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Ridge Racer

Reviewed April 2005 by Tony Peak

Publisher: Namco
Developer: Namco
Release Date: March, 2005
ESRB Rating: "E" for Everyone
Genre: Sports/Racing
Price: $39.99

First appearing in its arcade form back in 1993, Ridge Racer quickly became a staple of the racing genre and a signature title for Namco. Ridge Racer struck fame again as a launch title for the original Sony Playstation, and has since covered many major systems from the N64 to the PS2. Now in its 13th release counting each arcade and console version, Ridge Racer for the PSP is best described as a souped up compilation edition of much of the last 12 years. Whether you're an old fan or completely new, Ridge Racer teaches you everything you need to know and takes you through a fast paced trip through the series' famous history.

Gameplay

The core gameplay hasn't changed too much from the series' past, but it has evolved over the years. For example, drifting is more important than ever. Drifting is the act of sliding around corners by over steering or otherwise making the car loose its traction. It first became popular in Japan, but recently it has begun to spread to other countries. The same can be said about the racing video game industry, where drifting has been appearing in more titles than ever. In Ridge Racer, drifting plays a very critical and important role. New to the series this time around is the addition of Nitrous. The addition of Nitrous oxide (N2O), popular in pro street races, makes for a fairly exciting balance.

In a strange but fun twist, drifting somehow manages to recharge your N2O. How it does this is anybody's guess, but Ridge Racer has always been about the arcade aspect of the race rather than the simulation. If you're looking to tweak out your car, win prize money, or upgrade parts, I'll warn you that this is not that type of game. Ridge Racer is all about the arcade experience. The world tour mode consists of 4 full tours increasing in difficulty, with the 4th "Max" tour being new to the American release. Each set of races you win unlocks new, faster cars, new tracks, and new prizes.

With 54 vehicles and 24 courses in total (12 + 12 reversed), this means a heck of a lot of racing. This version of Ridge Racer features more tracks than any Ridge Racer before it. Nearly all the tracks are enhanced tracks from the Ridge Racer history, including Ridge Racer, Ridge Racer Revolution, Rave Racer, Rage Racer, and my favorite, R4: Ridge Racer Type 4, but they have included an original all new track as well. The addition of new drifting mechanics, Nitrous, and other modern features to especially the older tracks makes them feel as alive as ever as you glide around the familiar turns.

Graphics

In a very smart move by Namco, the very first thing you'll see when you boot up Ridge Racer is an absolutely jaw dropping CG intro featuring none other than the series' beloved mascot, Reiko Nagase. Long time fans will know that in Ridge Racer V, she was replaced by Ai Fukumi, but all is forgiven. I say that starting with the CG intro is a very smart move because believe me, this unbelievably sharp CG is a better demo of the PSP's screen than any movie I can think of. Namco could have easily cut corners and skipped the CG, but by including it they really went for that extra level of polish. If that wasn't enough, CG intros of past Ridge Racer games are hidden and unlockable extras.

Ridge Racer features a lot of graphical tricks and techniques that honestly, I didn't think were possible on the PSP, much less in a 1st gen title. From the motion blur of the taillights to the glimmering shine of the sun on the asphalt, Ridge Racer simply looks excellent. The first time I followed a car in a drift around a corner and saw the sun reflect realistically off their side window, I nearly crashed in surprise. It's a little hard to do a direct comparison to past games due to the different resolution and medium, but overall while I'd say the amount of sheer polys on the cars and some small details seems slightly lower, the overall look of the game is as good as ever. The older tracks fair especially well, since the enhancements of the engine give them more shine than ever.

Sound

Ridge Racer features a whopping 5 virtual "discs" of BGM audio, featuring 30 tracks. The Red and Blue discs are all-new songs for the PSP edition of Ridge Racer, 12 in total. Disc 3 is a remix disc, featuring 6 remix tracks of past tunes, while disc 4 and 5 are a compilation of 12 titles from past Ridge Racer games including R4. My favorites so far are the all-new Disco Ball, and the classic Samurai Rocket. Great tunes, all around.

Overall, Ridge Racer has excellent sound all around. They don't skimp on the details, even the CG intro and the menu voice-overs are excellent. The rev of the engines and the squeal of the tires as you round corners are all spot on. My biggest complaint about the audio is simply the male announcer, for whom my distaste is hard to put in words. While his sound quality is fine, his new age and often annoying phrases such as "You crashed!", "Somebody fired off some Nitrous!", and "You got owned!" really get old quick. Thankfully, voice can be turned down to 0 in the options menu.

