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Ridge Racer (PSP) artwork

Ridge Racer (PSP) review

"The first thing that pops up when you switch the game on is a retro arcade game from Namco's archives. Ridge Racer, it's "New" Rally-X, a top-down 2D 8-bit wonder from 1981 which involves you steering a little blue go-kart around to collect all the flags on a map and trying to avoid little red go-karts that want to crash you. "

The first thing that pops up when you switch the game on is a retro arcade game from Namco's archives. Ridge Racer, it's "New" Rally-X, a top-down 2D 8-bit wonder from 1981 which involves you steering a little blue go-kart around to collect all the flags on a map and trying to avoid little red go-karts that want to crash you.

But this review is not about "New" Rally-X, it's about the game that New Rally-X serves as the traditional Namco loading screen to.

The next thing you hear is the ticking of a clock's second hand and see the barrage of rave lighting and the fancy car drifting to tails of smoke. In the background, the music builds up into a techno-rock symphony.

You also see the ever-lovely Reiko Nagase laying back on the hood of what appears to be a modified Lamborghini Murcielago. Then the previously-mentioned fancy car drifts in slow-motion, and the music suddenly fades.

Out of nowhere the rock symphony bursts into its final measures, the car drifting 360s over the finish line complete with glowing doves being released, at the same time Reiko gracefully leaps into the air. It's a truly climactic montage that leaves your eyes watering as the intro finishes up with Reiko walking up to "meet" the car.

The title screen, immediately preceded by the previous RR logos flashing in quick succession, concludes this presentation.

By this time, you truly know that this is the new generation of Ridge Racer, on a new breed of portable gaming systems.

"Riiiiiiiidge Racerrrrrrrrr!"

Okay, so this "new generation" of Ridge Racer is a bit more of an anthology than a truly "new" game. All but one of the tracks can be found in Ridge Racer games past (including the arcade's Rave Racer, and thankfully not the awful RR 64/DS), as well as the names of virtually every car model.

The menus are still fairly basic and self-explanatory. Create a profile, select your track or championship, select a car and color, then choose the music, and from there you're pretty much on your way.

But that's not to say this "anthology" is just a mere rehashed compilation of previous games.

All the cars are literally of a "new generation," featuring designs worthy of international auto show podiums. As always, the cars also come in a variety of classes, from hot hatches to wide, sweeping muscle cars to the latest European exotics. Granted, some cars look eerily close to real-life automobiles but that doesn't mean they're not nice enough to look at.

Namco has also given its famous Angel and Devil secret cars a complete redesign from the wheels up, and other surprise cars - as well as concept art and other "historic" goodies - await persistent players.

All the tracks - especially from the original PlayStation One and arcade Ridge Racers, have been beautifully remastered while still maintaining their exact layouts. You can now enjoy the disturbingly beautiful-for-a-portable-system scenery while racing along twisty roads at 150+ miles an hour.

Ridge Racer veterans will still feel right at home when racing on these courses, as the scenery is at once breathtaking and not too distracting.

The racing experience - the drifting in particular - is also easy to learn and apply. If the corner's sharp enough, or you find your car's slowly edging toward a wall on a sweeping turn, you can simply let off the gas and drift through it! The cars also come in three different "styles" of drift, depending on how much the player would like their car to stick to the road.

The most significant new feature in racing is the nitrous boost, an arcade staple curiously lacked by the previous Ridge Racers. Up to three nitrous boosts can be charged by drifting, and can be used at any time, one or more at a time, if the bottles are full. The most skilled boost users can effectively spend a great portion of a race above the car's "official" top speed.

Of course, you can't recharge your drift while boosting at the same time. Further enhancing the need for an actual on-the-go race strategy is the fact that other cars can boost too, and in higher classes the cars can and will use boost to jockey for position, meaning you're not just trying to pass traffic as fast as you can anymore.

The wireless experience is limited solely to ad-hoc battles. This means the you can only do standard races with other PSPs nearby that have this game. Still, you can use any car you've unlocked within a certain class, and there's a handicap mode you can switch on so you can catch up if you've been playing catch-up. Your record will also be saved with your user name, so challengers will get an idea of how much you rule (or not).

