Ridge Racer has an incredibly long pedigree. Starting life in the arcades, this racer from Namco made its debut back on the original Playstation as one of its early releases and was one of the deciding factors in the war between the PS1 and the Sega Saturn. When the two consoles were launched, each had its own exclusive flagship racer. While Sony had Ridge Racer, Sega had their own port of Daytona USA. While Ridge Racer delivered a near arcade-perfect conversion (helped in part by Sony’s excellent libraries that were provided for developers at the time, allowing the game to be converted in a matter of months), Daytona USA was a disaster. It was bug-ridden and while looked arcade-perfect in still images, failed to recreate the speed or playability of its arcade parent and was plagued with problems and the Saturn never recovered.
Since then, there were three PS1 sequels, several games for the PS2, PSP, PS3 and now this for the Playstation Vita released both as a card and as a digital download. The game remains the same as before – racing against a series of other cars over several tracks forgetting realism in favour of fast drift-based racing and providing a fast, stunning looking arcade driving game so don’t expect anything too deep from this one…
The game starts out a little differently from previous Ridge Racer games – it makes use of the PS Vita’s online capabilities on an ongoing basis as you play and the first time you load the game up you are asked to select one of four teams to drive for. Once you have picked your team, this will stay with you throughout the game and each day as you sign into the PS Network, teams will be assigned challenges – ranging from beating racers from other teams in races to racing against other teams two-on-two. Depending on how well you do, you will earn points for your team and yourself and these points will be used to upgrade your cars during the game – but onto this later.
The game itself is standard Ridge Racer fare – select a track, a car and simply race as fast as you can over several laps. The key to winning races in RR isn’t necessarily how fast you can drive but how well you can drift around corners and that’s always been the driving force (sorry!) of how to get the most out of the game. If you’re not used to this style of play then it can take some getting used to and it’s not for everyone. If you are more looking for a driving game where steering and acceleration / brake control are also just as important as drifting then this certainly won’t appeal to you.
There are only three tracks on offer but each can be selected normally or in the expected reverse mode, effectively turning it into a brand new track. At the end of each race, depending on your performance, you will be awarded points that you can use to upgrade your car by purchasing new types of turbo boosts, slipstream enhancements and various other improvements to your car’s performance. While you can purchase a range of these, only two can be fitted at any one time so you have to choose carefully… You can customise your cars further by giving them a complete makeover changing the paint scheme used on them, either using the presets or the colour sliders giving you total control over the look of the cars.
There are two multiplayer modes on offer – online and local ad-hoc modes – both for up to 8 players but strangely they will each allow you to race on your own on an empty track. Although if you wanted to that would work well for earning more points for upgrading your car, even if was a rather tiresome way of doing it.
While the new upgrade system and addition of a turbo boost function (which is earned through successful drifting) it’s still the same old Ridge Racer and plays just as it always has done… and that’s its main strength (or weakness depending on your view of the franchise). If you love Ridge Racer then you’ll know what to expect already but if it’s a game that you don’t particularly like then there’s nothing here that will excite you.
On a technical level, this looks absolutely remarkable. It is incredibly fast, smooth, detailed and really does look as if it belongs on not only the PS Vita but looks as if it could have come straight from the PS3. I can’t fault the visuals for one second and the range of music is second to none. Sound effects are a little sparse and uninspiring and I have to say that all the cars sound pretty much alike so that’s probably it’s weakest link… until you look at the game’s physics engine – or lack of it.
To be fair, physics and realism have never been a strong point of Ridge Racer. It hasn’t really changed much since the original arcade game and to be honest, I think if it were changed now there would probably be an uproar from gamers complaining that the game “wasn’t Ridge Racer anymore” so these foibles have been left in. Regardless, it can be frustrating for those not used to them. The problem with Ridge Racer is that these quirks can be downright annoying at times. For example, if you mis-time a corner and understeer and end up hitting a track wall, in most racing games all you need to do is steer back onto the track and carry on. Not Ridge Racer. You are pretty much forced against the wall for the duration of that corner and no amount of turning can get you out of it – it just seems to grind your car into it further. Similarly, crashes into anything just stop you dead in your tracks and as for jumps… let’s just say that you will never see cars recover back to being on four wheels and driving as if nothing had happened so quickly in your life! As I said, these are issues that have been with the series since day one so most of us are used to them – it still doesn’t make them acceptable though.