Conclusion

For fans and newcomers alike, there's a lot to love here. I can see how some sim fans may be a bit disappointed without the options to endlessly tweak your cars and own a garage of your own personal vehicles, but it's not a deal breaker for an arcade racer. With 54 cars total, there's plenty of specialty vehicles to unlock that make up for the lack of customization. There are small upgrade kits that increase max speed, but nothing much to speak of.

While 8 players via wireless ad-hoc battle is no small feat at all, and incredibly enjoyable, I really would have liked to see infrastructure mode supported. It's a lot easier to find other gamers across the country or world than it is in your area. Although the UMD case lists infrastructure, this is believed to be an error. Sadly, online play is just not an option.

If you've ever been a fan of the Ridge Racer series, racing games in general, or you're just open to the idea, I'd strongly recommend picking this one up. If not, give it a try and it may just change your mind. Having played the Ridge Racer series since the original in the arcades, Ridge Racer for the PSP narrowly manages to replace R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 as my favorite Ridge Racer to date. It's great to see all these classic tracks and styles merged into one very exciting and satisfying game.

 

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Playing Hints and Tips

- Read the included manual. Aside from a very nice rendering of Reiko gracing the table of contents, you'll find several very helpful tips on driving, drifting, boosting, and more.

- You can, thankfully, turn the mini-game at startup off in the options menu. I really don't know why this is on by default when the loading times are so small. You'll want to play it though, as a score of 50,000 is part of the requirements to unlock the Rally-X car.

- Play the time attack mode, the scrolling text at the bottom of the track select gives very helpful hints as to how to get the best times on each course. Use your ghost data to improve.

- Rev the engine a bit before the start of the race. I'm no expert, but I find keeping it just below the red and giving it a good bit of gas just before the launch gives me a good speed boost out of the gate.

- Use your map whenever possible. It's great for at a glance distance from the leader, to tell where good drifts are, and especially for finding long stretches for Nitrous. Try to use your Nitrous on straightaway roads or downhill, when you're already at near max speed. If you can end your boost with a drift corner, all the better for a quick recharge.

- Drifting is very important, the faster and better you drift, the faster your Nitrous will recharge. Don't waste speed on useless movements though, keep the car facing in the right direction and keep focused.

- After you've got the hang of the game, use the DYN drift cars. Dynamic are for advanced players, but you'll appreciate the control benefits.

- Use real world drift racing techniques. Aside from the simply letting go of the gas to cause a drift as the manual suggests, also try the breaking drift. Let go of the gas and tap the break, then give it more gas to cause a fast, on command drift with little speed lost.

- For what may be the minimal amount of speed loss, try the deceptively simple power over drift. With the faster cars, take a turn at full speed and over steer hard until the car starts to drift. This works great on long, downhill turns. Hold the drift and you'll fly around long corners without losing speed.

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

While the sheer amount of polys may not be through the roof, there's no lack of shine on Ridge Racer's graphics. Relatively smooth corners, sharp lighting effects, and very good texture work make Ridge Racer look absolutely great on the small screen. The presentation is excellent and well suited to the medium.

Sound

30 tracks featuring old favorites, remixes, and all new beats is no small value. Some tracks are of course better than others, and some past favorites are missing, but overall there's a high quality selection here that's great to race to. In game sounds hit the mark quite well, though the overly hip and verbose announcer really could have been much better. I'm just glad he can be turned off.

Fun Meter

For arcade racing fans, there's more fun here than you can shake a Jogcon at. (Jogcon; n. Namco controller made popular with R4.) The world tours are great fun, the time attack with ghost data is perfect for getting your best scores, and the 8 player multiplayer is very cool if you're lucky enough to know that many PSP owners. On the downside, there's a bit of sameness to the tours except for speed, and the lack of online is a bit of a downer. The AI can be a bit cheap in the new Max tour, which can get quite frustrating.

Addictivity

A trip through all the tours will take a good, long time to finish, and time has proven these tracks don't get old fast. The time attack mode and ghost data will certainly keep you trying to best your own records, and unlocking all the hidden cars and prizes is great, but only takes one pass through the world tour. Overall, there's not a heck of a lot of surprises and once you've finished everything in the tour, eventually you're bound to move on. Even then it's still a great compilation to have in your collection.

Total Score= 4.125 Dragons, 82.5%

 


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