashes that occur. Your car can sustain a fair amount of damage, but it can become quite a challenge to survive the ten laps that the game pushes you through. You'll notice that a serious spill can tremendously impact your ability to control your vehicle: while it'll certainly make finishing very difficult, it's a nice touch that really gives you a great feeling of how devastating these races can be.
The level design in the game is quite simplistic. However, the best tracks in the game offer intersecting points, where the best crashes in the game will occur. It's incredibly fun to smash into a car, see it spin off, and crash into other cars. You'll see your opponents struggling to drive around the collision, only to become part of it themselves. The pure chaos and mayhem make being part of a crash fun itself: even though it's to a player's detriment.
The crashes are so satisfying, and the AI feels really natural. You won't find any rubber-banding here. You won't find pre-determined tracks, either. The number of opponents, and their ability to respond to the varying situations certainly makes the game feel much more modern than it actually is. When enemies are trying to spin you out, you can't help but forget that this game really was made more than a decade ago.
It's true that the game is awkward at first, especially with the loose controls, and unique camera perspective. The controls may not seem as tight at first, but over time, you'll quickly see that the cars are actually quite maneuverable, as long as you carefully put your finger off the accelerator once in a while. The default camera may seem too far away at first, but try avoiding the urge to change it (using the analog stick). The closer perspective provides a much more traditional view of the race, and gives a greater sensation of speed, but it can actually make the gameplay much more difficult. Having the far view allows you to see further down the road, allowing you to anticipate opponent car movements.
Destruction Derby truly shines on the PSP, and it deserves to be a permanent part of your Memory Stick collection of games. At only 65MB, it will fit on most Memory Sticks, and barely make a dent in the larger ones. One aspect that any portable gamer will surely appreciate is the ability to save after any race. You can quickly start a game from the XMB, play a race, save, and quit at your leisure. As such, Destruction Derby becomes one of those games you can play any time: either after playing a different game, or after you've watched a few videos. The gameplay is so quickly accessible, and so intensely fun, that you certainly won't regret it.
At $6, Destruction Derby is a decent value, especially as a game that you can always keep with you. However, some many be disappointed by the overall lack of tracks and vehicles. What the game lacks in content, though, it makes up for through some simple, satisfying gameplay.
PSP Fanboy Retro Review: 7.5
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[Images via IGN]