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(PSP) Ridge Racer
By Ryan Newman
Apr 11, 2005,
12 :13 am
Similar to how Ridge Racer impressed gamers during the launch of the original PlayStation, so does its predecessor, the aptly titled Ridge Racer, on the PSP. Having gone back to the basics, Namco has created an arcade racer that is easy to get into but with enough options and modes to compel would-be drift kings to go back for more. For those back in 1995 that picked up the original, the handheld variation will bring back fond memories and create some new ones itself, while newcomers will enjoy what makes a Ridge Racer title so good – a fast, responsive racer with great courses and sans the Gran Turismo aspirations and lackluster implementation. Most importantly, Ridge Racer manages to capture the excitement that is only just recently making its way back into a post-GT world now that companies are realizing that sometimes people just want to go fast and not worry about gear shafts and air flow.
Unlike the original, Ridger Racer on the PSP manages to offer up more than one course thanks to its catalogue of titles. Now with an emphasis on drifting but without the obnoxious subculture that normally goes along with it, a technique that has proven itself an excellent way to addict gamers for years (re: power-sliding in Daytona USA) has been implemented almost perfectly. Those who hone their drifting skills will be rewarded by way of nitrous oxide that resides in three different tanks that slowly build up during a race, with more being added when a slide is particularly impressive. However, they also punish those who are too slow to come out of a drift or drift needlessly by recharging slowly.
The cars are also described in terms of how well they drift: some are hard to maintain in long drifts but easier to get out of, while another won’t lose as much speed while drifting but will require better control. Though it may seem difficult for all of the cars to perform noticeably different since they all share the same niche purpose, it is surprisingly so; their differences, either overt or subtle, are enough to increase overall player performance to the point where it’s worthwhile to try them all out.
Consisting of several modes to play through, including time attacks and head-on wireless play, the core of the game is the World Tour mode. This is where tours of a various number of rounds are played out in a progressive fashion, with each win unlocking a new tour; eventually, the current grade will be completed and a new, more challenging one will become available. Some of the tours have rounds that can be skipped, but most must be played. There is also a custom tour mode that allows you to set the machine class and how long you wish to play for, and then the game will create one to those specifications. So for those who just want a quick game they can go with a single race, time attack, or a custom tour, while those wanting a more long-lasting experience can take on the world circuit – a healthy variety.
What I’ve always enjoyed about the Ridge Racer series, and what just makes a good racer in general, is the feel. There is just a certain balance some games strike where they give you enough leeway to allow for moves that wouldn’t be possible in a sim, but not so loose that it doesn’t seem somewhat plausible. You can either use the analog stick or directional pad to control the car – I’m a directional pad guy – and both work well, giving and taking appropriately. The one thing I didn’t like was the way collisions were handled: slamming into a wall at 100mph would drop the car down some in speed, but on some occasions it was as if the object then became a magnet for the car, pulling it along to slam into over and over, while other times it was just a quick thud and off I was again. This isn’t too serious a problem, but it did seem a bit anomalous. Other cars will also take advantage of this by cutting you off to get a generous boost from your front impacting with their bumper. Although the AI isn’t the smartest, the progressive difficulty means a slow climb in difficulty with the random spurt of one or two exceedingly challenging races.
Going hand-in-hand with the feel of the cars are the courses, and, again, Ridge Racer really shines here. The tracks are from various past titles in the series, with Seaside Route 765 (Ridge Racer), Ridge Racer City Highway (Ridge Racer), Sunset Drive (Ridge Racer Revolution), Union Hill District (Rage Racer), Crystal Coast Highway (Ridge Racer Revolution), Crimsonrock Pass (R4: Ridge Racer Type 4), Midtown Expressway (Rave Racer), Greenpeak Highlands (Rave Racer), and more – including reversed variations, because what would a RR title be with mirror courses? And they couldn’t have chosen a better roster of tracks. Each one is laid out in such a way that drifting and nitrous, used judiciously, offer up numerous ways to shave off a few seconds here and there while also giving opportunities for drivers to let loose. They are inviting enough in their designs to compel continual play to get better times.
The original Ridge Racer was one of the first titles to use a techno-ish soundtrack, and its follow-up does the same. While it was kitschy and new at the time of the original, it is now standard and expected. That isn’t to say that it’s bad, as it fits the series well and a Ridge Racer title would be strange without it, but it’s also easy to be indifferent to it. What isn’t so easily unnoticeable is the announcer. I really wish I could’ve been the voice of opposition when they were making the decision to go with this obnoxious guy saying irrelevant and hokey lines - “booyah!” - although I suppose it speaks more to my easy-to-please nature than anything else that I would take some pride in his verbal pats-on-the-back. What also stands out in a much more positive way are the graphics. Now this, in a racer of all things, will impress just about anyone. Seeing a still shot of the game is one thing, but seeing it in motion is really needed to grasp how fast, sharp, and vibrant it is, complete with solid framerate and minor touches, like airplanes flying overhead and light trails, all of which add up to really make it a standout title. When rounding corners with ease and kicking in the nitrous, complete with screen blurring effect, it’s easy to forget you’re staring at a handheld system.
Magnet walls and ‘wacky’ announcer aside, it’s hard not to have a great time with Ridge Racer, although I would have liked the competition to have been a bit more aggressive throughout all skill levels. Namco really did an outstanding job bringing it to the PSP. By adding wireless play, single races, time attacks, and custom tours, the game has been tailored to be playable for all you on-the-go folk, as well as those who just want to kick back under an umbrella and enjoy a little real and virtual sun. With great controls, great courses and high production values, Ridge Racer comes heartily recommended.
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