A fine day for a drive.
Originally a coin-op arcade game, Namco's Ridge Racer hitched itself to the Sony bandwagon for the U.S. launch of the original Playstation and has never looked back. Twelve years later, it's one of Namco's longest running titles, and along with Tekken and Soul Calibur, one of the foundations of their success.
Through several console iterations, Ridge Racer has grasped firmly to the "if it 'aint broke, don't fix it" game design paradigm. Unsurprisingly, Sony's latest console launch is once again accompanied by the latest in the Ridge Racer series, and true to its arcade roots, it offers a solid, fun, and uncomplicated racing experience.
And I mean seriously uncomplicated. With no Story mode, no Career mode and no car customization other than color, Ridge Racer is simple, buckle-your-belt-and-lay down-some-rubber action. The four modes that you do have access to are Single Race, Time Attack, World Tours, and Wireless Battle.
The self-explanatory Single Race lets you pick a car and a track, drops you in 12th place pole position and you're off. Time Attack is a practice mode in which you race alone to try for the best time. You can also save your race and try again against your own ghost car.
Far more compelling are the other modes. World Tours takes you through an extensive series of multiple-race events. Beating a tour (which you don't have to do all at once) opens up new tracks, new cars, and other prizes. While there's a ton of stuff to unlock, many of the "new" tracks are just tracks you already have, only backwards or with minor variations. This is typical of the Ridge Racer series, but after so many years, it feels like something of a cheap way out.
At least the tracks themselves are cool. Fanciful terrain full of tunnels, bridges and unlikely turns set against scenery like alpine villages and tropical waterfalls add life to the races. Jets and helicopters frequently fly around to provide some distracting eye candy. This isn't kart racing, though, so don't expect shortcuts or powerups. Plus, there's no interaction with the tracks other than bumping into their edges. Arcade racing all the way.
In other words, the gameplay is classic Ridge Racer - the controls are crisp and the game is hugely forgiving. It's still all about the crazy, exaggerated powerslides. This is not even vaguely a simulation; hitting the walls, even head on, barely slows you down at all and is sometimes the handiest way to get through a corner. While they exist, there is no point whatsoever to the brakes.
There must be about 50 cars to unlock, but they are not terribly interesting or different from one another. They're all imaginary and most have Italian sounding names. Every car in each sub class has the same acceleration and top speed, just different drifting characteristics. There are slight changes to the tachometers and speedometers in your HUD, which is a nice touch, but without any way to improve or tweak your vehicle, the selection process isn't very interesting.
The only really new element is the addition of nitrous oxide. As you powerslide through turns, your nitrous builds up. When full, you can hit it for a handy, temporary speed boost. Why does drifting collect nitrous? I have no idea. Maybe there are magic gas collectors on the sides of the car or something.
When you tire of the single-player, you can try playing with friends via the Wireless Battle mode. This lets you race up to seven other people locally (Ad Hoc), which is great, but despite claiming support for Infrastructure network mode, Ridge Racer can't actually roll down the ol' information superhighway. Infrastructure mode simply expands the range of Ad Hoc mode rather than actually letting you find other people online. This is fairly disappointing - good luck finding find seven people with PSPs and Ridge Racer to really do it right.
Graphically, Ridge Racer is easily one of the best PSP launch titles. The cars and tracks are crisp and detailed and the framerate never hiccups, leading to a smooth race from start to finish. The cinematic race replays are gorgeous, a great tool for showing off your PSP to the curious and the envious.
The sound is also top notch, with perfectly screaming engines and screeching tires. An exhaustive list of musical choices is arranged into 5 "discs," including tons of Ridge Racer classic techno. The only downside is the seriously annoying guy who constantly shouts "Alright!" and "Booyah!" during your race. Fortunately, you can turn him off. Now if only there were a way to do that to everyone who says "Booyah!"
Like the previous installments, Ridge Racer for the PSP is another solid launch title. It will never have the depth of a Gran Turismo, but then again, it's not supposed to. 400 horsepower of arcade style fun isn't a bad way to ring in your new PSP.