When we see a game come across our desks with little to no fanfare, it's usually a sign that it's meant to be buried and forgotten. So, when a jet racing game called M.A.C.H: Modified Air Combat Heroes suddenly appeared in our PSP, we were rightfully skeptical. Imagine our surprise when the game's mixture of Burnout-style speed and WipEout -caliber sleekness fused into a totally playable, PSP-exclusive title.
M.A.C.H. tries to be two different games at once - a balls-out racer and a free-roaming dogfight tourney. The races pit you against rival pilots, as you'd expect. Finishing high on the list gives you money and increases your overall standing in the circuit, and once you're done with that set of courses, you're free to upgrade your jet with new engines, wings, guns or cockpits. All in all, there's a fair amount of customization, but the best equipment is super pricey and if you're good enough you can fly just as well with a moderately powered-up jet. Racing through the same courses again and again for moderate cash bonuses gets old fast, even if the speed, weapons and tracks are solid.
Dogfighting ditches the constraints of a track and lets you and your rivals roam free. Here you're nabbing power-ups and fragging as many of the other pilots as possible - essentially, it's a deathmatch to break up the racing. The main twist to M.A.C.H. is its energy gauge on the bottom of the screen - the more you fly low, the more it charges up. You can either use it for a speed boost or, more tactically, to avoid incoming missiles that are about to shatter your aircraft. Deciding when to boost and when to save the charge is the only real bit of strategy to the game, but it's a simple, executable trick that makes the action intense and rewarding.
It's not like M.A.C.H. is going to set the world on fire. We're not saying that. But for a game that's pretty much gonna fly right into bargain bins due to zip awareness, it's a shockingly tight package. Multiplayer modes require multiple copies, which might be a bit too much at $40, but if you hang tight, there's a good chance it'll drop soon enough. But if you're already a fan of screaming-fast jets, go for it.