Soundwise, the car motor sounds are believable and actually feel very realistic when in replay mode. Navigating the menus is a relaxing experience, with the relatively generic BGM loop getting augmented with every subsequent menu before a race. The World Tour's "airport" ambiance really does give off a vibe like you're about to leave for a real international event.

And speaking of music, Ridge Racer not only provides a brand new selection of super-crazy J-techno and rave music, it also has a substantial list of songs from previous Ridge Racer games, for those in a nostalgic mood.

I personally recommend the "old" songs over the new ones due to the aforementioned selection of (race)tracks, as well as their diversity in tone and overall feel.

Finally, loading times are a charm, even for the PSP's infamously-slow UMD system. Apart from the mini-game that allows you to have some fun while waiting for the game to start up, there's not too much loading time getting to and from the race from the menus. Restarting a race is an instantaneous affair as well.

So...what's holding this Ridge Racer back?

Quite frankly, many of the things holding Ridge Racer back are the same that plagued previous iterations of the series.

Although the racing and drifting physics are still naturally tailored for an arcade feel, it's frustrating that RR rookies and vets alike STILL have to avoid collisions with walls and other cars like the plague, as they can fatally slash your speed as well as your chances at winning.

It's even more frustrating that the new boost function is most effective when the car is already going fast, and combining that with what can become VERY tight and unyielding drifting quarters means that powerful collisions are all but inevitable.

That Namco has also removed the drafting function for RR PSP means that slipstreaming on the final straightaway for an epic race climax is out, so ultimately there will be a lot of "luck" involved in formulating a race strategy.

The only solace in this frustration is that you can leave a championship in this RR at any race and come back at any time with a different car, so you don't have to worry about running out of "continues." It'll certainly give your thumb time to rest and reform to its original shape after being jammed onto that analog "nub" for so long.

While we're on the subject of controls, most veterans of racing games and even newcomers will also find it best to use the 'B' control scheme due to its familiarity and convenience. This is because the default 'A' scheme puts the shifting keys on the O and Triangle buttons instead of the familiar shoulder buttons, giving you very cramped quarters to work with.

That sort of problem was actually present in RRV on the PS2, which had the Analog mode turned OFF on startup, and placed its analog-friendly schemes were near the tail-end of the control scheme selection list.

There are graphical disappointments as well, the game's system launch release date notwithstanding. The cars are significantly LESS detailed in-race than in the menus, and the programming of these cars' physics makes replays unworthy of viewing, save for those replay views from inside the car.

Finally, there's the DJ. Having an American(-sounding) DJ back is a definite relief from the Engrish cool-talker from Ridge Racers Type 4 and V, but somehow a hip-hop DJ's voice just doesn't click with a game long associated with hyperactive dance and techno. This DJ's very frequent comments can certainly get annoying after a few races so you might want to mute him if and when he gets on your nerves.

Looking back, many of these flaws other than gameplay functions are nitpicks. Like most system launch games, RR obviously doesn't make use of the system's full potential, and that's understandable.

Of course, it would have been great fun - if not very wishful thinking - to have infrastructure-enabled wireless features in this game, such as a global racing server or even just a Time Attack rankings board, such as the one Namco actually had as early as RR Type 4.

Still, this Ridge Racer is certainly a huge leap forward from Namco's first attempt at a portable Ridge Racer - the forgettable Nintendo DS port of Ridge Racer 64, which was already unfaithful enough to the series at large. And like the other games in its series, the game is very solidly built and provides a very coherent and thrilling experience despite its flaws.

By contrast, there haven't been many racing games on the PSP that have fared much better since RR (save for maybe the Burnout and Full Auto series), even with Game Sharing and infrastucture features.

Until a Gran Turismo game is developed for the PSP, it looks like Ridge Racer will probably provide the standard for which racing games on this handheld must strive to meet and beat. Unless perhaps you count Ridge Racer 2, but that's for another review.

Right now you can grab a copy of this more-new-than-anthology Ridge Racer for cheap, slip it into your PSP and be off racing in minutes...or even seconds if you count the Rally-X minigame.

And don't worry, it's (almost) perfectly normal and acceptable to shout "Riiiiiiidge Racerrrrrrrrr!" while you're drifting into the sunset.


forelli_boy's avatar
Community review by forelli_boy (April 14, 2007)

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