Ridge Racer (PSP) review
I don't think there was a single gamer who was not excited by the launch of Sony's PSP last year. It seemed to take almost everyone by surprise, and for most of us, we were in such disbelief and unpreparedness that there wasn't enough money in our wallets to cover the bill. I'm definitely guilty of the syndrome, as I wasn't able to pick up the all-powerful handheld until recently. Obviously strapped for cash, I grabbed the cheapest game I could find, which happened to be a used copy of Namco's Ridge Racer. Here's my review.
When it comes to racing games, there is typically not whole lot of room for creativity. By definition, the goal is to race, and therefore developers are challenged with the paradox of sticking to conventions of the genre while still managing to break new ground. Ultimately, however, I think that the developer either chooses to create a unique racing experience by adding fundamental elements which have been previously unseen, or they choose to stick with tried-and-true methods that have been proven effective in delivering quality gameplay.
Ridge Racer falls into the latter category. What we have here is a fun, straightforward racing game with only a little bit of depth, but a lot of addictive entertainment. The general premise is racing, in a very no-frills, arcade style. This means that car physics are unrealistic, game path is linear, and there is very little room for customization. There are three modes: World tour, single race, and versus. There are all fairly self-explanatory, and standard fare for a racing game.
World tour mode is a straightforward series of tours, each with different races and tracks. You start out with a few tours to choose from, and for each tour you complete, a new one opens up, along with a new car. Each tour is slightly more difficult than the last, which makes for a smooth, friendly learning curve which starts out easy and becomes quite brutal, especially once the pro tours are unlocked. The tours are each just a series of races which must be won (in no order). Every race has 12 cars in it, including yourself, and you will always start in last place.
Early on in the tours, I usually had no problem in taking first place by the end of the first or second lap (there are three laps total). Later on, I found myself retrying races over and over again just to win first place. Needless to say, the game does get challenging. There is a slight element of strategy to the game which, to my knowledge, has not been applied to a racing game thus far. Though it's a simple addition, I feel that it adds a great deal to the game's feel and playability. Races become much more heartpounding and gripping thanks to the addition of a nitrous meter. The nitro meter is filled up by powersliding your car. Sliding isn't a difficult thing to do, but it does take practice, and especially with the faster cars in later races, it can become a very delicate art.
Once your nitrous meter is filled up, you can release it for a burst of speed. Early on, the boosts are incredibly beneficial and can put great distances between you and those behind you, or give you the edge on straightaways in passing the leaders, but later on it's only a small bonus. You can store up to three nitrous boosts at a time, and release them whenever you choose. They last a few seconds and typically make your car go something like 20+ mph faster.
For this reason, the powerslides really do make the game. There is no other way to go around a turn--if you tap the break and turn your car, it is going to slide, and it will do so with rease and unrealistic smoothness. As far as different cars go in terms of handling and powerslides, there are really only three different options. Each car has a different "drift style." They're basically just more or less intensely drifting cars. The mildest is the easiest to control on drifts, but you might not be able to handle turns at such a fast pace, and your meter doesn't fill up as efficiently. The most dynamic can become very difficult to control, but your meter will fill up very quickly, and it has the potential to be the fastest style of car in the game.
Other than the different drift styles, the different cars in the games are differentiated only by their accelerations and top speeds. As you unlock more cars, they become faster, and while they handle the same, negotiating corners becomes more difficult at the higher speeds.
Because there are no customizations like those you'll find in a realistic driving game (Grand Turismo being the obvious example), the game does come down to skill, in a very basic way. There isn't nearly as much nuance in the game mechanics as something like Gran Turismo, but you do need to nail the art of drifting and controlling your car in order to succeed in the game. Something I found to require special attention is your racing line when passing other cars. You'll need to take into account the AI racing lines, especially around corners, because if you collide with another car, your speed will decrease substantially, and it might be the difference between winning and losing the race.
Aside from gameplay, the second strongest emphasis in Ridge Racer is on the visuals. In a game with a constant need for movement and fluidity, a strong engine is a must. It's this aspect of Ridge Racer which makes it the most impressive of all. The game's framerate never hiccups, and there is a always an urgent, seamless sense of speed as you play through the game. The graphics look like those of an early PS2 game, which is absolutely amazing on such a tiny console. There isn't a great amount of detail in the environments or the cars, and it's obvious that the textures have been simplified for the handheld console, but other than that, the graphics are flawless. Everything flows amazingly well, and every gamer will be incredibly grateful for this as they experience Ridge Racer.
Fans of the Ridge Racer series will know that it generally features pounding, rhythmic music, usually very electronic and rhythmic. In other words--good driving music. Ridge Racer for the PSP is no different, as there are several different playlists to choose from, each with a bunch of different catchy tunes to listen to as you drive. The sound quality is great, and this is obviously a result of the PSP's superior capabilities, compared to other handhelds.
Ridge Racer has managed to bring something to a handheld which is remarkably rare--a quality racing game. In the past, racing games for handhelds have always felt like dumbed-down, compromised versions of console counterparts. Instead, Namco's handheld effort stands on its own as a quality game, which features the added benefit of being portable. If the game were for a console, it would be only a little above average, but the fact that it's portable and can be taken anywhere makes for the bulk of its appeal. As it stands, even long after the launch of the PSP, it still feels lacking in quality games. From my experience and impression, Ridge Racer is still one of the top 15 games for the console, even though it was one of the first ones to be brought out. There is a lot of fun to be had, and there's no reason why anyone with a PSP shouldn't pick this game up. Unless you don't like racing games, you should definitely give this one a try.
Community review by ender (March 26, 2006)
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