Ridge Racer (PSP) review
"Before we get started however, there's the small issue of a recently added plural form to deal with. Serving as something of an ultimate Ridge Racer remix, Ridge Racers combines the myriad courses, drift styles and assorted beats of its predecessors in the creation of a single, glorious whole. Every track, every sound, everything you've come to know and love about the series, served up mix and match style with you, the gamer in mind."
As of the 12th of December 2004, Nintendo are on notice. With the successful launch of their PSP in Japan, Sony have delivered a dire warning to the Kyoto based gaming giant. They want the handheld market, and they want it bad. No retreat, no surrender style with a knife gritted firmly between their teeth. It's lucky for them then that such overt hostilities have been backed up by a single title in their otherwise unimpressive opening line-up. Designed to turn heads and set chins wagging, Ridge Racers instant 20-something appeal channels the very same demographic that made "Playstation" the popular house hold name it is today. And in nailing that all important mass market appeal, Namco may have very well of become Sony's new best friend. For with Ridge Racers they have not only crafted a new benchmark in portable racing, but have defined the very essence of what owning a PSP is all about. Style, cool, excitement, and a whole lot of whoa. Everything the casual gamer could ever want, and enough substance to worry even the most ardent of Nintendo supporters... my good self included.
Welcome to the next level... again
Before we get started however, there's the small issue of a recently added plural form to deal with. Serving as something of an ultimate Ridge Racer remix, Ridge Racers combines the myriad courses, drift styles and assorted beats of its predecessors in the creation of a single, glorious whole. Every track, every sound, everything you've come to know and love about the series, served up mix and match style with you, the gamer in mind. Take the heavier cars of Ridge Racer Revolution and throw them around the perfectly crafted cityscapes of its follow up and spiritual successor, Rage Racer. Toss in a little classic Rotterdam Nation as your preferred soundtrack of choice and you'll undoubtedly be humming the bass-line through each and every curve. And while those old enough to remember the original games are sure to revel in the unbridled nostalgia on offer, the young ones among us will simply find themselves loving the tight controls and awe inspiring sense of speed instead. Furthermore the PSP's analogue controls work a treat, yet there's always the old school D-pad to fall back upon if you really, really must. Heck, longtime Playstation owners may even prefer it 'coz, you know, somethings should never, ever change.
But change is what life's all about. And just because Ridge Racers has played it safe thus far, doesn't mean to say that it can rely on the past if it hopes to stay ahead of the pack. As such, Namco have gone and rained on someone else's parade by including what's fast becoming an obligatory part of any good racer, N20 (aka Nitrous Oxide). Sure it could be seen as being something of a small concession to the Burnout generation, but it's one that's still guaranteed to spark excitement at every turn... or so the case may be. The rules are simple: the harder you power slide, the more nitro you're feed, the faster you'll go. Slide, corner, boost and slide. And though it may not be the most original of concepts, its inclusion has added volumes to some already perfect, arcade-esque physics. As it turns out however, this extra punch is going to be exactly what players need if they hope to remain competitive across the higher skill levels. For as dimwitted as the competition appears to be, later levels will see the AI getting one hell of a kick in the pants as the lead cars begin to actively block each of the player's advances. Feint left, feint right, try to charge down the center. Drop a nitro on the next turn and it's yea-haw! See you later alligator. True arcade style racing rarely feels this good!
Further enhancing the classic formula of old is the addition of a "World Tour" mode that represents the real meat in Ridge Racers' oh so scrummy sandwich. Consisting of a series of events each made up of 3 laps a piece, it's here players will be able to unlock many of the cars and tracks that serve to flesh out this otherwise simple, arcade experience. 12 drivers, head to head, last one to the finish line buys the beer. You know the rules. Let's go! But what if Namco had gone the extra mile and spent a little time outside the box? Sumo Digital dared to be different with OutRun2's challenging mission modes, why couldn't Ridge Racers have been graced with equal portions of gaming genius as well? It could have been magnificent, instead we got Amazing. Capital "A" of course added for full effect. Ridge Racers is an arcade racing thorough-bred though, so what if it happens to be a little bit shallow to boot? That's the way life is, and perhaps we've just torn down tall poppies where we hoped to find weeds.
For round every once familiar corner now lies a new level of visual prowess, designed to showcase exactly the type of oom-phh the PSP keeps hidden under its hood. A quick burst of nitrous blurs the screen while fireworks explode liberally overhead. Bang, boom, blam, whoa again! Eyes on the road bub, hairpin ahead. Pump that break and slam the accelerator, now we're back in business. Look a cow! Lens flare, the helicopter... is that 747 going to land on us as well? This rich level of detail literally bursts from the screen in an explosion of high resolution brilliance, baffling perhaps as much as it astounds. "How can all this... be here... portable... and in my very hands?" you're sure to ask. But don't stop there, Sony's new UMD media format has also performed flawlessly, delivering to players an auditory landscape that sounds better than any Walkman could possibly hope to achieve. Crisp, clean and so, so clear, the soundtrack features an impressive 4 CD's worth of quality music, all of it timed to match the perfect speed of every race. Hey! You're feeling that itch again, how can you possibly say no?
FINISHED!!!! YOU WON!!!! AWESOME BABY!!!
Ah yes, enthusiasm such as this can be quite contagious. And in the face of what Sony and Namco have been able to do together, the excitement is certainly understandable. With 12 years of racing history behind it, Ridge Racers has gone and taken the checkered flag long before much of the competition has even had a chance to set a single wheel on the starting grid. Even Reiko is looking a little more confident than usual, sauntering her way through the opening cinemas, a knowing smile on her face and a gleam in her eye. Look at me, look at this game. We're one and the same, sexy, cool and very, very now. Is Ridge Racers the #1 killer app we all hoped it would be? Most certainly so, you had better believe it. Will it move PSP's and make gamers look twice? Oh yes indeed, hundred times over in fact. Back in 1989, Nintendo took a monumental step forward with the release of their Gameboy and the modern portable gaming scene was born. Now in 2004, Sony have shot ahead of the pack by leaps and bounds, leaving the masters to play catch up while they enjoy the spoils of war. Ah, such is the way of life it seems...
* 12 years of arcade racing history, one tidy package
* With both analogue and D-pad controls, everyone's personal taste has been accounted for
* The new nitro system adds to some already classic gameplay
* The race physics were as expected, born in the arcades
* A gazillion unlockables gives players something to chase
* The wi-fi multiplayer support works a dream
* Stunning good looks ensures that heads are turned
* UMD delivered sound, wow
* Replays can be saved to memory stick for later viewing
* Rally-X features as the obligatory "loading screen" classic
* Some extra variety outside of the "finish first place or try again" gameplay would have been nice
* It'll chew up your PSP's already limited battery faster than is probably healthy
Staff review by Michael Scott (December 20, 2004)
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