Review: Also known as Street Fighter With Cars
For years, illegal street racing has existed on Tokyo highways, out of sight and mind of the general population. The same could be said for the game franchise that glorifies it, known as Tokyo Xtreme Racer. Since the original TXR appeared at the launch of the Sega Dreamcast (and to a lesser extent, its predecessor Tokyo Highway Battle on PS1), the series has maintained a healthy, cult following though it's never been granted rave reviews or much mainstream attention. The PSP is home to the newest installment of Genki's racing opus, though TXR fans might be forgiven if they didn't know it. Since Crave owns the Tokyo Xtreme Racer name, nobody else can use it, and because they decided not to pick up Shutokou Battle (the Japanese title) for a US release, Konami, the eventual localizers, had to use a different name. Thus, Street Supremacy was born. Street Supremacy takes the series in a different direction, with more team-oriented gameplay and the concept of stealing territory, but keeps the core the exact same. It'll never appeal to anyone but Tokyo Xtreme Racer fans, and there's some major troubles that might annoy even them, but Street Supremacy is a unique entry into the racing library of the PSP.
Street Supremacy's main single player option is Team Battle, which is a diversion from the solitary experience from the past (there's also basic time trial and vs. multiplayer setup, but no online play). You get to choose your team from about a dozen (all from TXR lore), and once in the team you have to rise the ranks by beating teammates. Beat the team leader and you gain leadership yourself, and that's when the game really begins. As leader, you can recruit drivers from other teams, and once you get enough of them you 'invade' their turf and participate in a 5 on 5 team battle. Lose and nothing really happens, but if you win, all the participants join your team, and your opponents only own one territory, they're forced to disband. On the other side, your mates can get stolen from you, and your own territory can be invaded if the morale drops enough. It ultimately becomes a surprisingly addictive game of cat and mouse strategy; attack rival territory but not at the expense of losing yours. It has the markings of a traditional turn-based strategy game, just with car racing at the forefront. It takes roughly 10 hours to beat your first time through as well, meaning there's plenty of meat ? and a 'new game plus' lets you keep your cash, your car, and your level...letting you rip up the circuit without paying any dues.
Though the emphasis is on building a team and conquering territory, the heart of Street Supremacy is still the unique one-on-one racing battles that Tokyo Xtreme Racer fanatics swear by. Functioning as a combination of RPG and fighting game styles, the goal is still to finish 'first' but not by crossing any sort of finish line, but instead by draining the 'spirit' of your opponent. Basically, the farther you get ahead from a rival, the faster his life bar depletes, and vice versa if you're the one behind. If you come into contact with bystanders and walls, life depletes as well. Because no other game has really tried to copy this, it all remains pretty fresh and unique. Even if you lose, you're given experience points, RPG style, that increase your driving skills combined with how powerful the vehicle is. That's why you could have perhaps a fully juiced Skyline but get smashed by a Civic; it might have more power but the guy driving the Civic is a higher level and simply a better driver. Both experience and credits ($) are given out depending on how big a victory you pull out ? some crazy algorithm that compares your level to the level of the defeated opponent. The higher the gap, the more experience and cash earned.
Usually in a Tokyo Xtreme Racer-styled game, you're set free into the highways of Tokyo, free to roam and find rivals or just drive around to take in the sights. However Street Supremacy lacks this; perhaps by design to give the team-based system a bit more focus, but still disappointing since that was one of TXR's selling points. In its stead is a 'monitor' that lets you scout opponents in every area of Tokyo and choose who to face. The important factor is the ability to check the level and car of opponents for better judging who to do battle with. It also keeps tabs on who you've defeated and who beat you. Finally, when you become the leader of your chosen team, it'll show loyalty to their team, so it's easy to pinpoint drivers to recruit. Naturally there's also a bunch of Wanderers who aren't affiliated with any team; they can be recruited but most have very specific requirements to join up, like driving safely and not crashing or winning in dominating fashion. A handy section of the main Team Battle menu gives you this information.
Though Street Supremacy stands out in the crowded racing scene on PSP, with addictive strategy elements, it has a major, major flaw that really kills it. Put simply, the controls are absolutely horrible. There's usually two extremes; either the cars are very sensitive and will spin out without a whole lot of pressure (such as the Supra), or they're impossible to turn and become magnets for walls, other cars, and the like because there's never any feeling of control (like the Skyline). Even as you upgrade and tune each of the 20 some-odd licensed cars, the improvement is minimal at best. However, it has an out in some instances. Because most of the races take place on straightaways with very little traffic, there's times when turning and maneuvering isn't needed. But on more twisty strips of road, it's an exercise in frustration. It's as if Genki realized they didn't have a handle on using the PSP controls, because this is probably the easiest TXR game of the entire series; it's easy to make a colossal mistake and still win. But this is a major, major nag and unless you can deal with it, Street Supremacy won't be fun. At all.
Buried behind the admittedly slick presentation and menu screens (far superior to anything seen before in this franchise) are uneven, first-generation visuals...not a real surprise since the game is over a year old now. Car models are nice, but unless you're actually racing as one, most are unidentifiable because of their designs. A major car buff might pick them out, but even the Gran Turismo generation might struggle. The stripping of the open city is another can of worms, but even worse, much of the life has been stripped. Rather than lots of unique traffic and lit buildings littering the environment, the night sky is almost completely black from all angles, and traffic is limited to just a few pedestrians and other rivals. It's like racing in the black hole. At least the frame rate is consistent and there's no annoying slowdown. The music consists of generic techno-pop stuff and most of it is drowned out while you race, instead putting emphasis on engine sounds and the squeal of the nitrous being used.